10 Benefits of Learning a Musical Instrument

10 Benefits of Learning a Musical Instrument – Cognitive, Health and Happiness.

‘The transferable skills of communication, empathy, organisation, self-discipline, self-assessment, self-awareness, self-knowledge and pride in high standards, to mention a few, are worth more than gold. We are training them to be successful in life and bring these skills to any profession they choose.’ Anthony Williams, 2017. ‘The Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide‘. Music has an undeniable universal appeal. The ability to create music holds a similar allure. However, there are benefits of playing a musical instrument in excess of being able to impress your friends with your rendition of Beethoven. Below are just ten of these:

1. Improves Memory

We may have ready access to many devices from which to access a world of information anytime, anywhere, but an efficient memory still reigns supreme. Numerous findings support the claim that playing a musical instrument improves your memory. A 2011 study by Dege, Wehrum, Stark and Schwarzer looked at the influence of two years of music training on visual and auditory memory. This study found a significant enhancement to the children’s visual and auditory channels. Similarly, George and Coch (2011) found that long term music education is related to improvements in working memory, both in the visual and auditory domains. Importantly, these benefits are not restricted to children. Bugos, Perlstein, McCrae, Brophy and Bedenbaugh (2007) found a significant enhancement to executive functioning and working memory in older adults. Anecdotally, these findings make sense. From remembering the notes and their positions on music charts and the keyboard, to learning whole pieces, playing the piano is the perfect way to exercise and enhance our memory, no matter your age.

2. Relieves Stress

Prolonged stress is detrimental to the body and the brain. Pleasurable pursuits and hobbies help to relieve some of the stress associated with daily life and its demands. Toyoshima, Fukui and Kuda (2011) conducted a study on the psychological and physiological stress-reducing effects of creative activities on college students. They found that creativity has a positive effect on stress, particularly playing the piano. I play the piano almost every day as a form of escapism. The mechanism differs depending upon the type of practice I am doing, however the results equally therapeutic. Sometimes my meditation takes the form of a mathematical and measured approach where the focus is on musical accuracy (I once was shocked to find that I had spent forty-five minutes practicing only eleven bars of a Bach Invention!). At other times I will put the sheet music aside and improvise. When I do this, I feel as though I have lived for a moment in another world and when I eventually leave the piano it is as if waking from a dream. There is a state of mindfulness achieved when absorbed in playing—a special time when your complete focus is on the present moment.

3. Gives a Sense of Achievement

That buzz you feel after nailing a challenging task or goal is a feeling we are all acquainted with. Playing a musical instrument offers many opportunities for these—whether it’s perfecting a difficult scale, or finally finishing off a piece you have been persevering with, there is a definite sense of achievement at the end. Additionally, once a piece is learned to a certain standard it remains internalised for a very long time. I am always pleasantly surprised when I stumble through some of my old exam pieces from when I was a student and am able to enjoy them all over again. This increase in self-efficacy has a flow-on effect which leads to the next benefit …

4. Builds Confidence

Healthy levels of self-esteem are related to many areas of life satisfaction. In 2004 Costa-Giomi studied the effects of three years of piano instruction on fourth grade children who had never previously participated in formal music education. The results of the study indicated that piano lessons had a positive effect on the children’s self-esteem. The positive feedback I received from my peers about my playing in primary school has had a lasting impact upon me. What accompanied this was growing up with a strong sense of musical identity. I wasn’t the fastest runner or the best at maths; but, when called upon, I could produce some nice sounds on the piano in music class—and that was something in which I could feel a sense of pride.

5. Enhanced Cognitive Abilities

Both verbal and non verbal reasoning skills were found to be enhanced in children who take instrumental music lessons in a study by Forgeard, Winner, Norton and Schlaug (2008). Learning to read music—and the ability to then apply this knowledge to producing music on an instrument—requires a great deal of skill. Reading, comprehension, maths and visuospatial manipulation, are all utilised to turn symbols on a page into beautiful sounds which evoke emotional responses.

6. Practice Improves Patience, Increases Self-Discipline and Time Management Skills

I always explain to parents that there are many benefits to students of enrolling in competitions, concerts and exams beyond the obvious musical benefits—attention to detail, performance instructions and musical symbols; knowledge of the composers intentions and sometimes even the broader historical context of the piece. There is also the requirement to master the piece under varying degrees of pressure. This often mimics the pressures of life itself. The self-management needed to practice a piece to perfection requires focus, self-critique and hard work. It could be compared to preparing oneself for an important job interview or fulfilling a dream. These skills, vital in achieving any of life’s goals, are developed and practiced through the consistent demands of learning to play a musical instrument.

7. Makes you More Creative

Tachibana, Noah, Ono, Taguchi and Ueda (2019) found that the areas of the brain associated with creativity are activated when students engage in spontaneous musical creativity, and that neural engagement enhances neural efficiency and scope. This is one of the reasons why learning music theory is so important. It is sometimes argued that theory can restrict creativity, but this idea is misguided. What theory does, is provide a student with a variety of tools which can be used in a creative manner. Pablo Picasso’s cubist paintings were not simply the result of a stroke of genius; but, rather, years of learning how to paint, including the theory of painting. This provided him with the skills which gave him the ability to express himself creatively.

8. Mathematics

Dr Frances Rauscher, in her 2006 article published in the Educational Psychologist, explains that “young children provided with instrumental instruction score significantly higher on tasks measuring spatial-temporal cognition, hand-eye coordination and arithmetic.” Part of this is due to the amount of overlap between music skills and maths skills. The visual and spatial skills that a child exercises every time they practise an instrument and play music strengthen their mental-physical connection. The link between the physical practice of music and strong mathematical abilities are demonstrated in studies which show that children who play a musical instrument can perform more complex arithmetical operations than those who do not play an instrument. The slow work of practice, the attention to detail and the discipline it takes to learn an instrument are also excellent preparation for the practice involved in building strong maths skills.

9. Self-Expression

Learning to play the piano requires gaining a certain set of formulated knowledge and skills. However, once the basics are acquired there is much room for self-expression and creativity. This ranges from performance expression to composing ones own pieces. Students will relish the opportunity to express their individualistic selves through the universal medium of music.

10. It’s Fun and Makes you Happy!

This last requires no study to confirm its validity. Try it for yourself and you’ll see!
Contact me now for a free chat about learning to play piano.

References:

Bugos, J.A., Perlstein, W.M., McCrae, C.S., Brophy, T.S. & Bedenbaugh P.H. (2007). Individualized piano instruction enhances executive functioning and working memory in older adults. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17612811/

Costa-Giomi, E. (2004). Effects of Three Years of Piano Instruction on Children’s Academic Achievement, School Performance and Self-Esteem. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735604041491

Dege, F., Wehrun, S., Stark, R. & Schwarzer, G. (2011). The Influence of Two Years of School Musical Training in Secondary School on Visual & Auditory Memory. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 8, 608-

Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Norton, A. & Schlaug, G. (2008)_Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0003566

George, E.M.& Coch, D. (2011). Music training and working memory: An ERP study. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.001

Rauscher, F. & Hinton, S. (2006). The Mozart Effect – Music Listening is not Music Instruction. Educational Psychologist 41(4), 233-238.

Tachibana, A., Noah, J.A., Ono, Y. et al. (2019). Prefrontal activation related to spontaneous creativity with rock music improvisation: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study. Sci Rep 9, 16044. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-52348-6

Toyoshima, K., Fukui , H. & Kuda, K. (2011) Piano playing reduces stress more than other creative art activities. International Journal of Music Education vol. 29(3):257-263

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