By Rob Cypher
You are a busy person – family, friends, work, school, hobbies galore. Maybe you’re into fitness, or art, cooking or even knitting. Then someone says “you should pick up an instrument – it’s so good for you!” But what could possibly be the value of adding something else to your plate? Learning an instrument, the commitment, the difficulty, when you’re already busy and fulfilled…really, why bother? The truth is, there are a myriad of reasons. Music goes beyond just being able to crank out a song at an open mic or play your favorite Foo Fighters jam. Music is scientifically proven to be one of the most beneficial practices for brain health at any age.
Just listening to music does wonders
Scientific studies have shown that just listening to music can change brain structures. According to researchers at Lyon University, music releases the all important dopamine chemical into the brain, and dopamine is directly tied to memory, attention, mood, motivation and much more. On the flip side, research from Willamette University has shown music reduces the stress causing hormone cortisol, helping to lower stress-levels and improve sleep.
Music lessons increase verbal skills for the young
In 2011, a York University study showed a stunning percentage of increased verbal skills. After only 20 days of music lessons, 90% of children scored significantly higher on verbal intelligence testing. In fact, according to the study’s abstract, “verbal intelligence positively correlated with changes in functional brain plasticity during an executive-function task…demonstrating that transfer of high-level cognitive skill is possible in early childhood.”
…But it’s not just for the kids
Many believe that music, like foreign language learning, is done during the formative years or not at all. But recent studies have shown that to be totally false. In fact, research from the University of South Florida showed that music does in fact stimulate brain activity and memory cognition.Participants aged 60 to 85, and possessing no previous musical experience, developed statistically significant verbal fluency improvement and processing speed after weekly piano lessons. Considering the well documented decline in verbal fluency and brain processing speed as we get older, learning music can directly combat, and in some cases even reverse that trend.
Disabilities and disease
Learning music is fantastic for everyone. It can also be beneficial for people working through different cognitive challenges. Dyslexia is a common but debilitating learning disorder for children; research shows that playing music can help improve speech processing and general learning skills for children dealing with dyslexia. And one of the most interesting and groundbreaking studies in music learning has shown that learning an instrument can actually protect the brain against the degenerative brain disease, dementia; showing that people that played music into adulthood were statistically less likely to develop the disease.
There are an endless number of hobbies, but few have shown the universal benefits that come with learning an instrument.This is just a few of the good things that come with playing. The social aspects of music, and the improved emotional outlook,have all been extensively researched, and proven to be positive impacts of learning an instrument.