benefits learning instrument glenda gerde

Music is a joy of our souls.. It has the ability to speak — quite often without language — to people regardless of culture, ethnicity, or geographic location. For this and many other reasons, people are drawn to music, both listening to it and creating it themselves.

Those who choose to create music themselves often experience many of the benefits that music has to offer. FMRIs (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) shows us the profound impact that music has on the human brain while reading or solving math problems, for example. Listening to music lights up different parts of the brain during an FMRI, actually physically playing an instrument engages the entire organ, lighting up the brain like a Christmas tree. Playing an instrument engages more of the brain than simply listening to music because it requires you to rapidly process “different information in intricate, interrelated, and astonishingly fast sequences.”

There are clear benefits to learning an instrument, and while it’s never too late to start, learning an instrument while you’re young can have a remarkable impact on a child’s mental development. Here are even more reasons why learning an instrument can be beneficial for anyone:

It increases your coordination.

When playing an instrument, especially one like the piano or the drums, you have to be able to move both of your hands independently to play different notes or rhythms. Learning an instrument also demands a great deal of hand-eye coordination as the musician needs to read the music and move their hands in accordance simultaneously.

It boosts your comprehension and reading skills.

A study published in the Psychology of Music Journal shows that children who play an instrument over several years with progressively more difficult lessons displays “superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.” By studying an instrument that requires increasingly complex practice to understand, a child is better able to develop problem-solving skills. As children learn how to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sound that it previously couldn’t, aiding in the development of neurophysiological distinctions which can help in literacy and overall academic achievement.

It can teach you discipline.

Like any skill you need to master, learning how to play an instrument doesn’t happen overnight and can actually be quite challenging. If a child is serious about learning an instrument and wants to do it well, then they’ll have to put in the time and work necessary to master the skill outside of learning how to play simple, fun songs.

It can boost self-esteem and reduce performance anxiety.

More colloquially known as “stage fright,” performance anxiety is the feeling of dread and terror that fills you before you get up in front of a large number of people. Often, one of the milestones — and even one of the end goals — of learning an instrument is performing for other people. The more often you perform, the more comfortable you’ll be in front of a large audience and the more confident in yourself and your abilities you’ll become.

I  started teaching myself how to play the guitar when I was 12.  I borrowed my older brother’s guitar and guitar books and sat down one day (in the age before technology was in every home) and went page by page learning notes and playing repetitive measures until my fingers had sufficient callouses to advance. I listened intently to the musicians I admired like Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, and spent hours each day focused on the intrinsic pleasure and immediate reward of getting one note right. I didn’t know then that one day I would sing and play on stage, the joy was always in the process itself.  

Now, at the age of 61, I can’t claim to be any musical genius, but I do believe that the ongoing life practice of playing an instrument supported my success in school, self-confidence, feelings of my own special individuality, brain function especially for problem-solving and emotional release,  and appreciation for art and its crafting.  When I received my first paycheck as a school teacher at  the age of 21, I didn’t replace the cardboard boxes I was using for furniture in my living room; no, I mail-ordered a most special DC25 cherry wood Guild guitar from New Jersey to my small apartment in Tumwater, Washington.  

I still have that guitar today, and its sweet sound remains as clear as the day it arrived on my porch. I can still see the UPS man standing at my door holding a big box, and recall the leap in my heart to have achieved this instrument and sufficient skill to play it.