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How learning piano benefits your brain


By Scott Houston

Since the end of the 20th century, the importance of mental health and wellness has gained massive popularity in our culture. All kinds of activities from meditation, to walking, to woodworking are promoted as a way to help people think more positively and stop worrying so much. But did you know that having a hobby provides serious benefits to both mood and physical brain health?

Adults who do creative hobbies—like learning to play piano—see better cognitive function and slower age-related mental decline. In this blog, I will explain the science behind music and brain health and tell you how learning to play the piano for fun can lead to a longer, happier, healthier life.

Table of Contents

  • Classical isn’t the only thing that makes you smart
  • Reshaping brain hemispheres through creativity
  • Playing music to prevent memory loss
  • Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Improving your aural awareness

Listening to music you love is good for you, too

People used to think that listening to classical music made you smarter. However, scientists at Johns Hopkins have found that listening to any kind of music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain while improving sleep quality, mood, and memory.

When you go from just listening to learning to play, you benefit from a full brain exercise that works the cerebral cortex, temporal lobe, parietal lobes, occipital lobes, left side, right side of the brain, brain stem, you name it!

You don’t have to become the greatest pianist like Martha Argerich or learn to play full concertos for a Carnegie Hall debut to reap the benefits of playing piano, either. Music therapy centers and human brain scientists have studied the positive impact extensively in recent years—keep reading below for some of my favorite findings!

Piano players can reshape brain hemispheres through creative thinking

Using both the right brain and left brain for an activity is known to naturally boost creativity. Modern imaging studies have proven that piano players benefit from strengthened connections between the right and left brain hemispheres and in the frontal lobe, leading to an increase in all cognitive functions—from decision making to problem solving and social interaction.

This also leads to a more symmetrical central sulcus, which is responsible for registering right and left hand dominance. Through practice, you are literally reshaping your brain for the better!

Piano players benefit from strengthened connections between the right and left brain hemispheres and in the frontal lobe, leading to an increase in all cognitive functions—from decision making to problem solving and social interaction.

Group of happy seniors around a piano

Piano prevents memory loss better than other activities

The research also provides evidence to suggest that playing an instrument  boosts working memory and executive function by strengthening neural connections as we age. Music players benefit from a multi-sensory brain activity that is more successful in preventing mental effects of aging compared to other brain exercises like reading, writing, or doing crossword puzzles. 

Piano reduces stress, anxiety, and depression

A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine shows that learning to play the piano has the potential to significantly affect brain function and mood in adults over 60 years old. Participants in the study showed a decrease in symptoms of mental illness like depression and anxiety. 

Playing music also helps brain functions run more smoothly, leading to disease prevention and reports of increased mental well-being. Another study, A Prescription for Music, found that adults who play music reported improved self-esteem, greater independence, and fewer feelings of isolation. In particular, the study found that adults learning to play piano experienced a decrease in psychological distress, depression, and fatigue, compared to a non-playing control group.

Piano improves aural awareness

Piano practice trains your brain to recognize intervals and chords while simultaneously developing your sense of pitch, which is called aural awareness—a skill that is important outside of music too. It allows us to recognize sound patterns in foreign languages and helps us focus on one sound when there is lots of noise around us. Improvising on the keys increases these benefits—and learning to do so is actually a lot simpler than you think! 

According to Mic.com, “When pianists improvise, the language portion of their brain remains active—like any musician, playing music is fundamentally an act of communication. But the big difference for pianists is that their communication is about syntax, not words. When pianists solo, their brains respond as if they were responding in a conversation, but they pay attention to phrasing and grammatical structure instead of specific words and phrases.”

“When pianists improvise, the language portion of their brain remains active—like any musician, playing music is fundamentally an act of communication. But the big difference for pianists is that their communication is about syntax, not words. When pianists solo, their brains respond as if they were responding in a conversation, but they pay attention to phrasing and grammatical structure instead of specific words and phrases.”

Ready to exercise your brain with music?

Are you wondering if adult piano lessons are right for you? Are you curious to see if learning to play the piano for fun could help with your everyday stress levels? Click the button below to join a free online adult 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.