Albert Einstein once said, “I get most joy in life out of music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” Even though he never received a formal education in music, Einstein taught himself to play the violin and piano.
If you’re a musician or are learning to play an instrument, you’re probably familiar with the passion that Einstein described. Science has shown that the intensity of repeated practice when playing an instrument results in an improved performance in cognitive, sensory and motor abilities.
So it’s time to face the music and see why playing an instrument is good for you.
Structural brain changes
Physical exercise is important, but so are mental tasks to keep your brain fit. Learning to play an instrument is one such exercise to keep your mind sharp. A study split people into two groups and gave them both a basic movement task to learn. One group learned the task with musical cues while the other group did not.
The result showed that the people who used musical cues to learn the task had an increased “structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement.” Listening to music while learning to do something new increased movement and motor skills in that group.
Improves mood and bonding with others
Playing music releases increased levels of dopamine, or the “happy chemicals” that influence the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. As well, practicing an instrument in a group or band stimulates the brain hormone oxytocin, helping people bond and create trust with others.
A study measured stress responses in three groups by exposing the participants to different kinds of sound. Group one was exposed to relaxing music, group two to the sound of rippling water and group three was not given any sort of sound to listen to.
Afterwards, all three groups were given the same stress test and both their vitals and reactions were monitored. The research found a more drastic decrease in the stress hormone cortisol in the subjects who listened to relaxing music than the other two groups.
Playing an instrument is considered a form of self-expression because it acts as a creative outlet for bottled-up emotions. In this way, it also cultivates creativity and abstract thinking because it stimulates more blood flow in the brain. The more you practice, the stronger your brain becomes.
Improves verbal skills
A study explored the link between music listening and verbal ability in preschool-aged children. Over a 20-day period, the children were exposed to a music-training program. The findings showed that training in music listening skills transferred to the children’s verbal intelligence, meaning that the subjects performed better on a measure of vocabulary knowledge.
Improves memory, reading and learning skills
Just as mathematics is considered a universal language, so is the ‘language’ of music. Musicians develop a faster memory than non-instrument playing people. Playing an instrument also increases reading and auditory skills.
An article from the Journal of Neuroscience explains that musicians’ brain structures differ from those of non-musicians. The results suggested drastic differences in motor-related regions—which play a role in planning and executing control of finger movements.
The article also found that subjects who continuously played their instrument learn quicker and excel in performing visual-spatial functions. This means that musicians train their brain to be more efficient when reading sheet music.
So the next time you’re looking to try out a new hobby, pick up an instrument and give it a try. It’ll be sure to strike a chord.