anatomy

Working out …for your brain? – The Neuroscience and Benefits of Playing An Instrument

Introduction 

Whether it’s a violin or a harmonica, learning to play an instrument takes time and effort to “perfect.” Musicians put hours and hours of hard work to perform in concerts, participate in competitions, or even just practice for fun at home. It can be frustrating to play the same piece hundreds and hundreds of times, especially if you still can’t get one section down. However, all of these hours of practicing actually do more than just putting on a perfect performance or impressing your family; playing an instrument can help your physical and mental state. 

Effects of Music On The Brain 

Several skills are put to the test when learning to play an instrument. Because of this, practicing often has proven to correlate with many improvements in auditory and motor skills. The hippocampus is a structure in the temporal lobe of the brain and plays a major role in our learning and memory processes. It also plays a critical role in neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons. An enhanced hippocampus may enable musicians to think of creative solutions or to solve problems much more efficiently than those who aren’t musicians. 

Neuroscience of Playing an Instrument

Neuroscientists at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute conducted an experiment in which they followed three groups of children for several years; one group started to learn to play the violin and other instruments from the age of six, another played soccer, and the last group did not participate in any extracurriculars. Those with music training from a young age had a stronger sense of processing sound. This advanced auditory system can also affect other fundamental processes such as language and reading skills, which develop better communication skills. Playing an instrument also typically requires deep emotional investment which may allow musicians to generally have better planning and strategizing skills. 

Another skill that musicians require is attention to detail. The piano, for instance, has 88 different keys and pianists utilize several of them all at once. For people who are members of a group, such as an orchestra, listening to the other sections and watching the conductor for cues is crucial. For example, those who play the drums in an orchestra, have to pay attention to play exactly in time. 

Playing an instrument is allowing your brain to do a full-body workout. It’s challenging yet rewarding. Neglecting to practice sends you backward, while increased effort trains your muscles to become stronger. And no, you don’t need to start as early as the age of two. It’s not too late to start.

Works Cited

Cole, D. (2017, July 25). Your Aging Brain Will Be in Better Shape If You’ve Taken Music Lessons. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/1/140103-music-lessons-brain-aging-cognitive-neuroscience/#close

Gersema, E. (2016). Music is Instrumental for Accelerating Brain Development. Retrieved from https://news.usc.edu/trojan-family/music-is-instrumental-for-accelerating-brain-development/

How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-playing-an-instrument-benefits-your-brain-anita-collins#review

What Happens When the Brain Plays a Musical Instrument? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://portlandchamberorchestra.org/what-happens-when-the-brain-plays-a-musical-instrument

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