We learn science and social studies to understand ourselves and the world. We study language arts to learn how to speak, read, and write. Math helps us function with every day tasks like buying a coffee, building a house, or running a business. So, why learn an instrument?
As a new school year begins, parents are enrolling their children in new grades, sports, and usually last on the list is music lessons. Many students begin music with general classes in school where they might learn to play the recorder and sing. Once they are around middle school age, they can choose between band, orchestra, or chorus. Unfortunately, middle school is also the time that students are given a lot more homework and, at least in my town, they get out the latest, giving all the more reason to drop music lessons.
But music is so much more than just an extracurricular activity. Music develops areas of the brain that other subjects do not activate and enhances the brain in areas in which we are already learning. Participating in playing an instrument and performing music amplifies and improves all of these wonderful affects on the brain.
In a blog post titled, Cognitive Benefits of Being a Musician, Kevin Pearson writes:
“Because musicians need acute hearing, well-developed senses of pitch, rhythm, dynamics and timing as well as great control of small and large muscles that non-musicians rarely use musicians develop neurological and morphological changes that can be beneficial not only when playing their instrument or listening to music, but also in other aspects of everyday life.”
To play an instrument, a lot of things must happen at once: the fingers (and sometimes mouth) move to play the correct pitch, the eyes read the music and decipher the rhythm, the whole body is engaged to feel the beat, and all of this happens through a few, small muscle groups in the body.
Pearson goes on to write about different areas of the brain that are usually bigger in musicians, indicating more success. These regions of the brain include a better balance between both hemispheres, as well as areas for coordination, understanding language and music, ability to focus on one task (i.e. not be distracted by background noise), memory, and reasoning. Consequently, because a lot of the brain is engaged in learning an instrument, it is usually not lost with age.
We all know the importance of the regular school subjects and physical activity. Music needs to be included as an equally important activity, instead of constantly being pushed to the back burner. The younger they start, the better, but you’re also never too old to learn and benefit from the power of music!