All those music lessons your mother made you take as a child may have actually paid off. The latest neurological research strongly indicates that learning a musical instrument can help individuals, especially children, cognitively.
Now, brain training is a tricky term to throw around. There’s a multimillion-dollar industry promoting various activities that supposedly improve brain power and memory. Scientists have long regarded such claims with skepticism. Rather than paying an online brand for a product that presumably improves brain function, scientists recommend something much more simple:
Learn to play a new musical instrument. Musical training falls under a broad category of activities that positively impacts your brain, neurologically speaking, of course. It turns out, learning to play a new musical instrument at any age offers benefits. Children can sharpen their growing brains while adults can remain mentally sharp as old age creeps in.
Read ahead to learn more about scientifically-proven benefits of playing a new musical instrument and how you can actually start learning one:
Learning Music Alters Brain Function
According to Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster, music can stimulate the brain “in a very powerful way.” Scientists attribute this feature of music to its ability to evoke emotions in us, sometimes quite strongly. How many of us haven’t teared up listening to “o mio babbino caro” for the first time?
The professionals make it look easy, but playing a musical instrument is actually a very complex task. It can be complex physically (the harp!). However, brain scans show that playing a musical instrument is also a mentally complex task as well.
Obviously, playing even a simple instrument like a digital keyboard takes years and years to master. Musicians would proudly show off the calluses accumulated tried to learn the guitar or the violin. These calluses are also present in the brain.
In one study carried out among musicians and non-musicians, researchers found that the musicians had a thicker corpus callosum, the nerve-rich structure that connects the right hemisphere of the brain to the left. Additionally, the parts of the brain responsible for visual-spatial abilities like hearing seemed to be larger than average in professional musicians, particularly in keyboard players.
In lay terms, playing a musical instrument can actually be like exercise for certain parts of the brain to gain muscle, or rather nerve, mass.
How Your Brain Benefits When You Learn to Play a New Musical Instrument
Training your brain to play a musical instrument can have long-lasting effects. It’s particularly advantageous for children. In 2013, researchers studied whether the response to complex sounds was different depending on the amount of musical training an individual had.
The researchers recruited over 40 adults and divided them into groups based on how much musical training they had received as children. The experience levels among the subgroups ranged from none to between 4 to 14 years.
The scientists discovered that the subjects with the most musical training had faster neural responses when it came to identifying complex sounds. The ones with little to no training just heard white noise and background sounds.
This study goes on to show that learning a musical instrument in childhood can alter or improve auditory perception in adults.
If you are already an adult with no musical training whatsoever, don’t despair, because it’s not too late. Another study discovered that musical training helped adults who suffered strokes recover from brain injuries. Not fully, but it certainly helped.
Science indicates that the benefits of any type of instrument training received either as a child or an adult can persist for years. Some doctors are even recommending learning a new instrument as a desirable prevention method to battle against age-related cognitive impairment conditions like dementia.
Start to Play a Musical Instrument
Overall, if you want to train your brain, ditch the branded products and pick up an instrument. It’s certainly not easy if you are not familiar with music at all. But pretty much all of us have appreciated a musical genre or another at some point in our lives, so we know what music is.
There’s a major positive side to learning to play—you don’t necessarily need to have an innate talent like you need for singing (though talent can help). The first step any music student has to take is to choose an instrument to play.
You can pick an instrument based on whether you like the sound it makes, how easy it seems to play, or the fact that you merely like it. A common musical instrument like a keyboard is easy to learn because it is widely available and affordable. You can even find free lessons online.
Students can also play a random array of instruments and pick the one that appeals to them the most. Then you will have to decide on whether to buy this instrument, rent it, or just borrow it for lessons. Keep in mind that learning music requires hours and hours of practice. Buying an instrument or renting it monthly is highly recommended.
The next step is to learn how to play it. Students can sign up for professional lessons, join tutoring sessions at music schools, badger a relative to teach them, or sign up for an online lesson. Today, you can easily browse YouTube for musical instrument lessons.
Professional musicians would say that you need to practice at least 30 minutes a day to master the instrument you have chosen. That’s practicing every day of the week, or at least most days as your schedule allows. There are no cutting corners when you want to learn the guitar or the trombone. Students must commit themselves to the time and practice required.
With dedication and self-discipline, you will be able to grasp the basics of your instrument in a matter of weeks. Then in a few years, you might even become a true professional.
Regardless of how fast you master your instrument, it’s the learning process that’s most beneficial to your brain. As you learn, your cognitive brain function would be stimulated, possibly enough to improve. If the research is right, your working memory would improve as you practice.
Guest Author Bio
Tracy Plunkett is a writer and a blogger based in Auckland, New Zealand. She loves playing guitar, photography, and traveling to new countries. She has been a guitarist since she was fourteen (but still isn’t very good at it).
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