12 Great Benefits of Playing an Instrument (and Some Drawbacks Too)

Photo by Darius Soodmand on Unsplash

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Are you searching for a hobby that will also mean you can acquire a new skill? Why not learn to play an instrument? After all, the Bard himself described music as the food of love in Twelfth Night. What greater motivation could you want?

Playing an instrument not only serves to nourish the brain but has also been found to improve some cognitive functions. It’s true that learning to play an instrument can be challenging as well as fun, but if you persist and become proficient at it, you can provide yourself, your family, and friends with hours of entertainment.  On top of that, you’re bound to feel a magnificent sense of accomplishment.

Before we list some of the downsides of this pastime, we’ll take a look at the great benefits. That way, whenever you feel dispirited on your musical journey, recalling the upsides might encourage you to keep practicing.

Sound good? Let’s get into it.

12 benefits of playing an instrument  

Here are 12 advantages I’ve found, aside from the enjoyment this challenging but rewarding pursuit may afford.  

Lowers stress

A study conducted in 2013 involved splitting participants into three different groups. One of the groups listened to relaxing music, another to the sound of water, and the final group rested in silence. All participants were then exposed to a stressor, then indicators of their stress levels were measured. Those that had listened to relaxing music beforehand had lower cortisol levels than participants in the other groups.  

Listening to music could reduce your stress levels and help take your mind off your troubles, so the process of learning to play your own music can help you relax too.

Helps you develop perseverance and patience

Learning an instrument involves both your mind and body. It’s not always easy to learn everything from fingering, cords, and how to read music. You’ll also need to work on your technique and take in a lot of new information.

With practice, you will improve. As you reach each milestone on your musical journey, the reward for your perseverance will help motivate you to continue.

You’ll appreciate music more

When you learn to play an instrument you will likely develop a more varied taste for different styles and genres of music. You may also come to enjoy and appreciate the works of many different composers when you have a better idea of the skill involved. Just by learning to play a few tunes, you can increase your appreciation of music.

Unlocks creativity

Music is a form of art. As you learn, you’ll want to start applying it so that you can create your own beautiful music. After all, music is all about finding a way to express emotions through sound. By playing a musical instrument, you will be able to find a creative way to say something new or express yourself in surprising ways.

Provides a full brain workout

By monitoring our brains in real-time using fMRI and PET scans, researchers have found that music stimulates many different areas at once. This activity increases further when people play music. It’s akin to a full-body workout for the brain. It engages almost every part of your brain, including the motor, auditory and visual cortices. It exercises both the left and right sides of your brain because you use linguistic and mathematical skills. This can lead to increased activity in the corpus callosum.

Regular deliberate practice strengthens these areas, which may help make you a better problem solver, a skill that you can apply to other areas of your life. As part of playing music involves attempting to understand emotional messages, you can also improve your ability to plan and become more attentive to detail. These are both useful skills to have. We will soon see how playing an instrument can help boost your memory too. Next, though, let’s see how taking up this hobby can help you get better at time management.

Improves your time management skills

It may seem impossible to fit learning an instrument into your already full schedule, particularly if you want to become a truly proficient player. But if you really want to get better, you will find a way to fit practice time into your day. You will also become better at spending what time you have available to practice more productively and not waste it. It’s time to find out how this pastime can improve your memory.

Boosts your memory  

In a 2003 study involving students, half were musically trained and half were not. They were asked to read a list of words and then recall them after a certain interval had passed. It found that those that had been musically trained had a better verbal memory than those who had not. The more musical training someone had, the more words they could recall.

It’s a great social activity

People will want to hear you play, once they know you’re learning an instrument. That’s a chance to share your new skills and gift with others. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get paid to play. This could be a fantastic way for you to build confidence, as you get used to playing for others.

Makes you more disciplined

To make music, you need to invest a considerable amount of time and effort. You need discipline if you are going to dedicate yourself to periods of deliberate, focused practice, rather than get distracted and end up watching your favourite TV series instead. You can use your new-found discipline to improve other aspects of your life, perhaps even by using it to help develop other skills.

You will become better at perceiving emotions

The European Journal of Science looked at the relationship between the processing of vocal emotion and musical training. Those who had some musical training were found to be better at picking up on vocal emotions. This could be because many emotions are expressed through song and music. So, being exposed to different tonal variations in music increases your ability to detect emotion in peoples’ voices and words, as well as in music itself.

Can improve children’s ability to spell

A study looking at the non-verbal IQ of children found that those who had received musical training had a higher non-verbal IQ than those who had not received any. Those who played an instrument also may the fewest mistakes in a spelling test. Maybe encouraging kids struggling at school to learn an instrument could help them out.

Increases reaction times

A study pitted musicians who had a minimum of 7 years of training against those with no training at all. Participants were asked to click a mouse whenever they felt a vibration, heard a sound, or whenever both happened simultaneously. The musicians showed significantly faster reaction times to the stimuli.  

If your ambition is to start making your own music, these 12 benefits should give you ample reason to give it a whirl.

Before we take a look at the processes that happen when you play something, let’s take a peek at some of the downsides of taking up this challenge.

Drawbacks of playing an instrument 

As with all hobbies, learning to play an instrument may not suit you. Here’s a quick list of some of the downsides that you may experience if you try.

  • It takes a lot of time and effort. It can feel like a chore to practice on some days, particularly sunny days when you’d rather be outside soaking up the sun.
  • You could hate the music you’re learning to play. If you have a music teacher, they might like songs you don’t enjoy, which could add an extra level of torment to your practice sessions.
  • Music lessons can be expensive, so if you don’t have a lot of spare cash, this might not be the hobby for you.
  • This is not a quiet hobby. You could disturb others when practicing.
  • You probably won’t sound fantastic when you start out. It may take months or even years before you’re skilled enough for others to enjoy listening to you. Remember though, that all the best things in life take time to get.
  • You have to be committed if you want to learn an instrument, otherwise, you might end up spending money on something you’ll never use.
  • Instruments can be pricey. On top of that, you might have to pay out for some expensive accessories too. This can add an extra layer of frustration. Even if you rent an instrument it can cost a pretty penny.   

Still not deterred and just want to get practicing? Let’s look at how the brain kicks into action when we play music.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

6 neurological processes that kick into gear when playing music

There are several things that happen unconsciously when playing music.

  1. Aural – When you play in a group, you must listen to others as well as yourself.
  2. Visual – If you’re playing with others, you will need to follow a conductor. You will also be reading music as you play.
  3. Motor Skills – Playing an instrument is a physical activity that builds muscle and helps you develop muscle memory as you practice. For example, brass and woodwind require dexterity in the fingers and the strengthening of your facial muscles. This gives you more flexibility and range of motion.
  4. Tactile – You need good hand-eye coordination to play an instrument, plus hand and finger manipulation.
  5. Creativity – No single recording or live performance of a Beethoven symphony is ever the same because artistic choices are made about music, which changes the experience.  We each interpret the same music in our own unique way.
  6. Translation – As a musician, you must be able to visualise the music on the page and translate it into something you can use, interpret and execute super-fast.

Wrapping up

Whenever learning to play an instrument offers a chance to master new skills, it can open our minds in unexpected ways and the ways we can benefit from it may go far beyond the obvious. We’ve seen 12 benefits, some obvious and some less so, and have detailed some of the neurological processes involved in playing. If you now feel confident and haven’t been put off by the drawbacks mentioned, good for you. Get playing an instrument of your choice now. Who knows? You might benefit from it in lots of interesting, unforeseen ways.   

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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