The Benefits of Playing an Instrument

The Investment

Learning how to play a musical instrument is definitely a commitment. As such, it is also an investment. It includes certain costs and an array of benefits. Most costs revolve around time, money and relationships. While developing a habit of regular practice is critical, this time spent practicing minimizes time spent participating in other activities. Attending lessons gives you consistent and routine instruction, however, lessons come at a financial cost. Often, tense moments arise between parent and child, involving the opportunity costs. These encounters usually relate to the commitment of time and money. To illustrate that sometimes strained relationship between parent and child, consider this joke:

A salesman approaches the door of a home one day. The windows of the home are open and the salesman can hear someone playing an instrument inside. When the salesman knocks, the music stops and a child opens the door. The salesman asks, “Is your mother home?” To which the child responds, “Of course she is, do you think I’d be practicing if she wasn’t?”

Thankfully, despite the challenges and trying moments of learning or encouraging your child to play an instrument, the truth is this: the benefits far outweigh these costs! Here are three core reasons why we all benefit from learning to play an instrument.

Music is in our human nature.

Music is a language we recognized at birth. Day-old infants cannot speak, but research indicates infants are able to recognize differences in rhythmic patterns. When we are young and upset, our loved ones comfort us with music. Across time and cultures, parents around the world use rhythmic rocking and lullabies to calm crying babies, soothe infants to sleep and teach principles to children. This language follows us through our lives, allowing us to find our own lullabies to comfort, strengthen and inspire us, even as adults. Music is one of our mother tongues, we were born to speak it.

In its variety of forms, music is a language we all connect to whether we are novice, expert or somewhere in between. While scientists don’t yet have an explanation why, the truth is this: our brains are wired for music, despite the reality that it is not considered “essential” for survival. Learning to play a musical instrument enhances our ability to communicate in the language.

It is an admirable desire for parents to encourage children to take music lessons. It is a life long gift. As parents, we might wonder: when is the “right age” for children to start piano lessons? At the Key Box Studio, our belief is that it depends on the child. Some children are ready and capable to start at age four, others might need some more time. The biggest factors are a child’s ability to focus, how well they understand new information, their finger coordination and mobility. If you are wondering if the time is right for you and your child, we are happy to meet with you!

Making music is creative.

At the studio, we believe in the beautiful, healing power of creativity! The definition of the term create is the ability to bring something into existence or to cause something to happen based on your actions. The opportunity to be creative is an important part of life. Some might argue, it is vital. John Keats once wrote, “The poetry of earth is never dead.” The powerful, inspiring ability for anyone to make music is captured in the question once asked by a child, “How many songs are there in the world?” In a consumer-friendly society, how refreshing it feels to create! Learning to play a musical instrument opens up doors to be creative in a variety of ways.

Walt Whitman poignantly poses a existentialistic question in his poem, “O Me! O Life!” He wonders about life’s meaning. His answer is a great reason for learning to play a musical instrument. It is worth noting here:  

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

This commitment to play a musical instrument is an opportunity for you to contribute a verse! It is one of the fantastic opportunities we have to add something beautiful, enriching and uplifting to our lives and others.

Making music fosters good brain health.

Creating music is connected to healthy exercise for the brain. Did you know that every time musicians pick up their instruments, there are “fireworks” going off all over their brain? On the outside, they may look calm and focused, reading the music and making the precise and practiced movements required. But inside their brain, it’s a party.

Within the last 20 years, neuroscientists have been able to understand more about brain activity by watching them in real time using instruments such as PET and fMRI scanners. These instruments analyze activity in the brain while people are performing tasks such as working on a math problem, reading, etc. Scientists observe activity in specific areas of the brain corresponding to the task. What they saw when people listen to music, Anita Collins says, “[researchers] saw fireworks. Multiple areas of their brains were lighting up at once, as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elements like melody and rhythm, and then put it all back together into unified musical experience. And our brains do all this work in the split second.”

When considering the benefits of music on the brain it is considerably interesting to note what scientists discovered when the participants played an instrument. Collins writes:

“…when scientists turned from observing the brains of music listeners to those of musicians, the little backyard fireworks became a jubilee. It turns out that while listening to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full-body workout. The neuroscientists saw multiple areas of the brain light up, simultaneously processing different information in intricate, interrelated, and astonishingly fast sequences.”

How does playing an instrument do this?

Recent studies support this theory: when you play a musical instrument, you are engaging almost every part of your brain at the same time with your motor, visual and auditory cortices at the heart of the activity. Just like any physical exercise, your brain functions are strengthened by disciplined and structured practice. This strength carries over into other activities.

Another key difference between the passive role of listening to music and the active role of playing an instrument is that fine motors skills are required to make music. Both hemispheres of the brain have a role in controlling fine motor skills. Playing an instrument combines the mathematical and linguistic structure from the left hemisphere with the creative and novel content of the right. Scientists agree that playing music increases activity as well as volume across the brain’s bridge, the corpus callosum. Diverse routes between the hemispheres mean faster communication between the two sides of the brain. This means musicians are perhaps generally more disposed to solve social and academic problems creatively as well as effectively.

Finally, playing a musical instrument involves making and comprehending the emotional content and message of the music which leads to increased levels of executive function. This category is a group of interdependent tasks including: attention to detail, planning, and strategizing.  All the while analyzing the emotional and cognitive aspects. Strengthening this aspect of brain function impacts our memory. In studies, musicians demonstrate enhanced memory functions. The studies show musicians are able to create, store and retrieve memories faster and more effectively. Similar to a good internet search engine, musicians are able to use their highly connected brains to attach a memory to multiple tags such as contextual tags, audio tags, emotional tags, and conceptual tags. As you can see, brains benefit from music!

Deciding to play a musical instrument requires a commitment. It is an investment, one that will benefit with you and your child for a long time. As a parent or student, you will likely encounter obstacles related to such a decision. Considering the core benefits of learning to play a musical instrument, you and your child will reap the benefits of this valuable skill and art.

At Key Box Studio, we believe in the power and benefits of music. We teach our students using traditional as well as innovative teaching methods using state-of-the-art technologies.

We believe in the joy of music and are committed to helping our students succeed.