The Surprising Benefits Of Playing An Instrument For people of all Ages
Reduce Stress, Learn faster, Improve Your Brain Function And So Much More…
written by Terry Stefan founder of GuitarSignal.com
Long ago, when I picked up my first guitar, I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I daydreamed about having a shiny gold Les Paul, just like all my favorite bands did. I wasn’t so much concerned with the benefits of playing guitar; I just wanted to look cool and learn my favorite songs.
Like so many new guitar players, I was quickly discouraged. All the concepts I was learning were challenging to master, my fingertips were killing me, and nothing was fun. I was ready to pack up my guitar and find a new hobby. Thankfully, I pressed on and kept learning. Twenty-something years later, I look back on how the guitar has made me a better person.
Playing guitar isn’t just about learning an instrument. From your physical health to your mental health and beyond, the guitar can unlock a surprising array of benefits for you. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at all of them.
Beyond the fun of playing, the guitar can unlock many powerful benefits for your health.
Guitar As Therapy
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick up your guitar and see if you don’t feel better after the first few minutes of playing. Playing an instrument has the power to relieve stress and anxiety and reduce cortisol.
Research shows that this type of activity has the power to short circuit the brains traditional responses to stress and anxiety. Instead of allowing those feelings to manifest, when you’re playing an instrument, you’ll be surprised to see how quickly they melt away when you’re stimulating yourself by playing an instrument.
The BBC further posits that playing an instrument can raise your white blood cell count. White blood cells are critical to effective immune system response, and it seems it may also affect your sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our stress responses.
For Your Heart Strings
The clear mental benefits of playing an instrument are great, but there’s so much more playing an instrument can do for you. Playing music also has implications for your heart health.
Berklee School of Music’s Chairperson, Suzanne Hanser espouses the benefits of playing an instrument for your health, especially for older people. Playing can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce your heart rate. A recent BMJ study suggests the same heart health benefits.
Mental And Cognitive Benefits
Perhaps the most impressive health benefits of learning guitar are the cognitive and psychological benefits associated with learning an instrument.
Playing An Instrument Staves Off Mental Degeneration
Playing an instrument can also keep your brain sharp, helping to stave off degenerative diseases that are common in older people, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact, seniors who engage in the kind of engaging mental activities like playing an instrument can reduce their risk of developing these conditions by up to 75%.
Other activities such as brain games like crossword puzzles or chess also help slow or prevent Alzheimer’s, as does dancing. But, as a musician, I’d argue none of these activities are quite as fun or enriching as playing an instrument.
The Cognitive Benefits Of Playing An Instrument
The guitar is particularly unique, as it seems that the brain of a guitar player BEHAVES differently than non-musicians’ brains. In a 2012 study in Berlin, researchers concluded that the neural networks of different guitar players appear to synchronize while they’re playing a piece of music and that synchronization actually occurs before they even begin playing.
Further, it seems that guitar players can toggle between conscious thought and unconscious thought during solos and other difficult passages. This suggests that learning the guitar allows players to tap into the creative side of their brain, allowing their ideas and virtuosity to flow through them uninhibited.
Playing an instrument has also shown to have an incredible effect on the plasticity of our brains. Pat Martino, the renowned jazz guitarist, had a severe brain hemorrhage in his 30’s, prompting scientists to remove a significant portion of his left temporal lobe. While Pat recovered from surgery, unfortunately, his playing ability did not. He completed lost the ability to play.
Within two years, Pat was able to relearn his instrument completely, and he approached it with the same virtuosity he had before his injury. This incredible development suggests a significant link between brain plasticity and playing an instrument.
While these benefits exist for everyone, they’re especially profound for children. The science is in, and playing an instrument can help improve brain structure and development. For kids who get an early start on learning, it looks like an instrument can also help improve long-term memory.
Music and Childhood Development
It’s clear that children are one group that stands to benefit the most from musical instruction. Through music, children can unlock many powerful benefits including improved listening and comprehension skills, improved concentration, and better performance in other academic subjects.
Merely listening to music can unlock powerful mental benefits, but perhaps the truest improvements occur when students engage in playing music or music therapy. According to a recent Frontiers in Neuroscience study, researchers found that children who participate in playing music were able to better develop their memory, comprehension and listening skills, and concentration.
Music and Math
The scholastic benefits don’t stop there. There’s also a large body of research which suggests that learning a musical instrument improves a child’s ability mathematical reasoning and ability.
When you think about it, this connection is a no-brainer. At its core, music is about math. Time signatures are math, the number of beats in a measure is math, and many of the concepts of the guitar are also closely tied to mathematics.
We know that learning an instrument can improve your cognitive abilities, and studies show that musicianship affects executive functioning. Executive functioning is an area of skill that closely related to mathematics, as well as the development of many skills that the professional world demands.
Music and Creativity
In general, every aspect of neural processing seems to be improved when children learn an instrument. Beyond these tangible mental benefits, there are also implications for the general development of the student.
When it comes to guitars as therapy, students who take up the guitar can unlock a new creative outlet, expand their knowledge of music, as well as themselves and others. Once a student is confident enough to begin performing for an audience, the guitar is the tool that allows them to step outside their comfort zone while expanding their horizons.
Instruments can also be an exciting way to limit your children’s screen time. Any parent can tell you; it sometimes feels like they’re losing a battle to the screens in their child’s life. I can’t think of a better way to provide an alternative to tv and digital devices than playing an instrument. It’s also a great way to get the whole household involved in the fun.
Other Mental Benefits
Beyond the powerful mental and cognitive benefits above, learning an instrument can teach you import lessons about time management, goal setting and accomplishment, diligence, and productivity. All these are tools you’ll be able to tap into in your professional life.
Practicing your instrument touches on each of these aspects of professional development. You’ll learn how to set goals for yourself in your practice time, and how to diligently attack those goals by managing the way you practice and the time you spend on different areas of your instrument.
When you accomplish your goals, you’ll also feel a powerful sense of accomplishment that will inspire you to keep practicing, learning, and growing.
If we capped this article right here, there’s already an incredibly strong case to begin learning an instrument. But there are still so many additional benefits associated with learning an instrument; including the profound physical benefits related to learning the guitar.
First, there are the obvious benefits. Playing guitar is physically demanding on your hands, and over time, regular playing will help you improve the flexibility, dexterity, and strength of your hands and wrists. Playing will also improve your motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
One area where you stand to benefit that you may not have considered: playing the guitar can actually help relieve pain. When we’re playing music, our brain has the powerful ability to divert our attention away from what’s bothering us, i.e., physical pain, so we can instead focus on playing an instrument.
Still asking yourself “why should I learn to play guitar?” What if you knew that it could actually help you lose weight? Merely sitting and playing will help you burn a modest 145 calories an hour. But, if you play standing up, you can accelerate that to an impressive 217 calories per hour. This is just another powerful benefit of this helpful hobby.
One of the most visible effects of playing a musical instrument is in your emotional health and wellbeing. Ask anyone who has played the guitar for any amount of time, and they’ll be quick to tell you how their instrument helps them express themselves, find more joy in life, improves their self-confidence and more.
Music as Self-Expression
Playing an instrument provides you with a powerful form of self-expression. Whether you’re learning how to play your favorite songs, or writing your own compositions, there are few ways that offer such an opportunity to express yourself quite like learning an instrument can.
Ask a guitar player how they feel when they’re performing, and they’ll be quick to tell you about the happiness and joy they feel when they’re on stage. It’s true, hearing the crowd cheer and yell as you provide the soundtrack to their evening can be downright euphoric.
An instrument also has the power to improve your self-confidence. Few things have the ability to make you feel the way you do when you begin to learn new things, conquer pieces that were once too difficult for you, and share your music with friends and family.
By expressing yourself on a public platform, you’ll not only become more confident in your ability as a guitar player; you’ll become more confident in other aspects of your life, as well.
Music, Meditation, and Consciousness
Playing an instrument is also a great way to learn patience, and find inner peace. The act of learning an instrument is predicated on hours of repetition, discipline, and practice. At first, it can be easy to lose concentration and focus, but over time it’s something you learn to revel in.
While we’re on the idea of finding inner peace, playing an instrument is actually a powerful form of meditation. Cultures throughout the world have realized the power of playing music as meditation for centuries.
In their powerful book Music and Consciousness, David and Eric Clarke posit that music has played an influential role in their meditation practice.
“Music, used as an object of study and a series of training exercises, can have a regulatory, balancing effect on the mind. Like the breath, music can be deliberately used as a bridge between the voluntary and autonomic nervous systems … It moves beyond intellectual, conceptual, discursive thinking towards an emotional, sensual realm.”
Learning music can also teach you to exist firmly rooted in the moment, a practice that mindfulness has sought to unlock for many years. Spend an hour or so working through some of your favorite practice routines and you’ll quickly realize how connected music is to meditation and mindfulness.
Finding Fulfillment Through Learning Music
Finally, playing an instrument allows you to unlock a powerful sense of self-fulfillment and achievement. Few things in the world feel quite like mastering a new piece or tackling a new piece or practice routine that was above your ability the last time you tried to learn it.
One area where the benefits of learning guitar are most profound is in the social benefits of learning an instrument and participating in making music with others.
Connecting with Others Through Playing Music
Participants in the Music for Life project met with researchers at the University of London to discuss their experience playing music with others as part of the Music for Life project. The participants were quick to point out the social connections they were able to forge with other people through this project.
In addition to allowing them to make new connections and meet new people, they also experienced other benefits, such as friendship and camaraderie, collaborative learning, and even teaching.
Most musicians are able to make lifelong connections through the practice of playing music, and these bonds can lead to fulfillment in other areas of life, as well. The people you play music with exist as a strong support network that you can call on when you’re overwhelmed by other aspects of life.
Scientists have discovered that this type of bonding also results in increased production of oxytocin, which is known as “the love hormone.” In simpler terms, this type of social interaction triggers that warm and fuzzy feeling within your body, which has severe implications on how you’re feeling and thinking.
By playing music with others, not only are you learning yourself, but you’re also teaching, helping others feel good, and enjoying the company of like-minded individuals. Just ask the members of New Horizons Band, a New York-based band composed of musicians from all walks of life.
Based on their reporting to researchers at the University of Illinois, members of the band were thankful for the opportunities music has brought them, including the ability to learn and refine their craft. But most importantly, members spoke highly of the social implications of playing in the band.
Through the band, members were able to create new social bonds, find fulfillment as part of a team, and by helping others, and improve their own self-images in the process.
The Powerful Effect of Teaching Music
When people engage in playing music collaboratively, something special happens. Not only do the players improve their abilities, and learn how to play as part of an ensemble; the social aspect of playing together allows them to explore and develop in other areas.
Players who have already mastered a passage are quick to offer assistance to others. It’s common for them to discuss what they’ve learned and how to apply it with others after their session is complete. This kind of social bonding and camaraderie is one of the most important and useful aspects of learning an instrument.
Sure, the mental, physical, and social benefits of playing the guitar are well documented, and each benefit is a compelling reason why you should pick up an instrument and begin to learn. But, there’s still plenty more benefits that you may be able to enjoy by playing an instrument, and these are the fun ones.
Money, Power, and Success
Oh yeah, now we’re talking! Maybe you picked up the guitar for some of the reasons we’ve discussed above. But, if you’re like most people, you bought into the dreams of adoration from the opposite sex, millions of dollars, and the screaming legions of 30,000 fans at every stop on your tour.
While it isn’t likely, all of those daydreams can come true. Popular musicians are often catapulted to national success in acclaim, and with that, they get to enjoy everything they’ve ever dreamed of. From the adoration of fans to the lucrative concert and promotional bookings, playing the guitar is one way to cement yourself in the annals of history.
Even if you don’t achieve quite that level of acclaim, working musicians everywhere can make a living from their passion, while also unlocking a world of new experiences as they travel throughout the country and the world.
You can learn a lot about yourself and others through the windows of a tour bus, and beyond the social implications of this type of living, it’s also a great way to broaden your horizons, and your exposure to new things.
Another powerful aspect of learning to play the guitar is the exposure to other cultures throughout the world. If you’re looking to explore different cultures, there are few more effective ways to do so than through learning a musical instrument.
It’s one thing to read a book or take a class that focuses on a specific culture, but by learning an instrument, you’ll actually be able to immerse yourself in that culture.
One of the unique qualities of the guitar is that unlike many other instruments, guitar and similar stringed instruments have played a significant role in virtually every type of popular music from the last several centuries.
From classical to jazz, to rhythm and blues, rock, and hip hop, the guitar has left a lasting stamp on almost all popular music.
As a guitar player, you’re able to explore all of these different styles and the impact that they’ve had on cultures throughout the world.
American culture, in particular, has been forever changed by the growth and popularity of the guitar.
In the early 1900s, guitar graced the stage with ragtime and jazz bands and played a supporting role in the development of jazz and the culture surrounding it. As time went on, the guitar became a lead instrument, and its imprint on the genre was masterfully crafted by artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, and George Benson.
The guitar was also of paramount importance to the delta blues musicians of the early 20th century. This distinctly American music paved the way for the future of everything from pop to rock to r&b and hip hop.
It’s also interesting to explore how our culture is interconnected to other cultures throughout the world. The pentatonic scale, which is the framework of blues and many current pop styles in America is also found throughout centuries of Japanese music.
Even if you just explored the history and culture of America through playing the guitar, you’d have years and years of practice and learning ahead of you. For most musicians, you never stop exploring and learning about yourself and the world and culture around you through the lens of your guitar.
Did I Mention…
There are still so many more reasons to play the guitar!
For one, even if you never become rich and famous as a musician, it’s still the easiest way to feel like a rockstar, if only for a short time. Through the guitar, you can learn to play just like your idols; you can learn their songs and style and interpret it in your own way through learning and practicing.
Guitar players also have great looking homes. The guitar itself is a work of art that’s rivaled by few things in the world, and they make some of the best decor for any room. Whenever you’re not playing, hang your guitars up on the wall for an instant conversation piece, and to add warmth, style, and personality to your living space.
Playing the guitar is also a great way to think back on your own memories. Music is a powerful connector. I’m sure you have certain songs that when you hear them, memories wash over you. That feeling is also powerful when you’re playing your old favorites and classics.
Best of all, learning to play the guitar is a skill that you’ll be able to carry with you forever. What may begin as a simple hobby can grow into a lifelong skill that helps you learn and grow personally, socially, and professionally.
Above all, it’s fun! I can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon than with my guitar, practicing, learning, and playing for my own enjoyment or the enjoyment of others.
The benefits of playing guitar are widespread, and they can have a profound effect on virtually every aspect of your life. Considering all these benefits, it’s hard to find a hobby or activity that’s able to provide as much enrichment as playing the guitar.
From the cognitive and mental benefits that everyone can unlock to the improvements that musical children see in their other scholastic subjects, learning an instrument has powerful implications for your brain’s development and fitness.
Beyond the brain, there are also many physical benefits associated with playing the guitar. Learning the guitar can help you reduce your blood pressure, improve your overall heart health, and boost your immunity. Plus, it’s a powerful form of therapy.
Then, there are the personal benefits. Learning guitar provides a limitless creative outlet, allowing you to express yourself while providing a boost in confidence, and powerful feelings of accomplishment and joy.
Socially, learning an instrument can profoundly affect your social life and your relationship with others while also providing a strong sense of fulfillment.
If all these reasons aren’t compelling enough, the benefits of playing guitar are well documented with regard to history, culture, and more. Taking up the guitar is a fun and enriching way to learn about your culture, and cultures throughout the world.
Whatever your reasons, playing guitar is one of the best ways to improve your health, wellbeing, and so much more.