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.
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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
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.
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
“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?