We all have different reasons for playing music. For some it’s relaxing, for others it’s a good way to make friends and be a part of a community. It also helps you connect with some of your favorite pieces of music by learning how they work.
But what else is going on behind the scenes?
Researchers have a lot to say about the benefits of playing an instrument and how it can improve your life. Before we dive in and learn more, it’s important to keep in mind that frequent practice is a great way to reap the benefits of playing an instrument. But having a practice regimen isn’t always easy, especially if you have a busy schedule. That’s why we created the Jazz Gym and Text Lessons.
The Jazz Gym is a full-range daily group practice session that combines approaches for vocabulary development, technique, line construction, chord progression fluency, sound development and ear training.
Our Text Lesson membership gives personalized monthly assignments according to your progress, along with a weekly practice plan, access to a monthly studio hang live video session with Chad, 24/7 access to text or email Chad, as well as critique and feedback on your videos any time you want.
This is your brain on music
From his research, Levitin found that participants experienced emotional benefits, like increased creativity and self-expression. But there were other effects, too, including increased patience, confidence, and work ethic. These benefits highlight the importance of playing, as well as the skills that come as part of disciplined practice.
One obvious benefit of music is an increase in hand-eye coordination. Your brain is constantly syncing what you’re seeing, hearing, and playing—music is a full-brain workout! Instruments like keyboards give an extra benefit, since much of their performance focuses on the hands working independently through complex material.
Playing an instrument may also be one of the best ways to help keep your brain healthy. “It engages every major part of the central nervous system,” said John Dani, PhD, chair of Neuroscience at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Recent studies suggest that music may be a uniquely good form of exercising your brain,” he said. “Fun can also be good for you.”
"Music-making is linked to a number of health benefits for older adults," said Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. "Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression. There is also increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses," Hanser said.
In the simplest terms, playing music is a skill that takes time and training. But as with all skills, once you put in the work, you’ll start to see results. They may not be exponential at first, but when you look back at where you were a few months ago, you will realize how far you’ve come.
Anti-aging with music?
One of the most interesting benefits of playing an instrument is that it can help stave off degenerative diseases like Alzheimers. According to Levitin, "After 60, playing an instrument can help you retrain and remap neural circuits that are inclined to atrophy, which helps you stay mentally young," he noted. "Learning an instrument can also help develop your brain when you are a kid."
Brain plasticity, or the ability for the brain to create new connections, is very active when we are young but slows down as we age. However, since music engages the full brain in a different way, it can stimulate the creation of new pathways—in a sense, reversing some of the impacts of aging.
In addition to creating new neural pathways, playing an instrument can also release positive hormones in the brain, while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. Playing music with others can also release oxytocin, a chemical that is associated with trust and social bonding.
And according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s never too late to start. Results from a study of people who started playing piano between ages 60 and 85 noticed after six months, those who had received lessons had “robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, as compared with those who had not received lessons.”
Making the most of your practice
There are many different kinds of practice. Some forms are strict—following a regimen designed to attack technical weakness and build specific skills. But there’s also self-guided practice, as well as just sitting and noodling with your instrument. All forms of practice have their benefits, and should be balanced in a way that makes sense for you.
Don’t be afraid to pick up your instrument just to play around. According to Levitin, "Letting your mind wander is the key to reducing anxiety. We get our minds to wander by walking in nature or playing music - that's what hits the reset button on the brain. Even just 15 minutes of 'wandering' and playing an instrument can increase productivity." What’s more, experimentation can lead to finding new sounds and discovering ideas for improvisation lines and original tunes.
For beginners, it may be most helpful to practice in bite-sized pieces to start. This will help limit feelings of overwhelm, while giving small boosts to your playing abilities. Down the line, many more experienced musicians will find that 3, 4, and even 8 hours of practice is better suited to their needs.
Even still, learning to play isn’t something you can do overnight. It requires a level of discipline, along with a mix of fun and achievement. With our Jazz Gym and Text Lessons programs, we help keep you accountable with lessons designed to address what you need to move forward with your playing. Think about it—which will make you happier: becoming a better player or watching that next episode on Netflix?
Nearly half of beginners say that they quit due to time constraints. And while it’s true that we all have limited time in the day, Jazz Gym and Text Lessons can help you find that time in your schedule.
Now go give your brain a workout!
Playing an Instrument: Better for Your Brain than Just Listening — Pennmedicine.org
Is Playing a Musical Instrument Good for Your Health? — Livescience.com