We live in a rapidly changing world where new technologies seem to pop up over night, often bringing a solution to one set of problems while opening the door to new challenges. We need people that can find solutions to those problems–people that can think creatively, “out of the box”, and utilize “divergent thinking“.
Divergent thinking helps us explore many possible solutions to a problem, it isn’t linear, but instead brainstorms possibilities to open-ended questions.
One study of Vanderbilt college students found that those who were trained musicians scored higher than their non-musician peers in a test of divergent thinking. The musicians found more alternative uses for household objects, and performed better on a word-association test.
Young people aren’t the only ones that can benefit from playing music. You know what they say: “better late than never”. Well, it really is true in the case of learning to play an instrument. This insightful article by Dr. Debra Shipman highlights numerous benefits of learning to play an instrument (less depression and anxiety to name a few), but, the one that really caught my attention is related to seniors.
Dr. Shipman cited research published in the New England Journal of Medicine which demonstrated people who played instruments were less likely to suffer from dementia. And this, not only when compared to people that did not keep their minds active, but even when compared to those engaged in reading, writing, and crossword puzzles.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Education Week ran an article some years ago about the problem-solving and mathematic skill boosts young children received after receiving musical training. One group learned piano and another learned to sing using the “Kodaly method“. Both groups saw improvements in mental abilities after actively engaging with music (the mental/academic benefits of passively listening to music i.e. the “Mozart effect” are far from conclusive).
Whatever your age, skill level, perceived amount of musical ability, amount of time free to commit to learning an instrument, the bottom line is that there are numerous benefits to learning an instrument.
Here, we only scratched the surface on a few of the cognitive benefits of learning to play an instruemt; more creative problem-solving, a decrease in rates of dementia, and an improvement in mathematical reasoning. But, we haven’t even touched on the social, cultural, and intrapersonal benefits. Perhaps for another post.
Playing the piano, guitar, drums or any other instrument is not a cure for cancer. It isn’t a substitute for professional mental health services. I would run far away from anyone who claimed otherwise.
However, the benefits of playing an instrument far outweigh the investment of your time and resources needed to learn to play one.
Follow the links above. See for yourself. Read your own sources, certainly. Don’t take my word for it.
Have fun and happy music making.