Choosing to play an instrument is the beginning of a journey, and not just a musical one. The journey is exciting, and is often filled with strife, struggle, and a lot of hard work. It will force you to take in new information and master new skills. But the benefits of undertaking this journey go way beyond simply learning how to make music.
That’s why this week we’re going to explore some of the many non-musical benefits of playing an instrument. Many people who take up music get discouraged at the amount of time and effort that it takes to reach any real level of skill, so it’s important to keep these less obvious benefits in mind.
Uses Every Part of the Brain
Science has shown us time and time again that musical training has an incredible impact on the brain; actually changing structures and function for the better, including better brain development in the young, and improving long-term memory for all ages.
In fact, brain scans can actually show the differences in brain structure between musicians and non-musicians. Probably the biggest difference is found in the corpus collosum, the giant bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two sides of the brain: it’s much larger in musicians. There are also improvement in movement and hearing.
Interestingly, even if you only have a brief period of musical training in your life it can have long-lasting benefits, including in reading, memory capacity, and happiness.
As I hinted at a moment ago, music has some powerful effects on memory. Back in 2003, ABC Science talked about a study performed with high school students, half of which had musical training. The test involved the students listening to a list of words, and then, after a period of time had passed, being asked to recall them. The study found that the students who had musical training had much better verbal memory than the non-musical group. In addition, the more training the students had in music, the more words they were able to remember.
Boosts the Immune System
While researching the effects of music on the body, physiologists and neuroscientists Daniel J. Levitin and Mona Lisa Chanda discovered that listening to music and playing an instrument gave the immune system a boost. Specifically, music prompted the body to create the antibody immunoglobulin-A (IgA), which kills viruses, like the common cold or the flu.
In a study performed by Dr. Simon Landry, the reaction times of musicians who had at least 7 years of training was compared with non-musicians. Putting a speaker in front of them, Dr. Landry asked the participating students to place one hand on a mouse, and the other on a “vibrotactile” device. If the student felt a vibration from the vibrotactile device, or heard a sound from the speaker, or sensed both at the same time, they were asked to click the mouse. In the end, the experiment found that the musicians had significantly faster reaction times in all the tests.
A recent study published by The National Center for Biology Information looked into how effective music was as lowering stress. Volunteers were split into 3 groups: one listening to relaxing music, one listening to the sound of rippling water, and one listening to nothing. In the end, the study showed that the people listening to music had significantly lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels than either the other two groups. Imagine what making your own music can do for your stress!
Patience & Perseverance
Learning to play music usually isn’t easy. It doesn’t just involve adapting your body, but expanding your mind as well. You’ll learn fingerings and chord shapes, develop playing techniques, and memorize new information. Slowly, over time and with good practice skills, you’ll notice yourself getting better. With each new milestone or goal reached, you gain a small reward and fresh motivation to continue. Making music requires patience – you won’t get immediate results, so you’ll have to push through and persevere, a valuable skill in other areas of life.
Learning to play an instrument automatically means you’ll be playing in front of other people. At first, this might just be your teacher, but eventually it will mean recitals, or simply for curious friends. This will help foster the valuable experience and grit needed to keep it together while others are watching. The confidence that you build in your experiences with performing will be carried over into other areas of your life: “If I could do that, then I can do this!”
Learning to play an instrument is a commitment that won’t be finished overnight. Making music take a lot of hard work and a consistent level of both time and effort. A certain amount of self-discipline is needed to go through the steps of consistent, focused practice – especially with all the distractions available today. This strengthening of your self-discipline, like confidence, can be carried over into other parts of your life.
Better Time Management Skills
Here in the 21st century (AKA “The Future”) we’re all marching to the beat of a busy schedule. Throwing learning an instrument into that mix can certainly be a challenge, especially if you have lofty goals for yourself. The desire to improve will help you find ways to schedule time to practice during your already hectic day. And in turn, you improve the valuable life skill of wasting less time and using your time more effectively.
More than anything else on this list, music makes you happy! Not much can be compared to the joy you get from sitting down with your instrument and letting your emotions flow through your fingertips and out across the notes and chords of a piece of music. And that’s what makes every benefit of learning to play an instrument worth the long journey: it’s fun – and if it’s fun, chances are you’ll stick with it!
If you’re looking to start your journey, of if you’re already on it but need a new guide, check out all the programs, classes, and ensembles that The Music Studio has to offer for children and adults!
It’s never too late to start reaping the benefits of musical training!