There’s a slew of obvious and not-so-obvious benefits of playing music. From boosting your self-esteem to improving your brain’s ability to multitask, music is the gift that keeps on giving – whether you’re a child starting piano lessons, a college student joining the school choir, or someone picking up an instrument in retirement.
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If you listened to our recent interview with Jimmy Rotheram of Feversham Primary Academy I’m sure that you, like me, went away feeling freshly inspired about how wonderful music can be and all the things that learning music can do for you, even beyond the core enjoyment of music learning itself.
So I wanted to use this episode to talk a bit about those benefits of learning music. Now this is well-trodden ground. If you look around you will find no shortage of scientific research and reports about the benefits of learning music – all the facts and figures about what’s enhanced, improved and extended. Everything from social confidence to reading ability to mental acuity to collaboration skills. You name it, there’s probably a study showing that learning music helps you do it better!
And as a listener to this podcast the chances are you’re already learning music, maybe you have been for years. Or perhaps you’re just considering it, and listening to this podcast is encouraging you to think you might be more musical than you’d assumed. Either way, you probably don’t need convincing that learning music is a good thing!
But maybe you’re a parent, or a teacher – and you want to help persuade your school to increase its music education provision, like Jimmy’s school has shown can be so effective. Or you want to help persuade your children, siblings, parents or friends to give music a try – and just telling them how great it will be isn’t doing the trick!
Or maybe you’re learning music yourself but the day-to-day practice is causing frustration and you could use a fresh reminder of all of the non-musical reasons to persist and get you through this temporary lull in musical enthusiasm.
Whatever the case may be, you might need a bit of ammunition to support your claims that “learning music is so beneficial”! And rather than me reeling off a list of the dozens of specific benefits music has I thought I’d pick out a few online resources that do this well and just share a few highlights to give you a taste.
So I’m going to discuss one infographic about music education for young people, one article about brain benefits of learning an instrument and a blogpost about learning music after the age of 50. I’ll put links to the full posts in the shownotes where you can find all the facts and figures in detail.
We’ll start with an epic infographic put together by the University of Florida about the many benefits of music education.
You can check the full post which we’ll link in the shownotes for all the figures and references but in short it covers everything from improved reading skills, stronger brain activity for spoken language, increased vocabulary and verbal intelligence, enhanced fine motor skills, increased self-esteem, improved attention, higher test scores in maths, English and science, higher SAT scores, higher GPA, higher likelihood of attending college and graduating.
I love that it also points out that all the evidence suggests music education could be a powerful way to help low-income students and close the achievement gap – which of course matches up well with the transformation demonstrated at Feversham Primary Academy in the UK.
And if this infographic wasn’t enough I’m also going to link to a great post from the National Association for Music Education in the US which lists 20 important benefits of music in schools.
So there’s little doubt that adding music to a child’s education has a wide array of powerful benefits. What about adults?
Playing An Instrument Reduces Stress and Depression
This one won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s come home at the end of a long day and just delighted in picking up their instrument and spending some time in music-making.
There are plenty of studies showing that playing – or even just listening to – music can have a big positive effect on mood and our ability to combat the stress of modern life.
Musical Training Strengthens The Brain’s Executive Function
Your brain relies on the “executive function” for a variety of critical tasks, including processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making appropriate choices, problem-solving, and more.
This means that if you strengthen your executive function, you increase your ability to live productively, and research has shown that musical training improves and strengthens executive functioning in both children and adults.
So that cliché of the lazy musical artist struggling with the practicalities of daily life is nonsense. Musicians are more effective in how they interact with the world than those without musical training.
Trained Musicians Can Process Multiple Things At Once
Anyone who’s learned to play an instrument from written music will know: you need to learn to process visual information as you look at the music, auditory information as you hear the sounds you’re making, physical information as you play the instrument, and more.
This leads to superior multisensory skills, meaning the ability to process multiple sensory experiences at once.
Although the study mentioned here was specifically about sensory information I think it’s worth also noting the more general point that music helps you mentally juggle a variety of things simultaneously. For example, playing two independent parts with your two hands on piano and hearing how they relate, or staying aware of the other musical parts in a band or a choir. Even the simple act of tapping your foot to the beat while playing a rhythm requires a kind of coordinated multitasking.
Music Later in Life
The third post I wanted to share with you is one from the website sixtyandme.com about the benefits of learning a musical instrument after 50.
Now pretty much all the benefits of music we’re talking about apply throughout life. But there were a couple of points in this one specifically about the impact of music to adults later in life which I thought were interesting.
Music is a great way to make friends
This is often mentioned when talking about the benefits of music later in life, and with good reason. Isolation can be a real risk for people when they retire and leave the working world. And frankly, even for someone like myself in my 30s I’ve seen how it becomes increasingly harder to meet new people, and make new friends.
Music gives you an excuse and an avenue to meet a whole crowd of new people. By joining a choir or a ukulele group, or even just taking solo instrument lessons and connecting with the teacher’s other adult students, there are plenty of opportunities to get out, get to know your fellow musicians and form new bonds.
Of course if you’re new to music that might be intimidating – but that leads on to the other benefit I wanted to pick up on from this article.
Music builds self esteem
The article points out that learning an instrument is something you can begin doing from the comfort of your own home, making it very low pressure to get started. This was something I was really conscious of when developing our SingTrue app, for example. People who think they can’t sing are so self-conscious about the act of even trying to sing, it was essential we find a way for them to take those first steps without anyone judging them or any risk of embarrassment. If you have a friendly and supportive instrument teacher or you make a start by teaching yourself some basics with online resources you can get that same no-pressure environment to start from.
From there, each step forwards can be a real self esteem booster. We’ve seen this in MU where we have lots of older members and people coming to music for the first time in retirement. Discovering they can actually develop their ear for music after decades of thinking it was beyond them can be a huge confidence booster and open fresh optimism about what the future might hold.
One other benefit mentioned in this article is the benefit of learning music for brain health – and I’m going to link in the shownotes to a dedicated article from Age UK about the specific benefits of music on those suffering from dementia. That’s moving into the whole fascinating area of music therapy rather than simply learning music but I wanted to mention it because it is such an important part of how music education activities can be of such benefit later in life.
So that was a quick whirlwind tour of some of the non-musical benefits of music education. I hope that the next time your musical enthusiasm is at a lull, or you’re talking to someone and want some facts and figures to back up what you’re saying about how wonderful music is, this episode will point you to some resources that will help.