Music & Mental Health: Why We Should All Learn A Musical Instrument

Photo: Joao Silas
It's no secret that learning to play a musical instrument aids in keeping the mind sharp, particularly as one gets older. There are studies on it. And additional benefits include reducing stress and lowering blood pressure, as well as helping to combat anxiety and depression. With so many advantages to making music, why aren't more people picking up an instrument and immersing themselves in its beneficial world?
During my youth, growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I was always surrounded by music. These formative years forged a successful performance and recording career as well as leading to a life in the music industry. I have learned firsthand that music can enrich your life in countless ways, of which the most important is happiness.
Mental Health
It's well known that channelling your energy into something positive plays a considerable role in helping anxiety and depression. Many family doctors and counsellors suggest focus and relaxation. As a result, practising yoga and meditation have become essential tools to mental wellness, which can be applied to learning music as well. By focusing on the melody and the notes you're playing, you will bring attention to the task at hand. Immense focus on rhythmic and/or melodic patterns can often be relaxing and soothing.
Lower Your Blood Pressure
Learning to play an instrument can also be influential in helping to combat stress, a leading cause of high blood pressure. Current findings indicate that music around 60 beats per minute most effectively engages the brain, causing it to synchronise with the rhythm, which induces alpha brainwaves. This process of learning is vital, as it's our brainwaves that set the tone for a relaxed and conscious state. Two genres that often use this ‘golden' bpm are jazz and classical, so learning these styles can be particularly beneficial. Professors at the University of Florence in Italy claim that recent research illustrates the positive impact music has on blood pressure, really highlighting the potential benefits.
Memory and Brain Function
It may seem obvious, but our ‘memory' and ‘ability to learn an instrument' are closely connected. That is, we practise the same song over and over until we can play a piece without looking at the sheet music. However, the way the brain functions when we learn an instrument is extraordinary, and musicians have functionally different brains to non-musicians. The part in charge of memory becomes more active and can grow in some cases. So while you may associate brain training with Sudoku puzzles and crosswords, learning a musical instrument can give your grey matter a real workout. Plus, your friends would rather hear your rendition of "Brown Eyed Girl" than learn what 30-across was in the crossword puzzle.
Sense of Achievement and Patience
There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of completing something you've put a lot of time and effort into, like slotting in the final piece of a jigsaw or turning the last page of a book. When the task is as demanding as learning a musical instrument, that sense of accomplishment becomes even more significant. It's no quick or easy feat though, and you'll face obstacles on your journey from novice to virtuoso. Cracking those tricky chords, or gliding through to the end of that dream song without a hiccup, will require patience – another valuable skill to develop for your everyday life.
With all these benefits – and the bragging rights of having a new skill to flaunt to family and friends – what are you waiting for?
Donny Gruendler is president at the Musicians Institute.

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