If you are a musician, you can definitely relate this post with me. My mother is a piano teacher, and I have been listening to music and songs and singing ever since I was in my mother’s womb. I started piano with Yamaha Music School at the age of 4, then I picked up cello at the age of 7. Later on, I picked up guitar too. If your memory of music as a child (just like me) is of your parents (in this case, my mom) forcing you to go to that dreaded piano/ cello/ guitar/ violin, etc lesson(s) every week, now I’m going to tell you why they did it.
I grew up with at least 2-3 music lessons a week, and I always try to come up with excuses for skipping the lesson. At one point, I would cry or pretend to fall sick on the day of the music class. I remembered clearly that there was one weekend where I was trying to help my grandpa to chop onions, but I accidentally cut my finger. Instead of crying, my heart was overjoyed as I could skip all the music lessons for that week. Yes. All. Of. It.
To be honest, it’s not that I didn’t like music, or I didn’t like the teacher, but there was just this rebellious thing in me that make me dread myself to practice those endless scale exercises and repetitions of notes which I now finally understand the incredible effects it has done to me after 26 years of playing musical instrument. I began to see these effects when I got selected to be part of the cellist team in Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO) back in 2005-2007 and later on joined Taylor’s University Symphony Orchestra in 2012-2013.
One incredibly comprehensive longitudinal study, produced by the German Socio-Economic Panel (2013) stated that the power of music lessons improves a child’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance. The study found that children who takes music lessons have better cognitive skills and school grades, and are more conscientious, open and ambitious. And that is just the beginning.
Another research has also shows that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them to develop a neurophysiological distinction between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, and translate into improved academic results for children. Additionally, the study also showed that children who played instruments had more improved neural processing because it is only through the active generation and manipulation of sound that music can rewire the brain.
Playing a musical instrument can bring joy to you and to the people around you. Therefore, it is my honor to share with you my real-life experience on the 12 long term benefits of playing a musical instrument and hopefully it will give you a better sense of appreciation and pride for music.
#1 Boosts your memory capacity
Studies have shown that both listening to music and playing a musical instrument can help to stimulate your brain and increase your memory capacity. A new research suggests that playing an instrument on a regular basis can improve cognitive skills as musicians have organizationally and functionally different brains compared to non-musicians, especially in the areas of motor skills, hearing, storing audio information and memory, which actually grows and becomes more active through their processing speed and reasoning abilities. William R. Klemm (Psychology Today) claims that musicians’ memory abilities should expand into non-musical verbal realms, such as remembering contents from speeches, lectures or soundtracks.
Growing up, I’ve never been a bright student at academics. I remember during primary school, I used to fail a couple of subjects including a crucial one, which was Mathematics. Through intensive additional classes, I managed to obtain ace my UPSR (Primary 6 Examination), PMR (Secondary Form 3 Examination) and SPM (Secondary Form 5 Examination). When I entered University, my grades improved tremendously, from CGPA below 3.0000 to 3.5000. At Masters level, I obtain a near 4-flat CGPA of 3.9600! Now when I look back, I realized how important the effects of music lessons were to me. It raised my IQ level.
#2 Increases your IQ
From my experience, music is primarily an emotional form of art, which provides bigger gains in academic IQ than emotional IQ. Various studies have found that musicians generally boast higher IQ than non-musicians. While these lessons don’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be smarter than your friend who didn’t learn music, but trust me, they definitely made you smarter than you would have been without them.
#3 Improves your mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning
This is exceptionally true as music is deeply mathematical in nature. This is because mathematical relationships determine intervals in scales, the arrangement of keys and the subdivisions of rhythm. It makes sense that when children who receive high-quality music training also tend to score higher in math as a result of the improved abstract spatial-temporal skills young musicians gain. These skills are vital for solving the multistep problems that occur in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming and especially working with computers.
#4 Enhances your reading and verbal skills
Studies have found strong links between pitch processing and language processing abilities. There are five skills that underlie language acquisition, which are phonological awareness, speech-in-noise perception, rhythm perception, auditory working memory and the ability to learn sound patterns. After reviewing a series of longitudinal studies, they discovered that each of these skills is exercised and strengthened by music lessons. Children with music training alongside reading training performed much better than those who received other forms of non-musical stimulation, such as painting or other visual arts.
It is not surprising to hear results like that because music involves constant reading, comprehension and verbal skills. When you see black and white notes on a page, you have to recognize what the note name is then translate it to a finger or slide position. At the same time, you’ll also have to read what rhythms the notes are arranged in to produce the correct musical pattern.With these mathematical gains, and those in verbal and reading abilities, young musicians can pretty much help themselves succeed in any field they decide to pursue.
#5 Makes you a better listener
The skill of “hearing” is crucial in music lessons. It is so true that music training makes people far more sensitive listeners which can help tremendously as they age. Musicians who keep up with their instrument enjoy a much slower decline in peripheral hearing. They can avoid what scientists refer to as the “cocktail party problem” in which older people have trouble isolating specific voice or musical tones from a noisy background. This means that musicians have the ability to listen to specific voices or musical tones despite clutter of noise.
#6 Helps you to better manage stress and anxiety
Researchers have found tremendous thickening of the cortex in areas responsible for depression, aggression, stress and attention problems. According to the authors, musical training accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control. Not only that, playing a musical instrument has proven its ability to relieve stress and can act as a great form of therapy. That’s why musicians are so emotionally grounded all the time. Right?
#7 Enhances your self-confidence and self-esteem
Several studies have shown that music can enhance children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. As most of us know, high levels of self-esteem can help children to grow and develop in a vast number of academic and non-academic realms.
#8 Teaches you patience and perseverance
I used to be an impatient person. But learning to play a musical instrument has taught me patience and perseverance as it takes time and continuous effort to master the instrument. Most people can’t play every piece of music perfectly for the first time. In fact, most musicians have to work difficult sections of music multiple times in a row before they can play it correctly. Thus, it is the repetitive practice that makes a piece perfect.
#9 Makes you more creative
Creativity is something difficult to measure scientifically. But most sources hold that music training enhances creativity particularly when the musical activity itself is creative, such as improvisation. A study found that musicians with longer experience in improvising music had better and more targeted activity in the regions of the brain associated with creativity. Music training also enhances communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and studies show musicians perform far better on divergent thinking tests, coming up with greater numbers of novel, unexpected ways to combine new information.
#10 Slows down the effects of aging
Last but not least, this is a crucial factor of playing a musical instrument. Beyond just auditory processing, musical training can also help to delay cognitive decline associated with aging. Some of the most promising research positions music as an effective way to stave off dementia, which is exceptionally true as . Studies out of Emory University find that even if musicians stop playing as they age, the neurological restructuring that occurred when they were kids helps them perform better on “object-naming, visuospatial memory and rapid mental processing and flexibility” tests than others who never played. The study authors add, though, that musicians had to play for at least 10 years to enjoy these effects. Hopefully you stuck with it long enough.
As you can see, playing a musical instrument has many long term benefits. Hopefully this post will motivate you to keep on practicing and always hold music in high esteem. However, I also understand that some children do not have natural gift in music. Don’t pressure them because they can always use their gift in other areas such as sports, drawing, painting, cooking, etc.