1. Playing an instrument is good for your brain
There’s lots of solid research to demonstrate a positive correlation between musical training and brain function in people of all ages. For example, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital concluded that children and adults with extensive musical training show enhanced “executive function” when compared to non-musicians. This implies an improved ability to cope with things like retaining information, regulating behaviours, making good choices and creative problem solving.
A 2014 study from the University of Liverpool found that musical training can increase the blood flow in the left hemisphere of the brain. This suggests that the areas responsible for music and language might share common brain pathways. Another piece of research from Northwestern University has provided biological evidence linking the ability to keep a beat to the neural encoding of speech sounds. This all leads to better communication, increased empathy and an ability to connect with people wherever you go!
Studies show that playing a musical instrument for recreation can lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and in turn, help with anxiety and depression. Medical Science Monitor has published studies showing that playing a musical instrument can reverse stress at a molecular level, while a study conducted by Trip Umbach Healthcare Consulting in the US reported a 21.8% reduction in depression amongst care workers participating in a weekly workplace music-making programme.
In today’s world of X-Factor style instant celebrity, the slow, incremental process of learning to play an instrument does a lot to drive home the message that real-world success doesn’t come overnight. The gradual improvement in skill experienced over time when learning an instrument helps us to foster perseverance, concentration, self-awareness, patience and hard work. When we finally nail ‘that pesky fast bit’ and success does come, it is all the sweeter.
Music brings the world together. It knows no borders and builds only bonds. Playing an instrument with a musical group is a great way to meet new people in a welcoming environment. Music groups can help young teenagers connect with their tribe, or help adults develop close friendships with others at any stage of life. The social element will also be good for your CV as potential employers are likely to see group music participants as good team-players in any context!
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about the relationship between music and the human brain is the effect it can have on Alzheimer's and early-onset dementia. Recent studies suggest that there is a correlation between those who spent time learning an instrument when they were younger and their ability to retain information as they grew older. The findings, based on 157 sets of twins, showed that the musicians among us may reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life by a third.
Music is mathematical and precise, but perfecting a piece of music gives the creative side of your brain a workout too. Like the script of a play, the composer’s notation on the page only comes to life when someone performs it. And performing it means making decisions about how it should be interpreted to best inject personality, emotion and meaning into the music. All this adds up to a process that’s both technical and highly creative.
We can harp on until the cows come home about all the worthy benefits of playing an instrument. But the fact is that nobody takes up music because they want to be smarter, more popular, or more efficient. We make music because it makes us feel happy and alive. Music helps us to feel connected to those around us. It helps us to make sense of the world, to process our emotions, to have faith in humanity, and to find comfort in a sometimes chaotic world. Happiness lies in doing something you love. That’s why we play.