Learning a musical instrument isn’t something that is on
most adult’s radars. If you didn’t start playing the piano or violin from the
age of 5, then chances are you’ve never thought about taking it up as an adult.
You just accept that it isn’t something you can do.
A small number of people start learning instruments like the
guitar from adulthood. However, this is rare, and when it does happen people
rarely take it as far as proper musical training. They might buy a few chord
books and play around with it in their bedroom. But it doesn’t come close to
the kind of deliberate, hard practice that young people are put through when
learning in a formal environment.
Well, it turns out that there are some enormous benefits to
taking up proper musical training.
Research is showing that serious musical training – at any
age – has a profound effect on how our brains work. There is also some exciting
evidence that formal musical education from a young age can affect how the
brain develops throughout your life.
Let’s go through the two major reasons why experts say you
should consider taking up an instrument.
Music Makes Us More
It’s intuitively obvious that music makes us more creative.
It can stir our imagination, rile up our deepest emotions, and take us to a
place far away from reality. We all get some sort of feeling out of music, and
it’s obvious to us that we feel more creative as a result.
More interestingly, music seems to be able to put us into
‘the flow state’ – that state of being completely absorbed in what you’re
doing, unaware of time passing, and performing right up to the edge of your
abilities. That’s why writers, architects, and painters have typically always
preferred to paint with music blasting out in their studios – it disconnects us
from the real world and helps us become totally absorbed in the task at hand.
We now believe that playing
a musical instrument to a high level might help us more easily slip into a
flow state when we need to.
found that students were indeed able to get into a ‘flow state’ when performing
a very difficult piece of music in front of a live audience. They didn’t think
they were good enough to finish the piece before the experiment, but in the end
they pulled it off.
We also have evidence which suggests that getting into the
flow state is something one can learn. If
you can practice blocking out distractions and completely absorbing yourself in
a task in one domain, then you seem
to get better at doing so generally.
So, taking up a musical instrument and practicing hard will
teach your brain to focus more and more intensely on the task at hand. Doing
this will teach your brain how to focus intense in every circumstances.
Music Training Makes
The Brain Grow!
At first this might sound unbelievable, but it’s true. There
is a large body of research showing that early musical training changes the way
the brain grows and develops. Specifically, it seems that intensive musical
training from a young age – around 6 years old – causes certain areas of the
brain to grow much more rapidly than in people without musical training.
In a fascinating
article on Natural Nootropic, Henry Bearman explains how musical
training stimulates growth in specific areas of the brain.
He talks about a
number of different effects that music has been found to have on the brain, but
the one that stands out is the building of the corpus
callosum. This is the bundle of nerves which connects the right and left sides
of the brain. Researchers found that early musical training caused this bundle
of nerves to grow thicker.
means more connections, and as a result, more efficient communication between
the hemispheres of the brain.
It doesn’t take a
brain surgeon to figure out that better connections between the left and right
sides of the brain will mean more creative, fluid thought, better emotional
control, better decision making, and a host of other benefits.
Now you might be
thinking; I’m not 6, so what’s the point?
But there is no
reason that musical training wont have a similar, although significantly
smaller, effect on your own brain development. After all, the brain doesn’t
remain static throughout your life. Your brain cells are constantly
degenerating, growing, multiplying, and diminishing. Musical training might be
just the stimulus you ned to maintain healthy growth in the corpus callosum.
There’s really no
reason to hold back on this.
It’s clear that
music makes us more creative, it teaches us to focus intensely on one activity,
and it clearly has a profound effect on the way the brain grows over time.