Five reasons why you should take up a musical instrument

The enjoyment that comes from making music and entertaining others encourages many people to take up a musical instrument, whether during childhood or later in life. But as research on the subject continues to expand, we are learning about a growing list of additional benefits to becoming musical.

Violin lesson
A violin lesson in 2008. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever thought about learning a musical instrument but haven’t taken the next step, let these five reasons convince you that the best time to do so is now.

1. Improve your health

A range of health benefits have been identified among people playing an instrument, as noted by the BBC in a recently-published guide to the positive effects of making music. One study conducted among older adults taking drumming lessons found that their white blood cell count increased, an important factor in strengthening our immune system. In addition, their moods also were positively influenced.

Research published in 2005 confirmed  that learning to play an instrument helps people to relax. Researchers found that this in turn brought about a positive impact on the immune system.

Relaxation also brings with it emotional benefits, especially when the lives we lead are often hectic. Donn Rochlin, a piano consultant who also runs drumming workshops, explained, “I get accountants, doctors, lawyers who come to my drumming circles and they are so bottled up in their work and all they want to do is hit something. The act of beating on a drum for 30 minutes has a calming effect.”

2. Train your brain

Playing a musical instrument can help guard against cognitive decline in later life and memory loss. This is because musical training has been found to produce additional neural connections within the brain, and this benefit isn’t restricted to people who played an instrument in childhood. Those of us choosing to take up music in adulthood can also gain.

A study conducted by Harvard neurologist Gottfried Schlaug uncovered evidence suggesting that playing an instrument even grows the brain. A group of professional musicians were found to have larger brain volumes than a non-musical group. Schlaug discovered with colleagues in a separate study that after 15 months of musical training in childhood, structural improvements in motor and audio functioning within the brain occur.

3. Learn to manage time and persevere

Learning a musical instrument can be a demanding process. Getting the best out of it requires regular practicing and a determination to stick at it when the results aren’t quite as good as you would like. Effective time management and a willingness to persist, skills which are useful in a variety of life situations, will help in arranging your time to fit this into your daily schedule and then keeping to your plan.

4. Increase your academic abilities

Organisation and discipline are valuable assets for academic work, but researchers have found more evidence demonstrating how playing an instrument assist you in this area. According to psychologist Lutz Jäncke, IQ levels can increase by up to seven points among people who play an instrument, and this phenomenon occurs in both children and adults.

A study carried out with children aged 9 and 10 in the US showed that a year of music lessons had a positive impact on their reading ability. While a group of children taking lessons saw their reading ability hold steady, the abilities of those within a group receiving no music lessons fell. Musically trained children also did better at processing sounds and language.

5. Become a better listener

It may seem rather obvious to suggest that playing the piano is going to help with this. However, there a a number of less evident rewards to be gained.

Jäncke pointed to evidence that better listening among musicians helped them to be more emotionally aware of people’s feelings, which they were able to identify more quickly by the tone of their voices. This argument is supported by research from Yale University revealing a link between appreciating emotional expression in music and understanding emotion in everyday settings.