How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins

Did you know that every time
musicians pick up their instruments, there are fireworks going off
all over their brain? On the outside,
they may look calm and focused, reading the music and making the precise
and practiced movements required. But inside their brains,
there’s a party going on. How do we know this? Well, in the last few decades, neuroscientists have made
enormous breakthroughs in understanding how our brains work
by monitoring them in real time with instruments like
fMRI and PET scanners. When people are hooked up
to these machines, tasks, such as reading
or doing math problems, each have corresponding areas of the brain
where activity can be observed. But when researchers got
the participants to listen to music, they saw fireworks. Multiple areas of their brains
were lighting up at once, as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elements
like melody and rhythm, and then put it all back together
into unified musical experience. And our brains do all this work
in the split second between when we first hear the music
and when our foot starts to tap along. But when scientists turned
from observing the brains of music listeners to those of musicians, the little backyard fireworks
became a jubilee. It turns out that while listening
to music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain’s equivalent
of a full-body workout. The neuroscientists saw
multiple areas of the brain light up, simultaneously processing
different information in intricate, interrelated,
and astonishingly fast sequences. But what is it about making music
that sets the brain alight? The research is still fairly new, but neuroscientists
have a pretty good idea. Playing a musical instrument engages practically every area
of the brain at once, especially the visual,
auditory, and motor cortices. As with any other workout, disciplined,
structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions,
allowing us to apply that strength to other activities. The most obvious difference between
listening to music and playing it is that the latter requires
fine motor skills, which are controlled
in both hemispheres of the brain. It also combines the linguistic
and mathematical precision, in which the left hemisphere
is more involved, with the novel and creative
content that the right excels in. For these reasons,
playing music has been found to increase the volume and activity
in the brain’s corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres, allowing messages to get across the brain
faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively,
in both academic and social settings. Because making music also involves
crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians often have higher levels
of executive function, a category of interlinked tasks that includes planning, strategizing,
and attention to detail and requires simultaneous analysis
of both cognitive and emotional aspects. This ability also has an impact
on how our memory systems work. And, indeed, musicians exhibit
enhanced memory functions, creating, storing, and retrieving memories
more quickly and efficiently. Studies have found that musicians appear
to use their highly connected brains to give each memory multiple tags, such as a conceptual tag,
an emotional tag, an audio tag, and a contextual tag, like a good Internet search engine. How do we know that all these benefits
are unique to music, as opposed to, say, sports or painting? Or could it be
that people who go into music were already smarter to begin with? Neuroscientists have explored
these issues, but so far, they have found that the artistic
and aesthetic aspects of learning to play a musical instrument are different from any other activity
studied, including other arts. And several randomized studies
of participants, who showed the same levels of cognitive function
and neural processing at the start, found that those who were exposed
to a period of music learning showed enhancement in multiple
brain areas, compared to the others. This recent research about
the mental benefits of playing music has advanced our understanding
of mental function, revealing the inner rhythms
and complex interplay that make up the amazing
orchestra of our brain.

100 thoughts on “How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins

  1. I've been playing guitar for oh, about 40 years. 4 albums under my belt. Not anything critically acclaimed, but I did make a small name for myself, And absolutely… When I get into composing mode my mind is everywhere at once. So many notes, chords, arpeggios flood my mind and it's difficult to settle upon what I call "pieces" of music that I might include into the song. I can imagine how many lights are switched on while indulging in the composition process. It's really a wonderful feeling. Interestingly calming stressors.

  2. Eso es así con cualquier instrumento? Y con cualquier tipo de música? Porque con la batería, por ejemplo, no se trabaja la motricidad fina…y la música roquera, es más bien ruido que música

  3. Eso es así con cualquier instrumento? Y con cualquier tipo de música? Porque con la batería, por ejemplo, no se trabaja la motricidad fina…y la música roquera, es más bien ruido que música

  4. We need a study of how flying a jet/being a pilot affects the brain. This is very similar to playing music in a group, as you need fine motor movements, you need to have very good spatial orientation, moments of intense concentration followed by a more relaxed situation, smooth finesse on the controls much like playing an instrument, and interaction with the pilot next to you, plus air traffic control, plus weather. No doubt it takes both sides of your brain.

    As a side note: I just saw the Rolling Stones in concert and Mick Jagger is a roll model for the rest of us as a 76 year old rock star. I would guess he will be doing this into his 80s with the singing, dancing, and playing an instrument. He had a 2+ hour workout on stage.

  5. My brain feels incomplete when I don't have / take time to practice. The day isn't good without performance time.

  6. I hope learning languages and articulating words will do the same cuz I really have no talent in composing music whatsoever

  7. What will happen to my brain if i only play John Cage's 4'33" for all my life….????

  8. Omigosh U guys have to go watch Yesong Sophie Lee playing violin she’s so freaking good I saw her on YouTube ahhhh I wanna meet her so baddd

  9. Seria bueno que lo pasen en español. yo toco tres instrumentos y siempre considero que me falta mucho por aprender el cielo es el limite.

  10. I am a professional musicians so I like to hear this.
    However I am very cautious of so called 'authorities' and 'according to research, scientists found that….'
    I was rather shocked about the comments regarding the so called the 'enhanced memory functions of musicians. Especially when it is said that we are 'creating, storing and retrieving memories more efficiently'. How were scientists able to estimate this 'increased efficiency'…? After half a century performing worldwide, I have observed that a lot of musicians are completely messed up mentally, have social relationships problems and many can't remember their name until the 4th coffee after breakfast at 11 am. I am not speaking of guys on drugs.
    It is not known by science today where memory is stored. It is one of the big enigma of the brain to the extent that some scientists question whether the brain has anything to do with it.
    It also says that 'musicians give their memories multiple tags such as' (then 4 tags follow). This I am sorry is ridiculous. 32 perceptions have been isolated in any human being and it was observed that each memory contains most if not all of these perceptions. We are talking 32 tags. Everyone is recording this. Each mental image picture contains those tags. Without them memories are lost for ever and one couldn't remember. So it is a very nice video which makes us feel like we are very special beings compared to the rest. But it contains loads of bollocks and I would take it with a pinch of salt.
    This said, what for me is true in this video, is that learning and playing an instrument is a challenging, enjoyable and uplifting activity which puts one above the rest in terms of happiness and that it does develops abilities unknown to Joe Blog. Musicians – artists – also possess this exceptional characteristic: our ultimate product is happy people. We are spreading happiness and that's what we do.
    I just won't bring in the scientific world into the picture. Science being so removed from Art, is unable to judge or understand it. It is trying too hard.

  11. I'm just watching this to reassure myself that playing my clarinet for hours is productive and I'm not playing it because I have no friends.

  12. How come some people with Alzheimer's or dementia sometimes still remember how to play music, while they have forgotten everything else? Could somebody help me by explaining this?

  13. This is such an useful video. This helped me really much on playing the guitar. I have difficulties playing guitar and I about to give up on it when I got motivated and started playing guitar again after watching this. Thank you and wish you guys have a good day:)

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