Those of us who play music typically do it for the love of it, not necessarily for any benefits it might bring us. However, research indicates that playing an instrument goes a long way toward making us healthy, well-balanced individuals. Here’s how:
- Enhanced brain function. About 90% of the brain is stimulated during music practice. Neural connections are made between the audio, visual, and motor areas of the brain. Also, signals are transmitted rapidly across the two hemispheres of the brain. Gray and white matter is built in the process. Seniors who have practiced a music instrument at some point in their lives, even if they haven’t touched that instrument in years, are less likely to lose their memory and cognitive ability as they age and can retain their ability to learn and digest new information. The greatest benefits appear to come to those who started learning an instrument before the age of nine and who kept practicing for 10 or more years. However, even people who learned to play music for the first time between ages 60 and 85 have shown marked improvements in memory, verbal fluency, and the ability to process information quickly—even if they only practiced for six months.
- Hearing ability. Musicians have also been shown to have good auditory memory skills and an improved ability to pick a particular sound out of background noise. Children who play an instrument from a young age show an enhanced ability to distinguish word sounds—particularly consonants—which in turn improves their ability to read. This ability also benefits seniors, guarding them from hearing loss. Even if a senior has not touched an instrument in years, the ability for the nervous system to quickly distinguish between similar sounds is retained throughout old age.
- Skills for life. The skills that we learn when practicing music carry over to other areas of life, particularly those requiring discipline. Many musicians are organized and can manage their time effectively. They can frequently strategize well (many musicians are good chess players). They quickly learn to concentrate and to persevere, since nothing comes without practice. They often display a strong attention to detail, and they tend to be creative. Studies suggest that musicians also benefit from their practice academically. Musicians who read notation regularly have excellent reading skills, and those who understand and work with music theory have enhanced math skills. Many young musicians have gone on to be successful scientists, engineers, CEOs, and leaders.
- Physical health. Studies show that playing music has interesting effects on the body—all positive. Well-documented impacts of music include reduced blood pressure and lowered heart rate. Newer research increasingly suggests that playing an instrument may enhance your body’s immune response, as well. Musical ability may even promote longevity.
- Stress relief. Playing an instrument is known to reduce stress. Not only does it reduce the physical effects of stress, but it channels the mind in more productive directions.
- Stability. Studies conducted on students of a wide range of ages suggest that music enhances emotional and social stability. Young musicians can often communicate more effectively than their nonmusical peers and are much less likely to engage in fights. They are also less likely to experience feelings of inferiority or insecurity. Motivation is one of their strengths. In adults, music is believed to provide a positive and effective form of therapy for disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Simple pleasures. Making music brings pleasure to a musician, which is worthwhile all on its own. However, it can go farther than that and become a way of bringing pleasure to many others.