To me, there’s very little difference in what it means to be young and what it means to be young at heart. As a musician, I am constantly learning new techniques, tunes, dances, songs, stories, etc., regardless of my formal training or age, allowing me to grow as an artist, performer and entertainer. I learned in the same way when I was four years old as I do now…nearly two decades later!
I’ve taught – and been taught by – people of all ages, which has shown me that being young at heart is all that matters in a person’s willingness to learn something new, whether it’s a one-time experience or a new adopted hobby.
In my experience teaching music and Irish dance to people of all ages, I see the same excitement and ability to learn in everyone. The rush that comes over us when we learn something new, overcome a personal challenge or experience something we never thought we would – those feelings of pride and feat are universal. Our hearts race, our smiles brighten and our confidence soars.
Two quick, fun new skills to learn at any age are how to play the tin whistle and how to do an Irish jig.
Learning to Play the Tin Whistle
The tin whistle is a relatively easy instrument to pick up, but a hard one to master. If you have any experience playing a woodwind instrument, including the recorder or the flute in elementary school, this helps but is not a prerequisite.
I don’t remember the exact age when I started playing the tin whistle, but it was a few years after I started playing the harp. My teacher at the time didn’t teach tunes using sheet music but rather she scribbled letters across note paper with tick marks over certain notes to indicate different octaves. Knowing how to read music is NOT necessary to pick up this melodic instrument, but if you choose to pursue the instrument, it certainly helps. A fundamental understanding of the first seven letters of the alphabet, however, is required.
The other great thing about the tin whistle is the fingering patterns. For the most part, it is very straightforward – there are six holes. If they are all covered, that’s a note. As you raise a finger off each of the holes going up, you play a new note with each raised finger going up the scale. If you uncover all the holes in order, you played a scale. Sounds easy, right? Great, let’s get started.
Learning to Irish step dance
Every year around St. Patrick’s Day, I end up at a bar and someone gets up to do a “jig.” Somehow, every year, I can’t hold myself back from saying, “That’s not a jig!” which is often met with, “Oh yeah, well then YOU do one!”
Believe it or not, this can be YOU next St. Patty’s day. I’ve taught traditional six-part jigs to seven-year-olds and 70-year-olds alike. These classes are more than just exercise and a really cool bar trick; they incorporate lessons about traditional Irish music, the difference between different kinds of dances and the history and traditions surrounding the ancient art.
Young or young at heart, it’s never too late to learn
I believe it’s important to take non-traditional approaches to exploring the arts. Today, there are millions of classes, especially for kids, that are considered “music” classes, but a quick glance at the curriculum screams, “expensive day care” to me. Growing up, my music lessons came in many forms…
- Choirs and choruses
- Harp and tin whistle lessons
- Ceili bands
- Dugan’s Hooligans rehearsals and performances
- Musical theater
- Arts camps
- Irish music seisiuns
- Live music concerts
- Arts festivals
- …and many more.
To this day, I’m still learning from listening to music, practicing my harp, expanding my repertoire for new performances, playing at open mic nights and Irish seisiuns in Manhattan…it never stops. Recently, I’ve been thinking about picking up a new instrument, the concertina, I just need to get my hands on an affordable one!
Challenge yourself to do more because you will likely be surprised at how fun learning music can be. If you don’t learn in the traditional structured setting, that’s okay! There are many ways to learn and experience music.