Why Play Piano?

pamfri114 Blog

It’s a simple question: Why play Piano?
Music and music education should play a large role in the life of everyone;  for the musical skills it imparts, the cultural knowledge it conveys and, above all, the joy it brings. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, express feelings when we have no words and is a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.As Aristotle wrote, music “Makes the hearts of men glad: so that on this ground alone we may assume that the young ought to be trained in it.” Maybe you never had the chance to learn an instrument as a child. Maybe you took lessons at some point when you were younger, but quit for one reason or another.

When one takes piano lessons, it cannot only reap quite a number of benefits during the early stages but also throughout the person’s lifetime. According to various scientific researches, taking piano lessons or playing the piano is beneficial to ones health and general well being, regardless of whether or not it’s a child or an adult.

Making music can improve your quality of life. Active participation in music challenges the mind, sparks the imagination, and brings joy and satisfaction. It’s simple to get started even if you’ve never played the piano before. According to a Michigan State University research project, older Americans found that keyboard lessons significantly reduced anxiety, depression and loneliness.

 Taking piano lessons is a great hobby that helps you become more relaxed, feel better, make new friends, keep active and it enhances learning and decision-making abilities.

Although listening to music can bring great joy, it’s nothing when compared to the experience of creating it yourself.   Creating music allows us to express the inexpressible and describe the indescribable; it is the key that opens the door to human emotions that have never found their way into spoken vocabulary

Maybe it’s on your “bucket list”: “I’ve always wanted to try it…”   “Someday I’ll get back to it…”

“This year I finally have time…”  

Playing a music instrument is known to improve one’s overall mental health and well-being. In fact, taking up piano lessons can offer a wealth of mental health benefits that many individuals would not expect

Taking piano lessons is a great hobby that helps you become more relaxed, feel better, make new friends, keep active and it enhances learning and decision-making abilities.

For children, we all know the benefits of music education: the improved test scores, the benefits of learning  and sticking with a challenge. Music is one of the most powerful expressive forms we have in our lives.

In recent studies, there is a profound link between music and intelligence. It’s simple to get started even if you’ve never played the piano before. According to a Michigan State University research project, older Americans found that keyboard lessons significantly reduced anxiety, depression. and loneliness. and the benefits of music for the young, now based on numerous scientific studies is unquestionable. The Mayo Clinic points out that music can have effects ranging from reducing feelings of physical pain to boosting memory.

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A growing number of studies show that music lessons in childhood can do something perhaps more valuable for the brain than childhood gains: provide benefits for the long run, as we age, in the form of an added defense against memory loss, cognitive decline, and diminished ability to distinguish consonants and spoken words.

Not only that, you may well get those benefits even if you haven’t tickled the ivories, strummed the guitar, or unpacked your instrument from its case in years. And dividends could even be in store if you decide to pick up an instrument for the very first time in mid­life or beyond.

The reason is that musical training can have a “profound” and lasting impact on the brain, creating additional neural connections in childhood that can last a lifetime and thus help compensate for cognitive declines later in life, says neuropsychologist Brenda Hanna­-Pladdy of Emory University in Atlanta. Those many hours spent learning and practicing specific types of motor control and coordination (each finger on each hand doing something different, and for wind and brass instruments, also using your mouth and breathing), along with the music­-reading and listening skills that go into playing an instrument in youth, are all factors contributing to the brain boost that shows up later in life.

Musical Training Grows Your Brain

You can even map the impact of musical training on the brain: In a 2003 study, Harvard neurologist Gottfried Schlaug found that the brains of adult professional musicians had a larger volume of gray matter than the brains of non­musicians had. Schlaug and colleagues also found that after 15 months of musical training in early childhood, structural brain changes associated with motor and auditory improvements begin to appear.

Still other studies have shown an increase in the volume of white matter. Such findings speak to the brain’s plasticity—its ability to change or adapt in response to experience, environment, or behavior. It also shows the power of musical training to enhance and build connections within the brain.

“What’s unique about playing an instrument is that it requires a wide array of brain regions and cognitive functions to work together simultaneously, in both right and left hemispheres of the brain,” says Alison Balbag, a professional harpist who began musical training at the age of five, holds a doctorate in music, and is currently earning her Ph.D. in gerontology (with a special focus on the impact of music on health throughout the life span) at the University of Southern California. Playing music may be an efficient way to stimulate the brain, she says, cutting across a broad swath of its regions and cognitive functions and with ripple effects through the decades.

The Longer You Played an Instrument, the Better

More research is showing this might well be the case. In Hanna­-Pladdy’s first study on the subject, published in 2011, she divided 70 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 83 into three groups: musicians who had studied an instrument for at least ten years, those who had played between one and nine years, and a control group who had never learned an instrument or how to read music. Then she had each of the subjects take a comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tests.

The group who had studied for at least ten years scored the highest in such areas as nonverbal and visuo­spatial memory, naming objects, and taking in and adapting new information. By contrast, those with no musical training performed least well, and those who had played between one and nine years were in the middle.

In other words, the more they had trained and played, the more benefit the participants had gained. But, intriguingly, they didn’t lose all of the benefits even when they hadn’t played music in decades.

Hanna-­Pladdy’s second study, published in 2012, confirmed those findings and further suggested that starting musical training before the age of nine (which seems to be a critical developmental period) and keeping at it for ten years or more may yield the greatest benefits, such as increased verbal working memory, in later adulthood. That long-­term benefit does not depend on how much other education you received in life.

Starting musical training before age nine and continuing for a decade may yield the greatest benefits.

“We found that the adults who benefited the most in older age were those with lower educational levels,” she says. “[Musical training] could be making up for the lack of cognitive stimulation they had academically.” She points to the important role music education can play, especially at a time when music curricula are falling prey to school system budget cuts.

Playing Music Improves Your Ability to Discern Sounds

Neuroscientist Nina Kraus of Northwestern University in Chicago found still more positive effects on older adults of early musical training—this time, in the realm of hearing and communication. She measured the electrical activity in the auditory brain stems  of 44 adults, ages 55 to 76, as they responded to the synthesized speech syllable “da.” Although none of the subjects had played a musical instrument in 40 years, those who had trained the longest—between four and fourteen years—responded the fastest.

That’s significant, says Kraus, because hearing tends to decline as we age, including the ability to quickly and accurately discern consonants,­­ a skill crucial to understanding and participating in conversation.

“If your nervous system is not keeping up with the timing necessary for encoding consonants—did you say bill or pill or fill, or hat or that—even if the vowel part is understood,” you will lose out on the flow and meaning of the conversation, says Kraus, and that can potentially lead to a downward spiral of feeling socially isolated.

The reason, she speculates, may be that musical training focuses on a very precise connection between sound and meaning. Students focus on the note on a page and the sound that it represents, on the ways sounds do (and don’t) go together, on passages that are to be played with a specific emotion. In addition, they’re using their motor system to create those sounds through their fingers.

“All of these relationships have to occur very precisely as you learn to play, and perhaps you carry that with you throughout your life,” she says. The payoff is the ability to discern specific sounds—like syllables and words in conversation—with greater clarity.

There may be other potentially significant listening­ and hearing benefits in later life as well, she suspects, though she has not yet tested them. “Musicians throughout their lives, and as they age, hear better in noisy environments,” she says. “Difficulty in hearing words against a noisy background is a common complaint among people as they get older.”

In addition, the fact that musical training appears
 to enhance auditory working memory—needed to improvise, memorize, play in time, and tune your instrument—might help reinforce in later life the memory capacity that facilitates communication and conversation.

You Can Start Now

It’s not too late to gain benefits even if you didn’t take up an instrument until later in life. Jennifer Bugos, an assistant professor of music education at the University of South Florida, Tampa, studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, those who had received piano lessons showed more robust gains in memory, verbal fluency, the speed at which they processed information, planning ability, and other cognitive functions, compared with those who had not received lessons.

More research on the subject is forthcoming from Bugos and from other researchers in what appears to be a burgeoning field. Hervé Platel, a professor of neuropsychology at the Université de Caen Basse-­Normandie, France, is embarking on a neuroimaging study of healthy, aging non­musicians just beginning to study a musical instrument.

And neuroscientist Julene Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, is now investigating the possible cognitive, motor, and physical benefits garnered by older adults who begin singing in a choir after the age of 60. She’ll also be looking the psycho­social and quality-of-life aspects.

“People often shy away from learning to play a musical instrument at a later age, but it’s definitely possible to learn and play well into late adulthood,” Bugos says.

But the benefits don’t stop there. Learning to play a musical instrument has just as many benefits as listening to music does. While listening to music has beneficial effects for your body, learning to play a musical instrument has incredible effects on your mind. Here are just a few:
1. Music training improves cognitive and noncognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.
This was the surprising conclusion of a study performed by Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp for the German Socioeconomic Panel. Music training doesn’t only benefit cognitive performance, but can enhance physical skill and performance as well.
2. Positive benefits of music training persist for years, even after the musical training stops.
Erika Skoe and Nina Kraus found, in a 2012 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, that musical training has benefits that extend long past the time spent directly training. Simply learning an instrument as a child has far-reaching consequences for those children as they age, including resistance to cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
3. Studying music greatly increases academic success.
Dr. James Catterall studied 25,000 students between 8th and 10th grade, and found that ” … students who studied music and the arts had higher grades, scored better on standardized tests, had better attendance records and were more active in community affairs than other students.” Learning an instrument helps reduce stress, improve focus, and improve cognitive ability — all perfect skills for high performance in learning environments.
4. Older musicians stay mentally sharp.
Aging musicians perform much better on cognitive tests than people the same age who do not play a musical instrument. Brenna Hanna-Pladdy of Emory University studied 70 adults between the ages of 60-83 and found that the musicians who played an instrument at the highest level received significantly higher scores than the non-musicians in tasks that test the brain’s ability to adapt to new information.
These studies have discovered that profound benefits arise from learning to play a musical instrument. Learning to play the piano and guitar from an early age has certainly changed my life in ways