Why Learn To Play Music?
For thousands of years, humans have felt the positive health effects that result from playing music. However, up until the last 75 years or so, there wasn’t much scientific evidence in existence to explain why, and what, those positive effects really are. With recent advancements in physiological research techniques, the scientific community has now given us strong and convincing evidence that it is a worthwhile endeavor to learn to play a musical instrument. Studies have been carried out across a wide range of ages, demographics, and time periods, and the take-away from the data is clear. Learning to play a musical instrument is beneficial because it improves cognitive abilities and relieves stress.
Evidence of the benefits of learning and playing music, particularly during early childhood development, have been seen in a number of research studies. One of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time, Albert Einstein, learned to play both the violin and the piano at a very young age and continued to play throughout his life. Studies have shown that both adults and children engaged in musical training, have experienced measurable improvements in Executive Functions. The Executive Functions are the cognitive processes of the brain that handle problem solving, the ability to plan and focus, working memory and many other important brain functions (Bergland, 2014). The auditory cortex, the area of the brain responsible for hearing, speech and language development, shows significant strengthening after one has been actively engaged in learning to play a musical instrument. The Corpus Callosum, a thick bundle of nerve fibers that connects the left and right sides of the brain, is significantly larger in musicians when compared with non-musicians. (Schlaug, 1995). The possibility has been suggested that those with existing extraordinary anatomical auditory abilities are predisposed to become musicians, as an explanation for results of the research studies. However, studies that have tracked subjects over time show progression and growth in these areas of the brain, beyond what you’d normally expect to see, after engaging in musical training. (Hyde, 2009). Another advantage of learning to play a musical instrument is the effect that it has on the body in terms of reducing stress.
Having a means to channel life’s stressors is critical to our well-being. Playing a musical instrument lowers the heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which leaves us feeling more relaxed and at ease. Of course, while it’s normal to experience short periods of stress as part of everyday life, persistent and ongoing stress, with no method of release, can lead to serious negative impact on the body. Offsetting the potential harmful effects of stress by picking up a guitar and strumming some chords or playing a tune on the piano for example, is a healthy and enjoyable method for coping with stress. According to the American Music Therapy Association website (AMTA), the positive effects of both listening to and playing music has led to Music Therapy becoming an “established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” (2019). Science has proven that the sound vibrations that occur when playing an instrument, stimulate your body’s immune system production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that fights toxins, viruses and bacteria, reducing stress and boosting the immune system. (Novotney, 2013). Not only does playing a musical instrument reduce stress and boost your immune system, it reduces the recovery time needed by the body to come back from a stress event. Whether it be singing, drums, horn, guitar, violin or piano, the positive results of reduced stress seem to occur regardless of what instrument is being played; the key is in the enjoyment of playing and building new neurons as a result.
Learning to play a musical instrument is beneficial because it improves cognitive abilities and relieves stress. Enhancements to brain functions like augmented working memory, increased problem-solving abilities, and an improved ability to focus and plan are a direct result of musical training. Picking up an instrument and learning to play your favorite song, has the ability to turn off the body’s stress response and boost the immune system (Novotney, 2013). The research showing the advantages of playing a musical instrument is simply too compelling to ignore. When it comes to reaping the rewards of playing a musical instrument, it doesn’t matter what the instrument is, as long as you’re engaged with it, learning, and having fun.
American Music Therapy Association (AMTA, 2019). What is Music Therapy?
Retrieved from: https://www.musictherapy.org/about/musictherapy/
Bergland, C. (2014, June 25). Does Playing a Musical Instrument Make You Smarter?
Hyde, K.L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A.C., Schlaug, G. (2009). The Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development, A Longitudinal Study. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1169. 182-6. 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04852.x.
Novotney, A. (2013, November). Music as Medicine.
Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/11/music.aspx
Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Huang, Y., Stiger, J.F. and Steinmetz, H. (1995). Increased Corpus Callosum Size in Musicians. Neuropsychologia, Vol. 33, No. 8 pp. 1047-1055.
Retrieved from: http://www.musicianbrain.com/papers/Schlaug_CCallosum_1995b.pdf