How learning music benefits the brain and body

2024-07-04

We all know the power of music to move us. But what if the benefits went beyond simply listening? Recent studies reveal that actively playing a musical instrument can significantly enhance your cognitive abilities, mental health, and even physical well-being. This article explores the science behind these benefits, and why learning music is much more than just a creative pursuit; it's a powerful tool for brain training.

JUMP TO SECTION
  • Are there advantages to learning to play a musical instrument?
  • 10 proven benefits to learning to play a musical instrument
  • A lifelong skill with lasting benefits
  • What does learning a musical instrument do to your brain?
  • Learn a musical instrument for free

Are there advantages to learning to play a musical instrument?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!”. Luckily, there is plenty of research out there, and it’s clear that learning to play a musical instrument is much more than a purely artistic endeavour; it's a rigorous exercise in neuroscience, psychology, and physiology, that connects up multiple areas of the brain.

Recent studies have begun to reveal the profound effects this activity can have on the brain, mental health, and even physical well-being. 

Here’s what the specific research tells us:

10 proven benefits to learning to play a musical instrument

1. Playing an instrument is better for your brain than just listening

Brain connectedA study mentioned by Penn Medicine highlighted that playing an instrument engages every major part of the central nervous system, beneficial for both the right and left sides of the brain. Playing music, which demands distinct actions from each hand, engages the peripheral nervous system for precise motor control. It also exercises the brain's executive functions for planning and anticipation. This activity becomes a full-brain workout by combining visual, auditory, and emotional stimuli. The research suggests that playing music might be a uniquely effective form of exercising your brain.

2. Musical training enhances cognitive functions throughout life

pexels-jeshoots-com-147458-714699.webpA notable study published in Frontiers in Psychology explores how musical training impacts cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. This research suggests that musical practice is associated with structural changes in the brain that enhance cognitive performance, highlighting the brain's remarkable plasticity. The benefits are observed not just in children, whose brains are highly receptive to learning, but across all ages, indicating that it's never too late to start.

3. Improves mental health

pexels-pixabay-268134.webpThe Harvard Health Blog review on music interventions presents compelling evidence that playing an instrument can have a significant positive impact on mental health. The systematic review and meta-analysis it discusses reveal that music-based activities can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression. This suggests that the act of playing music could serve as a complement to traditional mental health treatments, offering a natural and accessible form of relief.

4. Leads to better physical health

443A7400 (1) (1).webpResearch documented by McGill University reveals an interesting facet of music's influence — its ability to improve the body’s immune system function and manage stress. This connection between music, reduced stress levels, and enhanced immune response underscores the holistic benefits of musical engagement. It's fascinating to consider how the auditory stimulus of music translates into physical health benefits.

5. Enhances listening and hearing skills

file_8000x5320_000586.webpA groundbreaking study conducted at Baycrest Health Sciences and published in the Journal of Neuroscience provides insights into how musical training can fine-tune the brain's auditory system. Learning to play an instrument enhances an individual's ability to discern subtle differences in sounds, suggesting improved listening and hearing skills. This research points to potential applications in developing therapies for auditory processing issues.

6. Social bonds strengthened through rhythm

DSC00682 (1).webpWhile the direct social benefits of playing an instrument might seem less tangible, research from Frontiers in Psychology implies that the collaborative aspect of music-making can foster deep social connections. Engaging in group musical activities, such as ensembles or bands, can enhance feelings of belonging and community. This aspect of music plays a vital role in emotional well-being and social health.

7. Stress reduction and emotional regulation

DSC00154 (1).webpThe comprehensive review by McGill University not only highlights music's impact on physical health but also delves into its role in emotional regulation and stress reduction. The neurochemical changes induced by musical engagement can have calming effects, equivalent to or even surpassing the efficacy of some pharmacological treatments for stress and anxiety.

8. Promotes discipline and time management

pexels-ono-kosuki-5647612.webpWhile the link between musical training and skills like discipline and time management may seem intuitive, it's grounded in the broader framework of educational psychology. The structured nature of musical practice requires consistent effort and time management, life skills that extend beyond the music room.

9. Boosts your creativity

pexels-daiangan-102127.webpThough difficult to quantify, the relationship between musical training and creativity is supported by a wealth of educational and psychological research. Engaging with music challenges the brain to think in new patterns, promoting creativity that can spill over into other areas of life.

10. Develops self-esteem and confidence

DSC00652 (1).webpThe act of mastering a musical piece and the potential for performance can have profound effects on self-esteem and confidence. This psychological benefit is well-documented in educational psychology, where achievements in learning and skill acquisition are linked to positive self-concept.

A lifelong skill with lasting benefits

Reflecting on research reviewed by ScienceDaily from the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, it's clear that the cognitive and auditory benefits of musical practice are enduring. Learning to play an instrument is an investment in a lifelong skill that promotes cognitive health, auditory sharpness, and overall well-being into older adulthood.

ARTMASTER TIP: The study found that one instrument in particular — the piano — appeared to have the most benefits. If you’re an absolute beginner, check out our popular Piano for Beginners course by David Bennett, pianist and YouTube educator with almost 1 million subscribers. Try it out for FREE with our 7-day trial.

What does learning a musical instrument do to your brain?

  • Comprehensive Brain Engagement: Playing an instrument activates nearly all brain areas, especially those related to vision, sound, movement, and memory​ 

  • Enhanced Brain Structure: Musicians often have a larger corpus callosum, indicating better connectivity between brain hemispheres​

  • Brain Circuitry Reshaping: Musical training reshapes brain circuitry, improving improvisation skills and reducing reliance on executive functions​.

  • Immediate Neuroplastic Changes: Immediate changes occur in the brain after sound-making actions, highlighting rapid neuroplasticity and enhanced auditory learning​.

  • Distinct Structural Differences: Structural brain differences between musicians and non-musicians demonstrate the tangible effects of musical training​.

Learn a musical instrument for free

Ready to experience the brain-boosting benefits of music for yourself? Explore our range of courses in guitar, bass, singing, music production, and more! Find out how learning music can benefit you.

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