Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument

benefits of playing the electric guitar. Man playing outside with amazing view in background

It’s often said that music can soothe the soul. Simply listening to music has many benefits, but learning to play an instrument can be even more beneficial. Playing a musical instrument is a brilliant way to express yourself and really focus on something you love. It requires patience, perseverance and dedication.

Regardless of whether we become talented musicians or not, learning to play an instrument can help you in many wonderful and surprising ways. In this post, we explore some of the main benefits of learning to play an instrument, with some very generous input from the kind folk at Nordoff Robbins, a music therapy charity.

Increases memory capacity

Did you know that learning to play an instrument increases your memory capacity? There’s plenty of research proving that this is the case. The Times reported that ‘new research suggests that regularly learning to play an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain.’

Mcgill University studied brain activity in musicians.  They were asked to play their instruments while having an MRI scan. They found different areas of the brain lit up while they played as complex cognitive processes occurred simultaneously.

brain activity from MRI scan while someone plays a musical instrument
Red areas indicate brain activity

Sharpens your concentration

Learning to play an instrument can do wonders for your concentration skills. Researchers at the University of St Andrews said their findings show that musicians were quicker to pick up mistakes and correct them. Playing an instrument requires deep focus and concentration, as it’s quite easy to make a mistake. You have to focus on quite a few things at once. By having regular lessons and playing on your own, you will improve your concentration skills. For example, children who learn to play an instrument often find it easier to concentrate in school.

Builds confidence

Learning to play an instrument can gradually improve your confidence. As you become more skilled and playing becomes more natural, your confidence grows. Learning a new skill and noticing your success makes you feel more confident, and this can filter through to all aspects of your life.

Teaches you a valuable skill

Being able to play an instrument is a useful skill, and it makes you a more well-rounded person. Even if you don’t end up performing, you can continue playing purely just for passion. It’s an interesting skill to talk about, and you never know when it might prove useful.

Aids children’s development

Learning to play an instrument can have a massive impact on a child’s development, both academically, and of course from a confidence perspective. Playing an instrument and reading music requires you to utilise a wide variety of skills, all of which are beneficial to your development and mental capacity.

Learning an instrument has also been shown to help children improve their reading skills.

It keeps your mind sharp as you grow older

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, playing an instrument keeps the mind sharper as we age. It can help to prevent dementia, and according to the Emory University School of Medicine, ‘Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.’

It’s good for your mental health

Listening to music can aid concentration and ease stress and anxiety. Playing a musical instrument regularly can also help to reduce your stress levels by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. It’s highly therapeutic and relaxing, and as soon as you start to play you feel the benefits instantly.

If you are feeling anxious, try a hard spider walk warm-up on your guitar for 15 minutes, I guarantee you will totally detach from your thoughts as you concentrate on finger movements.

Playing an instrument can also be beneficial if you have ADHD, it can help relieve boredom which can become a major problem.  The trick is to choose an instrument you enjoy playing and practice playing music you love.

Improves your time management

If you learn to play an instrument, you have to learn how to manage your time. You will need to practice regularly and learn music in times for exams. You also have to schedule in lessons and juggle this with other parts of your life.

Improves your maths and literacy

Learning music requires you to use both your literacy and maths skills, which is why it can really help to aid children in their academics. Research has shown that kids who play a musical instrument excel more at school, and it can also help adults improve their maths and literacy skills too.

Playing a musical instrument daily is the equivalent of an intense mental workout.

child playing piano

Gives you an insight into other cultures

When you play an instrument, you will most likely learn how to play different types of music. This enables you to play music from other cultures, and discover how music plays a big part in specific cultures. It’s useful to learn about unfamiliar cultures, and music can be a wonderful way of doing this.

Therapeutic Benefits of Playing a Musical Instrument: Expert Opinion – Dave Thorpe, Nordoff Robbins

Dave Thorpe, Music Therapist from Nordoff Robbins (who also happens to be an excellent musician – was kind enough to give his time and share his thoughts:

Dave: I have been a musician since I was born I think. I first picked up a guitar at the age of 14, and I have played and recorded ever since in bands, duos as a solo artist and just because it feels the most natural thing in the world for me to do. I still perform regularly, but my main work is as a music therapist for Nordoff Robbins, a well-known national and international music therapy charity.

“Bruce Dickinson visits Nordoff Robbins”

Music therapy is not about teaching someone how to play an instrument although central to the work is tapping into the connection every human being has to the act of creating music. At Nordoff Robbins, however, as well as music therapy we also run tuition sessions for people who are interested in learning to play a particular instrument. One of the people who attend each week for guitar lessons with me has this to say about the benefits of learning the guitar for him:

“I have a Neurological condition and learning the guitar is improving my levels of focus and concentration, listening to the notes as I play often takes me to a place where time seems to disappear. I experience good feelings throughout my body as the vibrations of the sound resonate deep within me.” 

I suppose all instrumentalists would feel that their instrument allows them to express something very important and personal about themselves.  I think with the guitar that starts from the very first moment you find how to hold it and make your sound. Jimmy Page puts it like this:

“I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it.”

I can only (very humbly) agree with him!

How to learn an instrument

Learning an instrument today is so much easier with Youtube than when I was 16 and learning the electric guitar.  I remember pausing VHS videos of Robert Smith, trying to recreate the cords he was playing. Today there are thousands of videos on Youtube for beginners of all instruments.

Choose the instrument you want to learn, then find a Youtube channel you like. Dedicate 30 minutes per day and see how you have progressed in six months.

Learning an instrument FAQs

Can you learn an instrument at 40?

Yes,  you can easily learn an instrument over the age of 40.  The trick is to find an instrument you love and dedicate time to learning every day.  Even 10 minutes per day would be enough, but the more time you put in, the faster you will progress.

Saying this, my memory has definitely deteriorated now I am in my 50s. I’m sure learning new things take longer, but on the flip side, I have a lot more patience.

What is the easiest instrument to learn for adults?

Most people will say the piano, but we believe it is the guitar, obviously!

Can playing an instrument cause arthritis?

Some reports indicate that professional musicians get osteoarthritis from continual repetitive movements, but not the average person playing an hour per day.  Keith Richard is famous for having nodal osteoarthritis but has changed his playing style accordingly.

‘there’s a million places you don’t have to put your fingers. The notes are there already’.

Playing an instrument can actually help arthritis pain for non-musicians through the release of endorphins.

Can you learn multiple instruments at once?

Yes, learning two instruments simultaneously will not impede your progress with the first instrument. As a guitar website, we recommend learning the electric guitar and bass guitar together.

References and Further Reading

Guitar Speed Building Secrets
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