Artscape: Striking A New Chord, Part 2

Dec 28, 2017

In part 2 of our series, "Striking a New Chord: A 15-Week Journey To Learning An Instrument," RIPR’s Morning Host Chuck Hinman continues to follow a group of adults learning to play string instruments for the first time.

To really appreciate what it takes to learn this new skill, Hinman himself is part of the class and learning the cello.

At this point, the class has completed more than half of the 15 scheduled weekly lessons, organized by the Community String Project, an group that specializes in making string lessons accessible and affordable to adults and children.

The students have been learning the basics: how to read music, use the bow and finger the notes, and how to develop their rhythm skills. It's all leading up to a concert recital at the end of January.

"As of right now, it's going to be Wednesday, January 31st," said the ensemble's teacher, Nathan Rodriguez. "We'll be playing in the Grand Ballroom at Linden Place, in Bristol."

Describing his experience learning to play the cello, RIPR's Chuck Hinman said he's been finding it rewarding, but also a bit frustrating, especially the practicing part. 

"It's a lonely activity," he said. "Just me and my impatience with the speed of my improvement."                                                                                                           

But Hinman is quick to add that he's discovered an unexpected benefit to this attempt to learn the cello as an adult. It may be helping him avoid some serious brain disorders brought on by aging.    

Dr. Jessica Alber, Butler Hospital, Providence
Credit Chuck Hinman / RIPR

"Research shows that learning to use a musical instrument in older age can help protect you against dementia and Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Jessica Alber, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Butler Hospital Memory and Aging Program in Providence.                  

According to Alber, the effort involved in learning to play music triggers something called synaptic plasticity in the brain, improving its neural connections. 

"It can create new connections between different areas of your brain, and modify and strengthen the existing connections," she explained.

For Hinman, this concept has helped him to continue practicing, and kept him focused on the effort rather than the result.

"I'm doing something that's good for me, regardless of whether I ever get really good at it," he said.                                                                                 

Hinman and the other members of the Community String Project adult class will continue with their weekly lessons for another month before the recital. They're practicing four different pieces to play on the night of their performance at Linden Place.

Anxiety is starting to build as the date draws near, but their teacher, Nathan Rodriguez, tells them he is not worried.

"You guys are right on track to put on a great performance."