Why Playing an Instrument Benefits The Brain

Shows a child playing the piano to illustrate the subject of this artice: why playing an instrument is good for the brain

Hanne S. Finstad, Scientist Factory.

All children should learn how to play an instrument. As it turns out, music isn’t just something we do to express our emotions and experience joy. Playing an instrument gives the brain a proper workout. A Swedish study that followed several hundred children for four years confirms this. The children’s cognitive abilities were tested three times.

Additionally, the scientists performed interviews about lifestyle, music education, and parental background. At the end of the study, 64 children had brain scans. The results showed that learning how to play an instrument increases the working memory’s capacity and the ability to reason. The children who learned how to play were also better at mathematics and had more brain tissue in certain areas. The positive effects were proportional to the number of music lessons the children had gone through.

This study is just one of many that show that children who learn how to play an instrument do better academically than others and that learning this changes the brain physically. The brain consists of living cells that are affected by everything we do. When we play an instrument, we do many things simultaneously. We have to focus. At the same time, we’re holding segments of what we’re playing and hearing in our short-term memory. Many musicians also read sheet music. Muscles have to be activated continually to produce sound. On top of all that, the music is to be interpreted.

Playing music gives the brain a versatile workout. The varied knowledge necessary for playing an instrument might help explain the results from a study that followed youth in an international school. The program only admitted students with good grades. Music lessons were mandatory for the first two years. Later, the students chose between visual arts, drama, or music for the following three years. It turned out that the children who chose music for the entirety of their schooling had the best grades in other subjects.

Perhaps music lessons can prevent reading- and writing difficulties because learning how to read and write is connected to learning to listen. We have to recognize the sounds to associate a symbol to specific sounds, and this is where many children struggle. Their ability to distinguish sounds from one another is reduced. In another study, five-year-olds were divided into three groups. One group got violin lessons, another got swimming lessons, and the third didn’t do any activities. There was no particular difference in the children’s ability to tell sounds apart at the beginning of the experiment, but the violin group performed the best afterward. These findings support others that show that children who know how to play an instrument have lower incidents of reading- and writing difficulties than children who cannot play.

Sources

1. Med Probl Perfrom Art. Jun; 29 (2): 57-63, 2014

2. Behavioural Brain Research, vol 256, p 257-260, 2013

3. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol 7, article 926, 2014

4. Progress in brain research, vol 207, p 209-241, 2013

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