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Can piano help reduce stress or pain you are facing?


By Scott Houston
During our lives, we all go through periods of pain and stress. This discomfort may come from a distressing event or just the rush and demands of our daily lives. And while we may wish we could be at our happiest all the time, the ebb and flow of our emotions are a normal part of the human condition. 

One of my favorite things to do after a stressful day is to sit down at my piano and let the emotions flow through my fingers through song. Activities like piano may seem ordinary but actually act as a powerful antidote to your ailments. Keep reading to find out the top physical and cognitive changes that playing the piano can help foster in adults.

Positive emotional memory recall

Music in particular has almost magical restorative effects on the human brain. Perhaps the best example is music’s ability to temporarily trigger memory in those who are suffering from the most destructive of cognitive diseases—Alzheimer’s.

According to this study, patients who were played not just any old music—but their favorite music—showed positive behavioral reactions for up to 10 minutes after the music stopped. According to MRI scans, patients also showed increased brain activity in over 10 areas including the occipital lobes and parietal lobe. So if you’re having trouble recalling your graduation or another fond memory, try listening… or better yet, playing the tunes that you loved at the time. It just might jog memories you forgot you had. Giving yourself this type of full sensory experience can generate feelings of wellbeing and lighten your mood.

Painless muscle activation

No one can stop father time. You can help prevent the negative effects of aging for as long as possible though with a healthy lifestyle and consistent exercise—and playing music happens to be a great one for your brain.  Playing the music you love on the piano on a daily basis provides support to the areas of the brain that stimulate muscle and nerve cell growth. Playing piano regularly can increase production of the human growth hormone, which is responsible for cell reproduction and regeneration.  This increase from playing can help fight aches, pains, osteoporosis and chronic pain including back pain and base of thumb pain.

Substance-free stress relief

If there’s an area of the brain that plays the “main character,” it’s the frontal lobe, which is  responsible for decision making, planning, and overall thinking. Keeping it active is crucial for cultivating positive thoughts and behaviors, which play a big role in stress reaction and reduction.

Piano playing is known to enhance these functions and stimulate the production of two very important happy chemicals that help fight symptoms of depression: endorphins and dopamine.

As mentioned above, listening to and playing music you love directly engages and supports brain regions involved with memory—an effect you will most definitely feel. A less noticeable, but equally important benefit of playing the piano, is stronger neural communication in the “language center” part of the brain, the temporal lobe. This helps support your hearing and natural “quickness,” which is something people generally don’t pay much attention to until it starts to slip away! 

Defense against wrist pain, chronic pain, and arthritis

Some people may be naturally more coordinated than others, but as we age, we all tend to lose some of our balance and coordination. With persistent practice, we can actually build or regain some of that coordination pretty easily!

Playing piano simultaneously works your hand and eye movement, making it the perfect exercise to keep clumsiness in check. Due to the constant finger movement of piano playing, it also provides training to the hands and wrists that’s similar to some physical therapy exercises. This movement is known to help prevent and decrease chronic pain associated with arthritis over time.

If laughter is the best medicine, music is an extremely close second

Playing the piano can bring mental and physical relief by itself or in addition to treatment or help from a licensed physical therapist, whether your pain includes chronic aches from:

  • ganglion cysts
  • de quervain
  • arthritis
  • nervous system complications
  • sharp pains from migraines
  • stress and stress headaches
  • or something else

We’ve talked about why piano can be a better choice for adult beginners than other musical instruments, but the way you learn the piano when you have joint pain may also be different. Classical pieces from sheet music may require movements that aren’t suitable or even possible for some arthritic hands. Try piano lessons that teach you how to play by learning chords rather than reading music. This method allows piano players to be able to improvise parts of the song to meet the needs of their hands while still sounding great and having fun.

Try it out

As an adult piano teacher of over 25 years, I have seen the instrument bring about positive change in students who just want to bring levity to their lives through a fun hobby.  

Are you curious to see if learning to play the piano for fun could help with your everyday stress or pain levels? Click the button below to join a free online piano class with me! In just 45 minutes, I will teach you the chords and melody to “Joy the World” and tell you more about how my method works for adults who want to play the piano for a fun, brain-healthy hobby.