By Cort Smith
Have you ever heard a certain song and been instantly transported to another place and time? Maybe it was your wedding song, and your heart starts to pound remembering the powerful emotions of the day. Maybe it was a song on the radio as you had your first kiss and the gooseflesh starts to pop up on your arm.
Music is a powerful force. It is hardwired into us, across all cultures. Listening to music can have a potent effect on your brain. But playing it can completely re-shape your brain and how it works.
It’s true. Even as part of the baby boomer generation, it’s not too late. Picking up an instrument and learning to play it can have a powerful, lasting effect on your body, mind, and soul. Here are a few of the reasons why.
Playing Music Increases Your Memory, Focus and Intelligence
A recent study showed that memory loss is an issue for one in eight baby boomers. One way to stave that off? Creating music!
Research suggests that regularly playing an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain and may improve cognitive skills. There is a constant flow of new evidence showing that people who play music have organizationally and functionally different brains from those who don’t. There is even science suggesting that playing music can increase your IQ by seven points!
And don’t think that this only applies to children learning an instrument. Your brain is malleable and shapeable, and this doesn’t change as you get older. It is never too late to start teaching it new things as you may be amazed by the response it gives you.
Playing Music Provides Emotional Benefits and Relieves Stress
Much like hearing a song can take you away to a happier place and time, playing music also has the power to completely alter your emotional state. Creating a harmony and melody will allow you to focus on the task at hand instead of being consumed with worry; relaxing tunes can healthily slow down heart rate; and studies have shown that playing music actually reduces stress on a molecular level!
If that wasn’t enough, music also gives us the ability to verbalize and express our feelings far better than any other medium. Writing a letter to a friend about how upset you are about something can be therapeutic, sure. But try singing those same feelings over a beautiful minor chord progression! Why do you think there are so many sad songs? Because it feels amazing to get it all out!
Playing music has been shown to increase the amount of human growth hormone (HgH) among older generations of people, which can actually slow the aging process. Additionally, if done properly, playing music can also improve your breathing. If you take lessons on almost any wind or brass instrument, your teacher will probably tell you to take more air and breathe properly. These kinds of exercises really help musicians, and can go a long way to improving your respiratory system. Other instruments will help to improve dexterity, like the piano and guitar.
Playing Music Improves Relationships and Bonding
Like math, love of music is universal. Not everyone knows how to say “How are you?” in English, but a lot of those same people know the words to “Hey, Jude”. There are plenty of opportunities to bond with others over this shared love, whether it is hosting jam sessions at your house or joining a social organization. More importantly, music appreciation crosses generation. Why not create some sweet memories with the grandkids by creating together sweet melodies? You can pull out your keyboard and invite them to sing or attempt to tinker out a tune of their own? Even children that are preschoolers can jam out with a kid’s drum set like these.
You don’t have to be Yo-Yo Ma to reap the fun and health benefits of playing music. The confidence and glow that will emerge when you conquer a new piece will be undeniably palpable, so why not reinvest in a forgotten hobby or develop a new skill today? Finding time to attend weekly classes is a fun excuse to get out of the house but, if you are mobility impaired and prefer to stay close to home, there are even online options. Share your experiences with playing an instrument in the comment section below!