You might have heard that playing games is good for your body or your brain. But researchers don’t think so.
They have found out there’s little or no evidence that those games improve anything more than training some specific tasks.
If that’s the thing, then what is the real good? The answer is simple: playing an instrument – a piano, a guitar, ukulele, drums, or whatever you find suitable.
Why? Let’s take a look.
1. It Trains You To Process Many Things And Makes Many Parts Of Your Brain Active At Once
I think this is the most notable benefit of playing a musical instrument to your brain.
Playing an instrument is a sophisticated experience that involves combined information from the senses of sound, sight and touch. Because of that, it leads to a musician’s superior ability to process multiple sensory experiences at the same time.
That’s why they have a distinct advantage in this respect.
When an instrument is played, the motor systems in your brain control the movements needed to produce the required sound. The auditory circuit then processes the sound.
Besides, the sensory information from your fingers, hands and arms is sent to your brain for processing. If you are reading the music sheet, then the visual information is sent to the brain for interpreting as well.
And of course, it also produces emotional responses to the music!
It’s a surprise that your brain does all of those things in just a blink of an eye.
2. It strengthens your brain’s executive function
The executive function of the brain include (but not limited to) processing and retaining information, controlling behaviour, problem-solving, etc. Your brain relies on these for a variety of critical tasks.
If you have a hard time doing some of these, you should think about learning to play a musical instrument.
A 2014 piece of research discovered that playing an instrument improves and strengthens executive functioning in both children and adults.
This discovery has significant meaning since executive function relates strongly to academic achievement.
For example, analysis of SAT exams has shown that kids who play an instrument scored 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math compared to those who didn’t play any instruments.
Playing can also boost one’s reasoning skills and increase one’s IQ by 7 points, according to a psychologist at the University of Zurich. 7 points just by doing one thing – playing an instrument.
3. It changes the brain structurally and functionally
There are significant differences in brain structure between musicians and non-musicians of the same age.
For example, studies indicate that the massive bundle of nerve fibres connecting the two sides of the brain is significantly larger in musicians.
The parts that control motor skills, hearing, storing audio information and memory also become larger and more active when a person learns how to play an instrument.
These studies also tell us playing a musical instrument increases not only the volume of grey matter in various brain regions but also strengthen the connections between them.
These connections last for a long time, even decades, and are proven to help protect the brain against the development of cognitive impairments, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Moreover, other research even shows that playing an instrument also boosts verbal memory, spatial reasoning and literacy skills. This can make it easier for you to learn foreign languages. How cool is that?
4. It leads to later brain flexibility
A 2012 study found that children who received musical training, even after they stopped playing their instrument for decades, still received the benefits as adults.
These adults demonstrated a faster brain response to speech than those who had never played an instrument.
It pointed out that even limited music training in childhood can preserve sharp processing of speech sounds and enhance resilience to age-related decline in hearing.
Why is this? The answer may lie in how our brains process sound.
As we get older, it becomes harder to interpret the quick change of sound, such as speech, especially in environments with a lot of background noise. Have you ever noticed how tricky it is for adults to understand little kids’ speaking?
5. It helps your brain recover from injury
The word “brain injury” might sound scary, but it can be partly healed by music, particularly by playing an instrument.
A study found that learning to play an instrument changes the brain waves in a way that improves one’s listening skills.
From this, we know that it is capable of reconstructing itself and compensate for injuries or diseases. It also shows that learning to play an instrument changes the brain’s perception of sound in a way unseen in listening to music.
The study was the first time researchers saw such direct and strong changes in the brain after only one session (about 30 minutes) of playing an instrument, quite a short time. Can you believe that?
With further experiments, this could help develop musical rehabilitation programs for other conditions that affect motor function, such as traumatic brain injury.
If you are wondering why I didn’t put some other benefits in, such as relieving stress or boosting memory, I would say that want to focus particularly on the brain this time. So I choose the benefits with our brain as their “greatest receiver”.
I hope this post helps you understand more about what playing a musical instrument can bring us, and hopefully also help to inspire you to go grab your instrument.
Just go and try it out!