The many benefits of learning to play a musical instrument

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When we start to learn to play a music instrument, we are starting off on a challenging and rewarding journey that is likely to keep us enthralled for a very long time.  Listening to music feeds our wellbeing in very unique ways but playing music ourselves engages our mind and body in a much deeper way than just listening to music. 

Learning to play an instrument involves:

  • Listening attentively 
  • Comparing the pitch of notes and judging the intervals between the notes, 
  • Memorizing patterns of notes and melodies
  • Using the correct finger to play each note
  • Reading and recognizing printed music notes
  • Relating the printed music notes to the instrument 

Given all this, it’s amazing that anybody can actually play an instrument!  It can certainly be challenging.  However, once you get started, you gradually learn to do all these things at once and that’s why a big part of why it’s so valuable.  It’s also a big self-esteem booster.   

Learning all these skills is healthy for you both physically and mentally.  The benefits of music are huge and varied.

Some benefits of learning an instrument include: 

  • Increased brain activity with new neuron paths formed
  • Noticeably increases memory and cognitive function 
  • Has been shown to ward off dementia 
  • Improved hand-eye coordination, plus hand- foot coordination when using pedals 
  • Improved self-esteem 
  • Higher level of appreciation when listening to music 
  • Improved hearing 
  • Improved attention span 
  • Lower stress levels 
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower anxiety and worry levels

Social benefits of playing an instrument 

There are many online and in-person communities for adults who are studying an instrument.  Joining one or two of these can result in life-changing opportunities.  For instance, forging a deeper understanding of the instrument and techniques, apprciating music as a whole and making new friends with similar interests.  Also you’ll find opportunities to go to lectures (whether in person or online), concerts and workshops.  All of these can lead to a much richer lifestyle with learning at the heart of it, which brings more satisfaction and zest for life.  It can also combat loneliness in later years and even ward off various types of dementia.  

Learning the piano 

One of the most popular instruments to learn is the piano.  Not surprising, since the sound of a piano is beautiful, emotional and soothing.  It’s also popular because a pianist can play a melody and harmony all at once, while a flute or violin can only play one note at a time and needs an accompaniment to put the melody in harmonic context. 

Learning the piano offers more health benefits than most instruments.  In some ways it’s also the most challenging. This is because you use both hands independently, which gives the brain a double workout.  It helps strengthen hand coordination, dexterity, and, if you’re also reading music, hand-eye coordination.  Add in the foot pedals and you’ve got quite a lot to think about at once!  But if you think of what we have to think about when we drive, it’s not so different.  But one important difference is that playing the piano isn’t likely to cause an accident if you make a mistake! 

Scientific proof of benefits 

Scientific studies have shown that when we play the piano our entire brains “light up”.  Both hemispheres of the brain are fully operating and working together to form new neural paths.  We are also using our eyes to read music and our ears to hear what we’re playing.  If we sing as well as play, then we are pitching notes with our voice and listening to what we are singing and matching the pitch to the notes on the piano.  It’s the ultimate multi-tasking exercise!

This is a really good way for adults to keep the grey matter not only working, but learning and evolving, at any age.  For children, it forges important neural pathways that link to other subjects they are learning such as language and math.  For children there are added benefits of learning the self-discipline needed to practice regularly, the value of dedicated focus and repetition of a task and ultimately, the nurturing environment of being in a musical group.  Playing in a group of other musicians is one of the most rewarding and nurturing things we can do.  If you don’t play an instrument, you can get the same benefits from singing in a local choir. 

The effects on stress, anxiety and blood pressure 

Playing the piano has been shown to lower blood pressure, stress and anxiety.  Getting stuck into a piece of music can be a distraction from daily worries and take you into another world for a while.  For some people, playing the piano can even help with weight loss as both hands are busy as long as you’re playing and by focusing on practice, there’s not much chance to think about snacking.  

How to learn the piano 

So what’s the best the way to learn the piano?  If you’re thinking about taking up the piano, or taking it up after some time away from it, you have many potential paths. 

  • Learn from an app. 

There are several good apps that teach you how to play the piano.  They will take you from the beginning, show you how to read music and translate it to the keys on the piano and help you learn some of your favorite songs quickly and easily. 

  • Watch YouTube videos 

If you’ve had some experience playing before, you might find that you can pick up quite a lot from various YouTube piano tutors.  There are some good ones – but also some not so good ones, so be careful if you do this. 

  • Learn from your local music store 

Many music stores do lessons in store.  They can be private or in a small group.  Contact your local store to see if they have lessons available.  Find out all you can about them – who the teacher is, what their credentials are and how many students per class. 

  • Take private lessons 

Although this is the most expensive option, it’s the one that gives you the most honest and immediate feedback.  An experienced teacher can assess where you are in your piano journey and tailor a course for you to get you playing well.  An app and YouTube can’t tell you you’re sitting wrong or that you’re using the wrong finger.  They also listen when you’re struggling with a technique and boost your self-confidence. 

However you decide to learn the piano, remember that daily practice is what drives your progress, not just the lessons.  Learn how to practice effectively, and you’ll do just fine!  

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