Give the gift of music this year

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Sometimes, while filling out the calendar page each week, I am astounded at the amount of amazing musicians we have here in Sandpoint. More often than not, at a gig or playing tunes with friends, a non-musician will invariably say, “I wish I would’ve learned to play an instrument.”

My response to them is always the same: “It’s never too late!”music-web

Learning to play an instrument is one of the most enriching activities I’ve ever undertaken. Not only is it a blast, but playing an instrument is actually one of the best activities you can do to maintain a healthy brain.

“Playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout,” wrote musician Glenn Kurtz in his acclaimed book “Practice: A Musician’s Return to Music.”

Kurtz writes that playing an instrument “engages practically every area of the brain at once – especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices.”

Kurtz maintains that playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum – the bridge between the two hemispheres – allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This allows musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively, in both academic and social settings.

So why don’t more people play music? Well, dammit, it’s hard! It takes lots of patience, lots of attention to detail and the dedication to get over the hump of learning the ins and outs of a particular instrument.

However, according to a recent survey by Statista, the number of people who claim to play an instrument is on the rise. In 2002, 15.74 million people in the U.S. claimed to play an instrument. Eight years later, in 2010, the number was up to 18.08 million, with estimates for the last few years showing an even sharper incline.

With all of these budding musicians out there looking for guidance, where do you begin?

The easiest answer is to book a lesson with one of our many local instructors. Lessons are usually quite affordable, and the options vary from classically trained professionals to casual pickers, ensuring that no matter what degree you want to take your musical career, there is a way.

The Music Conservatory of Sandpoint (MCS) is an obvious first choice, especially if you’d like to start your children with classical training. They offer private instruction for instrumental and voice students ranging from beginning through advanced levels. MCS currently offers private lessons for violin, viola, cello, guitar, flute, clarinet, saxophone, recorder, percussion, piano, voice, harp and both upright and electric bass. They offer package deals for semesters (comprised of 16 lessons) for as little as $320 per semester (payment plans are also available). For those not ready to commit to a semester, or if you’d just like to brush up your skills, trial packs are available for as little as $80 for four lessons. For more information, check out

There are also a plethora of private instructors in and around Sandpoint that are always happy to take on another budding student. Fiddlin’ Red Simpson has been teaching guitar since he was 16 years old and works with children of all ages and musicians of all levels. The Wild Bill Hickok lookalike is always friendly and eager to share his love of music. He is currently teaching mandolin, claw-hammer banjo, fiddle and guitar at his music store located at 111 Church St. in downtown Sandpoint.

Scott Reid has been a resident banjo, fiddle and mandolin teacher around North Idaho for years. Reid plays with the Monarch Mountain Band and also has a laid back, casual style when it comes to instruction. He teaches banjo, fiddle and mandolin, with influences in folk, jazz, rock, blues and country. You can contact Reid at 208-683-7311.

Newcomers to the Sandpoint music scene are Caytlin Reese and Rachel Gordon, who recently opened their music instruction studio called Bella Noté. The studio specializes in early childhood music classes for toddlers to five years olds, as well as private music lessons for students with parental involvement as early as four years old through ages “much wiser.” Check them out at

Scott Wilburn not only teaches lessons from his store on First Ave. Wilburn’s Custom Shop, but he’s also an experienced guitar and bass builder. He currently teaches lessons for $25 a pop on acoustic and electric guitar, bass guitar and keyboard. His song and chord-based approach makes learning fun and easy, focusing on teaching how to start playing your favorite songs. You can contact Scott at 255-4258.

No matter what your interest level or native abilities, it’s never too late to learn to play an instrument. While instruction is always a quick boost on the path to learning an instrument, if you don’t have the money, invest in a cheap guitar and go online. You can find charts for just about any song you’d like to hear, and thanks to tablature and chord charts, you don’t even have to read music to jump right in.

This year, consider giving the gift of music to someone you love. It may just stick with them the rest of their lives.

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