How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain
At 123 Rock we bring you a combination of the latest and most exciting news in the world of music as well as interesting articles for your knowledge and entertainment that will inspire you throughout your learning process and throughout your never-ending musical experience.
The Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument
Exposing your children to music (even before they are born) will bring benefits to their brain development. Many areas of our brain become active when we listen to music as a natural response of interaction to that source, but it is not until you play and instrument, when that activity turns into a full body workout that brings multiple positive effects throughout the course of your life.
There has been numerous studies to the effect on our mental and social development when we are exposed to music and how playing a musical instrument can exponentially increase our brain activity and help us develop certain areas of our brain that allows us to solve problems more effectively and creatively in both academic and social settings, but it was not until recently when I came across this wonderful video I found on TED Ed, which captures the essence of how playing music stimulates our brains. Written by educator Anita Collins, Narrated by Addison Anderson, scored by Peter Gosling and animated by Sharon Colman Graham, this message is presented in a very charming way, which makes it not only very enjoyable to watch, but really easy to follow and easy to understand.
You can find the transcription below the video.
Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments there are fireworks going off all over their brain?
On the outside they make look calm and focussed reading the music and making the precise and practised movements required, but inside their brains, there’s a party going on.
How do we know this?
Well, in the last few decades neuroscientists have made enormous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work by monitoring them in real time with instruments like FMRI and PET scanners. When people are hooked up to these machines, tasks such as reading or doing math problems, each have corresponding areas of the brain where activity can be observed. But when researchers got the participants to listen to music, they saw fireworks. Multiple areas of their brains were lighting up at once as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elements like melody and rhythm and then put it all back together into unified musical experience. And our brains do all this work in a split second between when we first hear the music and when our foot starts to tap along.
But when scientists turned from observing the brains of music listeners to those of musicians, the little backyard fireworks became a jubilee. It turns out that while listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout. The neuroscientists say multiple areas of the brain light up, simultaneously processing different information in intricate, inter-related and astonishingly fast sequences.
But what is it about making music that sets the brain alight? The research is still fairly new, but neuroscientists have a pretty good idea. Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area of the brain at once, especially the visual, auditory and motor cortices. And as with any other workout, disciplined, structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions allowing us to apply that strength to other activities.
The most obvious difference between listening to music and playing it is that the latter requires fine motor skills which are controlled in both hemispheres of the brain. It also combines the linguistic and mathematical precision in which the left hemisphere is more involved with the novel and creative content that the right excels in. For these reasons playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively in both academic and social settings. Because making music also involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians often have higher levels of executive functions – a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing, and attention to detail, and requires simultaneous analysis of both cognitive and emotional aspects.
This ability also has an impact on how our memory systems work. And indeed, musicians exhibit enhanced memory functions – creating, storing, and retrieving memories more quickly and efficiently. Studies have found that musicians appear to use their highly connected brains to give each memory multiple tags such as a conceptual tag, an emotional tag, an audio tag, and a contextual tag, like a good internet search engine.
So how do we know all those benefits are unique to music as opposed to say, sports or painting? Or could it be that the people who go into music are already smarter to begin with? Neuroscientists have explored these issues but so far they’ve found that the artistic and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity studied, including other arts. And several randomized study of participants who showed the same level of cognitive function and neural processing at the same start found that those who were exposed to a period of music learning showed an enhancement in multiple brain areas compared to the others.
This recent research about the mental benefits of playing music has advanced our understanding of mental function revealing the inner rhythms and complex interplay that make up the amazing orchestra of our brain.
* Anita Collins is an Educator and Musician working at the University of Canberra as Assistant Professor of Music and Arts Education. She has been involved in a broad range of research projects including the study of how music education can enhance practice, advocacy and verbal memory from a neuro scientific perspective.
* TED-Ed is a free educational website for teachers and learners with a commitment to create lessons worth sharing. Their approach to education is an extension of TED’s (Technology, Entertainment and Design) mission of spreading great ideas.
According to Anita Collins, Learning Music can benefit your brain more than any other activity, she says “When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout”
So go get an instrument and start playing! Don’t worry if you have never done so, it’s never too late to start experiencing the wonderful journey of playing music!
123 Rock School of Music is dedicated to teaching and nurturing music development in all individuals regardless of age. We believe music is an important factor in our own personal, physical and spiritual development, as it enhances our lives in a wide range of aspects regardless of musical background, exposure or history in your family, age, ethnicity, gender or religion. We offer music lessons in a variety of instruments, including Piano Lessons and Guitar Lessons in Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Encino, among other cities in Southern California.