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Playing an Instrument Develops your Brain

Updated: May 31, 2019

By Tessa Rabeau


Whether it be listening to some RIRI to pump you up, or to relax and unwind with some Beethoven, it is commonly known that listening to music can greatly benefit your quality of life. Learning to play an instrument is a whole other level of beneficial gain. If you want to keep your brain sharp and youthful, playing a musical instrument is the answer.


“When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout.” – Anita Collins

How does the brain work?

The brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, it is what controls our emotions, behaviour, movements and sensations. Without any information occupying our brain we would be motionless and emotionless shells. Therefore, we must train the brain, ‘feed’ it and challenge it. As toddlers we are trained to walk, talk, eat etc. As children and teens, we are fed information and challenged with it, whether It be making an important decision or doing that extension homework for maths. Ultimately, being challenged makes you stronger, this applies to the brain too and learning a musical instrument is a great way to get those brain gains!


Why does playing an instrument help the brain?

Science has proven that musical training can change both the function and the structure of your brain for the better. According to research from Montreal University, musicians’ brains have tended to be more alert than the average person, as well as their reaction time being much faster. As we grow older our reaction times become slower but learning an instrument throughout your life or whilst you are young can be very helpful in elderly life. This also ties in with the fact that research has shown that playing even the simplest of instruments can help fight hearing loss throughout your whole life.


Playing an instrument allows you to experience sound, contact and visual display all at the same time, as well as feeling a connection with the music. This is a complex form of multitasking and sub-consciously the brain is forming new pathways which strengthen with more practice. Further research has also shown that learning an instrument can improve verbal and non-verbal memory, spacial reasoning and literacy skills.


On the simpler side, musical training helps in social situations too! It helps with cooperation, organization and time management skills. It also forces you to come out of your comfort zone and try something new like performing in front of a crowd, this will help your confidence grow greatly! Playing an instrument is similarly very supportive of your mental health. There is nothing that can compare to sitting (or standing) down and a playing a song that corresponds with how you are feeling, it is a way to relieve the stress.


Challenges of playing an instrument.

Now, I am not saying that you will be able to pick up your instrument and play Mozart’s 6th symphony. Playing an instrument is hard. It takes years of discipline, practice and time to be an accomplished musician. As a pianist I have had to learn how to read music, train my fingers to move the right way, how to use the pedal and how to convey emotion physically. For the first three weeks of learning piano all I played was ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Hot Cross Buns’. This is the same as any instrument, each instrument has aspects which will challenge and frustrate you, but there is no way around it except for doing the hard yards of practice. However, this does not mean that learning very simple pieces, or teaching yourself how to play an instrument does not benefit your brain. Your brain will still be greatly strengthened, whether it be learning ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ or playing the chords for that song you heard on the radio.


If you are looking for an instrument that is easier and less time consuming to learn than others, here is a list:

· Recorder

· Keyboard

· Ukulele

· Bongos

· Harmonica

· Drums

· Guitar

Ultimately, know that learning an instrument is the most rewarding activity that I have ever pursued in my life, and if you have ever thought about pursuing an instrument, then do it and don’t give up!

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