Not all professional songwriters play an instrument, but most do.
You may be a lyricist who collaborates with musicians during the writing process, or you may write to tracks. And that’s great.
Still, I always encourage songwriters to learn at least one instrument.
Not only will it make you a more valuable collaborator, but it’s also good for you!
You might groan sometimes at the thought of exercising or eating your vegetables, and I get that.
You also probably know that music makes you feel good.
But did you know that the mental health benefits of music go far beyond lifting your mood?
In fact, studies show that learning an instrument has many impressive and even surprising physical and mental health benefits.
Learning to play an instrument does take work, but it’s also a whole lot of fun — and you really can learn at any age.
In this post, we’ll cover some of those amazing health benefits. We’ll also show you how music can make your life better even when just listening.
Health Benefits of Playing an Instrument
We’re all interested in living our best lives, especially as we get older.
There are plenty of apps and games that claim to be able to train your brain, but there aren’t many statistics to back those claims up.
Learning to play an instrument, however, has many documented benefits.
Think about it. When you play an instrument, you’re engaging and integrating many senses at once — including sight, hearing, and touch. You’re also doing spatial reasoning (how far do I need to move my finger to reach that next note?) as well as perfecting fine motor skills.
Playing music is unlike many other activities. It’s multi-sensory, requiring concentration and coordination between different parts of your brain.
Because of this, learning an instrument actually changes your brain structure. The corpus callosum, a mass of nerve fibers that connects both sides of your brain, has been found to be measurably larger in musicians.
Playing an instrument also significantly boosts your brain power in other areas:
- Violinists’ brains are bigger in the sections controlling left-hand touch and movement.
- Keyboard players’ brains are larger in sections controlling hearing and visuospatial abilities.
- Research shows that musicians often perform better than non-musicians in tests of verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills.
- Kids who play music for at least 14 months show significant structural and functional brain changes, and these changes can even protect them against dementia later in life.
But don’t worry if you’re not a kid anymore (except at heart.) You can see improvements no matter when you start.
And the benefits last. Even if you only studied an instrument as a child, or only for a short time, many of the changes are permanent.
Documented Health Benefits of Learning to Play an Instrument
Here’s what you can expect when you learn and play an instrument.
1. Think quicker
Studying music helps your brain more easily process multi-sensory inputs. And these improvements are lasting. People who have played an instrument experience faster neural responses later in life as well.
2. Boost your memory
A study of 13 older adults who took piano lessons showed improved attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities. They also experienced better moods and higher quality of life.
3. Protect against cognitive decline
According to neuropsychologist Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, “Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging. Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”
4. Heal better after injuries
Certain brain injuries may improve with music. Stroke patients who played instruments recovered better motor control in everyday activities.
5. Improve spatial reasoning
Your brain goes through many complex calculations to determine how you should position your body and where you should place your fingers when you play an instrument. It combines the tone you hear (“Am I sharp? Am I flat?”) with your motor skills to help you produce the right sounds more reliably.
6. Strengthen your language skills
According to a York University study, 90 percent of kids who took music lessons scored higher on verbal skills — and adults showed similar benefits.
Early communication skills were improved when babies took interactive music classes. Music lessons also appear to help speech processing and learning in children with dyslexia.
7. Protect your hearing
One 2013 study found that people with only some music training retained strong abilities to process speech sounds. They were also protected against age-related hearing loss.
8. Improve reaction times
As people age, their reaction times usually slow, but playing an instrument helps prevent this. Studies show that musicians have faster auditory, tactile, and audio tactile reactions. They are also better at integrating multi-sensory inputs.
9. Strengthen teamwork and social bonds
Making music with other people requires contact, cooperation, and communication. It builds relationships and social cohesion — including feelings of camaraderie, empathy, and trust.
10. Boost your energy
Skip the coffee or take a productive break from office work — you can increase blood flow to your brain when you play for just 30 minutes.
11. Make better decisions
Both children and adults who have taken music lessons enjoy better executive function — including improved decision-making, problem-solving, information retention, and ability to control their behavior.
12. Feel better
Last but not least, both playing and listening to music helps you to lower your stress levels and decrease depression and anxiety.
Next up, the benefits anyone can enjoy.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Listening to Music
Even if you don’t play, you can make your life better with music — whether through recreational listening or through music therapy.
1. Alleviate pain of surgery and recovery
A study of the literature (and another here) showed that music therapy lowers anxiety and pain during surgery, helps patients relax, reduces the need for sedatives, and improves patient satisfaction.
Another study found that post-surgery, music therapy lessens pain and aids recovery at home.
2. Manage chronic pain
Music therapy has also been shown to be helpful for managing chronic pain as well as coping with the associated anxiety, depression, and social isolation sufferers often feel.
3. Protection against dementia and Alzheimer’s
Music has been proven to be an effective way to reach and engage Alzheimer’s patients. It may also delay continuing decline. That’s because music taps into parts of their brains that are still unaffected by the disease. Music also helps to improve the mood issues, anxiety, depression, and agitation that patients typically feel.
4. Improve your mood and mental health
Ever have an urge to listen to sad songs when you’re going through a tough time? You’re not alone. Turns out, music doesn’t even have to be upbeat to improve your mood. And you may not need a study to convince you, but music has been proven to improve our mental health, making us happier and lowering anxiety.
5. Boost productivity
Listening to music can make you more productive at work, at home, or at the gym. Some of the keys to tapping into this boost while working include avoiding music with lyrics and sticking to music you’re familiar with. Can’t listen at work? Listening to music before work or on breaks helps too.
6. Increase focus and attention
Listening to music you love releases dopamine, that feel-good neurotransmitter that’s related to attention and focus, in addition to motivation and creativity.
7. Lower your stress levels
Research shows that listening to music reduces the stress you feel by lowering the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body.
8. Enhance physical performance
Do you feel more powerful when you listen to music? You’re not alone. Music has been shown to benefit strength, conditioning, and running performance.
Music therapy can also help people heal from brain injuries from stroke and seizures.
9. Sleep better
Music can help you sleep better. In one study, college students slept significantly better when they listened to classical music for 45 minutes before bed.
10. Boost your executive function
Music also improves executive function — your ability to plan, follow directions, manage tasks, control your behavior, manage time, and much more.
11. Live your best life
Music lifts your mood during your morning commute and helps you to feel more relaxed throughout the day. Listening to your favorite tunes also helps you knock boring and repetitive tasks off your to do list more quickly.
These are just some of the studies and documented benefits of music on your health.
Seriously, this post could have been a book — or ten!
Next, you might be wondering…
What Kinds of Music Should You Listen To?
As you might have guessed, musical taste is a very individual thing.
Abby Klemm, MT-BC, board-certified music therapist, explains there isn’t one most effective approach. “Music not only affects our brain and body as a whole but is so personal to us that its effects can vary from person to person and from setting to setting.”
She continues, “In music therapy research, the largest consistency seems to be that an individual’s preferred music produces the strongest effects.”
So explore how the music you love makes you feel. Then create your own playlists or seek out ones that make you feel happier, inspired, motivated, or less anxious and depressed.
You can search for playlists on Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube to help with focus, energy, relaxation, and much more.
Christina Myers, MMT, MT-BC, another board-certified music therapist notes, “For those who are interested in intentionally using music to improve your health-related quality of life it is important to find what you jive with and be purposeful about using it.”
Tap Into the Benefits of Music for Your Best Mental and Physical Health
Is being a songwriter one of the healthiest professions for your brain?
Looks like it very well could be!
At the very least, being a musician can be incredibly satisfying and rewarding. The many health benefits are just icing on the cake.
So if you’ve been considering learning an instrument — or picking up another one — why not start today?
You’ll not only be a better songwriter — you’ll be a healthier one too!
And when you’re ready to write your first or next song, grab your free eBook on How to Write a Song.