Most people intuitively recognize how music can positively impact our mood, energy, and mental health. It’s the reason we select specific albums or create custom playlists for every occasion. Whether you’re trying to get motivated for your workout, celebrate with friends, or just relax after a long day, there’s music that can help you accomplish your goal.
But the importance of music goes beyond that. A study conducted by Lauri Ferrari, a cognitive psychologist at Lyon University, shows that “listening to the music you love makes your brain release more dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter for humans’ emotional and cognitive functioning.” A different study revealed listening to classical music for 45 minutes before bedtime leads to a significantly better quality of sleep. Additional medical research found that listening to music actually reduced blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety in certain patients.
While we can all benefit greatly by listening to music every day, the personal growth opportunities that come from actually playing an instrument might be even greater. Studies have shown that learning how to play an instrument can actually impact brain structure and enhance brain development – particularly for individuals who begin playing at a young age. In fact, the brain of a musician is noticeably different than that of a non-musician as the corpus callosum (a large bundle of myelinated nerve fibers that connect the two brain hemispheres and permit communication between the left and right sides of the brain) have been found to be larger in musicians.
Playing an instrument or performing with an ensemble can also be a great form of physical activity, as it can require tremendous strength and stamina. If you’re playing a singer or woodwind player, you can also improve your respiratory system. However, today we want to look at some of the cognitive benefits that come from engaging in musical performance.
- Strengthen bonds
Music is a great tool to bring people together and create a feeling of cohesion or social connectivity. Joining a musical ensemble can help foster relationships with like-minded people, while imparting valuable lessons about teamwork and collaboration.
- Increase processing ability
Music has always played a large role in our culture, and that tradition dates back to prehistoric times. Over time, the impact of engaging in musical performances has become a point of interest for many neuroscientists who have found a direct correlation between playing an instrument and beneficial impact on fine motor skills, memory, learning, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Furthermore, studies have shown that musicians typically have superior working memory as compared to non-musicians.
- Reduces stress and depression
Everybody has their own ways of dealing with stress and pressure, but playing an instrument has been found to be a highly effective coping strategy and stress management tool. Research shows that playing and composing music can lower cortisol levels. This can help lower acute, chronic, and traumatic stress. In fact, some therapists now use music to help aid patients suffering from depression and dementia.
- Enhances focus and self-discipline
As a member of a musical ensemble, you are required to block out distracting noises and focus on the task at hand. Learning how to play an instrument also forces you to concentrate for long periods of time. Perhaps that’s why musicians tend to have higher levels of mental alertness than the general population.
Interestingly, this belief has been reinforced by the scientific community. According to, Lutz Jäncke, a Neuropsychologist at the University of Zurich who has studied the effects of music on children, “learning to play the piano…teaches them to be more self-disciplined, more attentive and better at planning.” He also observed that there were changed anatomical features in certain areas of the brain for 6-year-old children who had played an instrument for at least 15 months. That same study on brain plasticity showed that “focused attention improved significantly and substantially in the group of patients who listened to their favourite music on a daily basis compared with patients who listened to audio books or received no listening material.”
- Improves ability to learn languages
We have known for a long time that there’s a strong connection between music and speech development in children. It’s why parents and teachers sing nursery rhymes, lullabies, and educational ditties like the ABC song. That’s because music and linguistics share a neurological network. Learning music helps to develop the left side of the brain (which relates to language and reasoning) so perhaps it should come as no surprise that studies have shows that kids participating in music classes commonly have advanced speech development and can more easily learn how to read.
Learning how to play a musical instrument is an incredibly fun and rewarding activity, but it can also have many positive effects on your mental health and well-being. Whether you’re young or old, there are countless reasons to pick up an instrument.
Interested in learning more about the benefits of music and travel? Visit our Music Ed Center to learn more about fundraising, recruitment, lesson plans and more!