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How Playing An Instrument Benefits Your Brain

As neuroscience has determined through decades of research, multiple areas light up in the brain when we to listen to music. In a split second we are able to process the sound, determine melody and rhythm, and put it back together into a unified musical experience.

So what happens in the brain when you go from active listener to active participate? By studying the brain in real time, technology such as FMRI and PET scanners have determined what goes on inside the brain when we're playing an instrument. Scientists have found that while listening to music uses multiple areas of the brain, playing music is the equivalent to a full body workout.

This is great news for all advocates of music education, and provides an interesting perspective to anyone actively learning an instrument. You’re not just getting better at playing music – you’re becoming a better human! 

playing music benefits the brain

Here are just some of the many benefits of learning music in relation to the brain: 

  •  Playing an instrument utilizes both hemispheres of the brain
  •  Engages practically every area of the brain simultaneously
  •  Strengthens brain functions: especially visual, auditory, motor skills
  •  Increases activity in corpus collosum - the bridge between 2 hemispheres

Another benefit to learning music is that musicians have tools to solve problems more effectively and creatively. Because making music involves both producing and understanding its emotional message, musicians have a higher level of "executive function" - planning, strategizing, and attention to detail. In addition, musicians show signs of enhanced memory function when it comes to creating, storing and retrieving information efficiently.

anita collins, music educator

Anita Collins, who is a music educator who put together the above video for TED has done a lot of insightful research on this topic. As a musician herself she always knew that music education was important, but she wanted to further understand why. What she was noticing in her older students was that the ones who excelled in music also excelled in other areas. Not only that, but they went on to be well rounded, successful adults.

So what was it about their music education that contributed to their success? 

What she found is that just one hour per week of music training, delivered by an expert, is enough to see a change in the brain over a period of time. A big factor of course is the application of the music education, so in other words you better have a good teacher!

Is this unique to music though?

The research shows that musicians scored different than any activity studied including other fine arts and sports. Another big question around this research is - does playing music make your smarter or is it that more intelligent people are naturally attracted to playing music?

To answer this, researchers took young children, gave them all music training and followed their development. What they found was that every child improved in areas of areas of brain development, brain function, memory, and language development.

She has put together a great video titled “Music Education and the Brain” which demonstrates her findings: 


For more on this topic from the original source, click here

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