We all understand that listening to music feels good, but did you know that taking up an instrument can lead to real health benefits? These benefits cover health across the spectrum. Mental, emotional, and physical.
If you’ve ever considered playing an instrument, but ultimately decided against it, perhaps learning some of the surprising benefits of incorporating music into your life will cause you to reconsider. And if you already play an instrument, next time someone says you’re wasting your time, you can have a ready comeback.
So what are the major health benefits of playing an instrument? One of the most considerable is the effect that music has on the brain.
1. Music is Food for the Brain
Playing music activates the amygdala and hippocampus in our brains. These areas of the brain are linked with emotion and memory, and are largely responsible for why we enjoy listening to music at all. Playing an instrument forces your brain to work, building a memory bank of songs and patterns linked with emotion.
An article in National Geographic on this subject stated that “other studies have shown an increase in the volume of white matter. Such findings speak to the brain’s plasticity—its ability to change or adapt in response to experience, environment, or behavior”.
2. Natural Stress Relief
If you’re already a musician, you know the feeling of relaxation that playing music can bring. After a long, stressful day, the act of playing repetitive motions and familiar notes can soothe your brain.
It can also lead to better moods, help lift one out of depression, and offer a method of self-expression that strengthens confidence and a sense of self.
3. Increased Coordination
Playing an instrument improves hand-eye coordination and dexterity. When sight-reading music, the brain has to translate the notes it sees to the actions that will produce them. This happens continuously when we play music.
Improving coordination while playing music also improves reaction time. When you sight-read a piece of music for the first time, you have to react to the new notes as they appear. While it’s true that games like “Guitar Hero” also do this, wouldn’t you rather be learning how to make real music?
4. Improved Concentration
If you find yourself easily distracted, or tend to have trouble focusing, taking up an instrument may be the perfect solution.
When you play a difficult piece of music, you need to be paying attention to a lot of different factors. There’s the tempo of the piece, the rhythm, the notes and chords you play, and the length and volume of each note.
Understandably, it takes a lot of attention to detail to be able to pull this off. But it’s also like weight training for your brain. Repetition and practice yields to a more focused brain, a benefit that affects every other aspect of your life.
5. Music Prevents Brains from Aging
Remember when we said that music was food for the brain? Well, not only does playing music build connections and encourage plasticity, but it can also prevent older brains from aging.
The same National Geographic article states that music lessons “provide benefits for the long run, as we age, in the form of an added defense against memory loss, cognitive decline, and diminished ability to distinguish consonants and spoken words”.
The cognitive benefits of playing music cannot be ignored. Its benefits to language lead us to our last point.
6. Playing Music Improves Reading, Comprehension, and Math Skills
Across the board, playing an instrument can benefit a child in every way that he or she will be graded on future standardized tests.
Music is inherently mathematical. Rhythms can be compared to patterns of numbers. By training the brain to recognize and repeat patterns of rhythms, it is able to recognize mathematics patterns more easily.
When you read a piece of music, the brain is taking in a lot of different, complex information, and translating it into something meaningful. This process is very similar to the act of reading. We take in a string of symbols, decipher them to get information, then put the information together to extract meaning, constantly rearranging as we digest more.
Anyone can improve their life by taking up the practice of playing an instrument. You don’t have to be a guitar god, rock star, or genius composer to get any of these benefits. All you need is practice, patience, and a little bit of joy.