Anyone who has ever learned to play an instrument can confirm that it’s fun and often a great way to interact with others. But, increasing bodies of evidence suggest that learning an instrument also benefits your brain in a number of ways.
Increased blood flow
Researchers have found that learning an instrument boosts blood flow to the brain, in particular, to the left side. When the brain gets more blood, it also receives more oxygen, and this, in turn, helps to make the brain stronger.
Boosts multisensory skills
Learning an instrument demands processing the senses of sight, sound and touch, all at the same time. Honing these skills strengthens neural pathways in the brain associated with multisensory functioning. Because musicians are better able to process sensory information, studies have also found that they show faster reaction times compared to non-musicians, and are more mentally alert.
Scientists have studied the brains of musicians and non-musicians and concluded that those who learn an instrument tend to have larger brains, especially in the corpus callosum region, which connects both sides of the brain. This surge in grey matter and neural connections is thought to have a positive impact on learning and memory, literacy ability and spatial reasoning.
Interestingly, studies show that the younger you start to learn an instrument, the more profound the changes in the brain can be. In particular, one study found that babies who took part in interactive music classes showed earlier communication abilities. Another study found that children with dyslexia displayed improved learning and speech processing after music tuition.
But, learning an instrument at any age still brings benefits to the brain. One study followed people over the age of 60 who took up learning the piano. Six months down the line, participants showed improved cognitive functioning, increased memory and verbal fluency, and the ability to process information faster than before.
Better executive functioning
The brain’s executive functioning abilities cover aspects such as problem-solving, decision-making and behaviour control. These are important for day-to-day living and can influence how you lead your life. Researchers claim that adults and children who learn an instrument can benefit from a stronger and more improved executive functioning ability in the brain. So, next time you have an important decision to make, do some music practise to get your brain into gear for making the right choices.
Recovery from brain injuries
Studies have looked at how learning an instrument has an impact on those recovering from a brain injury or stroke, and the results are impressive. After just three weeks of learning to play the piano or drums, stroke patients with no previous musical experience showed improved motor skills.
Learning to play an instrument can help to keep your mental health in good shape. Whether you suffer from anxiety, depression or stress, studies have found that music training releases feel-good chemicals into the brain that help relieve negative mood symptoms. Music training also often involves working with others, which strengthens social bonds and connections, creating a positive, happy feeling.
Crucially, when you learn to play an instrument, it demands your full attention, so while you’re concentrating on notes or chords, this mindfulness practice keeps any negative thoughts or worries away.
The sense of achievement that also comes from learning a new piece of music can equally boost your confidence.