It is a known fact that music can positively affect our emotional and mental states. Different genres and songs can lift our spirits, motivate us to work out, make mundane chores and car rides more fun, help us relax, enhance our focus, and trigger some of our best memories. Moreover, studies show that playing an instrument benefits our brains more than any other activity, which comes as no surprise considering our strong emotional connection to music. To examine the effect of music on our brain structure and function, here are 8 surprising benefits of learning a musical instrument at any age.
1. Learning an Instrument Improves Memory and Reading Skills
Research suggests that both musical ability and literacy are connected through common neural and cognitive mechanisms. Especially for children, learning a musical instrument can significantly improve verbal memory and reading skills. In other words, a child learning an instrument can remember better and read more successfully than a child who receives no musical training. These effects last well into adulthood, potentially improving children’s abilities to succeed in their careers.
Furthermore, studies suggest that playing music helps speech processing and promotes learning in children with dyslexia. If you check here, you will see that there are acoustic guitars specifically designed for those with small hands. That means you can get your child started with musical training as early as possible and boost their learning abilities sooner rather than later.
2. It Enables You to Function Better
Playing music engages your sense of touch, sight, and hearing, which, in turn, enhances your multisensory skills. In simple terms, it improves your ability to process several sensory inputs at once. This distinct advantage gives you the ability to comprehend information from all your senses at the same time, and it is critical for day-to-day tasks. For example, being able to process more than one thing at a time can be hugely beneficial when you’re trying to sort through multiple, overlapping sights and sounds, like when you’re trying to find your way in the city or focus in a crowded office.
3. Early Musical Training Enhances Brain Plasticity
A study carried out in 2012 revealed that those who played a musical instrument as children could still experience the benefits as adults, decades after they stopped playing. As we age, it becomes more difficult for us to comprehend sounds that change quickly. That is why adults often struggle to make sense of what children are saying since they tend to talk rather quickly. However, those who learned an instrument as children demonstrated faster cognitive response to speech than those who never did.
4. It Reduces Age-related Cognitive Decline
The long-lasting benefits of musical training can also help reduce cognitive decline that naturally comes with age. Learning an instrument early on increases resilience to age-related decline in hearing, and can also protect the brain against dementia. Furthermore, since musicians typically tend to be more mentally alert, they are proven to have faster auditory, tactile, and audio-tactile reaction times in old age than the average elderly.
5. Learning a Musical Instrument Increases Blood Flow in the Brain
Research shows that as little as 30 minutes of musical training can significantly boost the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain, which is responsible for performing tasks that have to do with logic, such as in science and mathematics. Not only does playing music for short periods help improve cognitive function, but it also reduces mental fatigue, allowing you to focus better and stay alert for longer.
6. It Aids in Recovery from Brain Injury
Those who have suffered from brain injury as a result of an accident, a chronic illness, or a stroke can greatly benefit from playing music. A study involving 20 stroke patients showed that after just 3 weeks of learning to play the piano or drum pads, the patients showed significant improvement in motor control in terms of precision, speed, and ease of movement, which, in turn, has facilitated many of their daily activities. Anyone who has witnessed the effects that a stroke can have on overall motor function knows just how impactful these findings can be.
7. Playing Music Reduces Anxiety and Depression
A 2011 study revealed that music therapy that involved playing an instrument provided those struggling with depression with a healthy outlet through which they could express their feelings. As a result, they reported lower levels of anxiety and depression. These findings indicate that combining music therapy with standard care can help patients manage the often overwhelming effects of anxiety and depression more effectively than traditional treatments alone. In addition to that, a 2013 study found that cancer patients who played and listened to music experienced reduced anxiety levels. Besides reducing stress, the study revealed that music can also help manage depression, improve immune function, and aid in social bonding.
8. It Enhances the Brain’s Executive Function
To allow for the cognitive control of behavior, your brain relies on a set of cognitive processes. These processes, also known as executive functions, help you process and retain information, make appropriate choices, and control your behavior and reactions. They also affect your problem-solving skills, enabling you to achieve your goals. Without them, you won’t be able to survive, let alone thrive, in our modern society. Strengthening your executive function will enhance your ability to manage your daily obligations and live a more productive life. As a 2014 study suggests, musical training strengthens the brain’s executive function in both adults and children alike. In return, this can have significant impacts on our academic, personal, and professional lives.
Last but certainly not least, it is worth mentioning that other activities such as driving, drawing, reading, and even solving mathematical equations only stimulate separate areas of the brain. Playing music, on the other hand, engages just about every area of the brain, including the motor, visual, and auditory cortexes; it is basically like a full workout for the brain. Now that you know how drastically musical training can improve brain structure and function, it’s time to pick up your chosen instrument and start playing those tunes.