All the Ways Learning an Instrument Strengthens your Brain

By Melvin Hayden 

Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better. It can also improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start when a traumatic event happens. Unlike brain games, playing an instrument is a rich and complex experience. This is because it is integrating information from the senses of vision, hearing and touch along with fine movements. This can result in long-lasting changes in the brain, as well as assist in treatment to resolve traumatic experiences. 

Image by Beth Rufener

"Music is a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does".

Brain scans have been able to identify the difference in brain structure between trauma victims and non-trauma victims. Most notably, a massive bundle of nerve fibers connecting the two sides of the brain is larger in musicians. The areas involving movement, hearing and visuospatial abilities appear to be larger. Your amygdalae consists of two separate almond-shaped masses of gray matter seated in the underbelly of your left and right cerebral hemispheres. Together, both amygdala play a role in how each of us regulate a broad spectrum of emotions and respond to various types of stimuli. Additional research shows that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning and literacy skills.

Interestingly, even brief periods of musical training can have long-lasting benefits. A 2013 study found that even those with moderate musical training preserved sharp processing of emotional recovery. It was also able to increase resilience to any age-related decline in emotional relapse. Researchers also believe playing music helps processing and learning in children with limited coping skills. Furthermore, learning to play an instrument as a child can protect the brain against dementia.

We learn over time that music reaches parts of the brain that other things cannot. Music is a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.

Guess what? We still are not done. Here are eight additional ways that learning an instrument strengthens your brain:

Image by Lechon Kirb

1. Music strengthens bonds with others. This should not be surprising. Think about your favorite band. They can only make a record when they have contact, coordination, and cooperation with one another.

2. Music strengthens memory and reading skills.The Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory states this is because music and reading are related via common neural and cognitive mechanisms.

3. Playing music makes you happy. McMaster University discovered that babies who took interactive music classes displayed better early communication skills. They also smiled more.

4. Musicians can process multiple things at once. As mentioned above, this is because playing music forces you to process multiple senses at once. This can lead to superior multisensory skills.

5. Music increases blood flow in your brain. Studies have found that short bursts of musical training increase the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain. That can be helpful when you need a burst of energy. Skip the energy drink and jam for 30 minutes.

6. Music helps the brain recover. Motor control improved in everyday activities with stroke patients.

7. Music reduces stress and depression. A study of cancer patients found that listening to and playing music reduced anxiety. Another study revealed that music therapy lowered levels of depression and anxiety.

8. Musical training strengthens the brain's executive function. Executive function covers critical tasks like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making decisions, and problem solving. If strengthened, you can boost your ability to live.