New year. New resolutions. This year, for a change, why not explore something that will not only add to your skillset but also nourish your heart and soul?
Brain scans have shown a larger brain structure in movement, hearing, and visual and spatial abilities of professional keyboard players. Research also indicates that children who undertake 14 months of musical training display more powerful structural and functional brain changes.
For those who think learning to play a musical instrument is a waste of time, especially among children – WAIT! Music reaches parts of the brain and does things to it that others can't. A recent study found that adults with even a moderate musical training preserved sharp processing of speech sounds and were able to increase resilience to any age-related decline in hearing. In addition, learning to play an instrument as a child can protect the brain against dementia and help with speech processing and learning in children with dyslexia. It is also common knowledge that singing has helped overcome stammering among children and adults alike. You remember Scatman, the famous American jazz musician and poet who created a unique mix of scat singing and house music. He is best known for his hit "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop). Other notably singers who used to stutter include Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Ed Sheeran and John Lee Hooker (American Blues singer, guitarist).
Other Ways Learning an Instrument Strengthens Your Brain
And yes! There are other benefits, some of which are plain vanilla while others make you sit up and take notice.
Enhances multi tasking: Musical training helps you enhance your auditory working memory — needed to improvise, memorize, play in time, and tune the instrument. It also helps you increase your memory capacity facilitating communication and conversation.
Reduces stress and depression and boosts your ability to live: Music therapy among cancer patients found that listening to and playing music reduced anxiety and lowered levels of depression and anxiety.
Musical training strengthens the brain's executive function: Critical tasks like processing and retaining information, decision making and problem solving was strengthened in both children and adults who played music.
Increases blood flow in your brain: Studies have found that short bursts of musical training increase the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain. So skip the energy drink and get together with friends and jam for 30 minutes.
Strengthens memory and reading skills: Practice and learning music increases concentration, reading and memory skills giving these parts of a brain a good workout – without the strain or associated stress from other brain jigsaw puzzles or games.
Makes you happy: Studies show that babies who took interactive music classes displayed better early communication skills and smiled more. Musicians are a happy lot, aren’t they?
Aids brain recovery process: Music does reach parts of the brain that regular medication can’t. Using music therapy among stroke patients showed a marked improvement in their brain motor control activities.
But that does not mean that the advantages of learning to play music are limited to expressing yourself, impressing friends, or just having fun. A growing number of studies show that music lessons in childhood can provide benefits for the long run especially as we age, in the form of an added defense against memory loss, cognitive decline, and diminished ability to distinguish consonants and spoken words. Musicians throughout their lives, hear better in noisy environments. This skill is certainly a virtue as we get older as hearing words against a noisy background is a common complaint among people as they get older.
It is never too late – you can start now!
According to one of our store managers, “most of our customers who have shied away from learning when they were younger visit us at the store at a later age, to buy their musical instrument of choice. It’s definitely possible to learn and play well into late adulthood too." It's important to know that those who had taken piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions.
Musical training seems to have a beneficial impact at whatever age you start. It contains all the components of a cognitive training program that sometimes are overlooked, and just as we work out our bodies, we should work out our minds.
So hop over to a music store and spend some time there – pick any instrument that you like and connect with. That’s a great place to start. And then, let the music guide you. Even if you don’t know where you are going, as David Bowie says, the journey I’m sure will be fun!