Playing a Musical Instrument Helps Improve Function of the Brain

A study has made an important discovery as to why the elderly can retain listening skills as well as reduce the chances of age-related cognitive decline by playing a musical instrument. This discovery could help with developing brain rehabilitation therapies by way of musical training.[1]

It was discovered that learning how to play sounds with a musical instrument changes brain waves in a manner that an individual’s hearing and listening skills are improved over a short space of time. This brain activity change demonstrates the ability that the brain has for rewiring itself and compensating for diseases or injuries that could hamper an individual’s capacity to carry out tasks.

Music has been proven to affect the brain beneficially, but there’s been little understanding about how music provides these brain benefits. This study shows that learning the delicate movement required for reproducing a sound on an instrument alters the brain’s perception of sound differently in comparison to when just listening to music.

This discovery supports the scientists’ previous research making use of musical training for helping to rehabilitate motor movement in the upper bodies of stroke survivors. The scientists have a history of discoveries into how an individual’s musical background has an effect on cognitive function and listening abilities as they get older.

The study participants were 32 healthy individuals with normal hearing without any history of psychiatric or neurological disorders. Their brain waves were 1st recorded while listening to a recording of a Tibetan singing bowl’s bell-like sounds (sounds created from striking a small bell with a wooden mallet). After the recording was heard, half of the individuals were asked to strike the singing bowl to reproduce the same sounds and rhythm and the other half were asked to press a computer keypad key to reproduce the sound.

The hypothesis is that various brain systems are needed to function together when playing music, such as the hearing, perception and motor systems. This study was the 1st time that direct changes in the brain were seen after a single session, showing that the act of creating music results in a significant change in brain activity.

Music Infographic

Image Source: University of Florida

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