Mental Benefits of Music: For Kids & Adults

When you start to think about the “typical” music student, what comes to mind? The image that that thought conjures up might be a little kid, sitting nervously at the piano, with their fingers anxiously hovering over the keys. You might have a little music student of your own that matched this mental picture. You may have even been that little kid yourself, once upon a time.

And to a certain extend, this image isn’t too far off. In the society we live in today, there is a lot of people fighting to make sure that music remains an important part of of children’s education and day-to-day lives. Of course, there are countless reasons why this is an important and valuable thing to fight for, but despite the fact that we may think of learning music as a “young person’s game,” there are just as many reasons to pick up an instrument for the first time as an adult too!

We’ve talked a great deal about the vast benefits that anyone can gain from learning to play music before, but this week we’re going to focus our attention on two areas in particular. The first is the mental (rather than social or physical) benefits that can be found in learning to play an instrument. Our second focus will be on two particular age groups, young children, and folks over 50.

Benefits for Kids

Increased IQ

One of the most well known, and possibly most important benefits that a child can gain from learning to play an instrument is a measurable increase in IQ. According to the findings from a study done in 2008, playing an instrument can actually change the shape and power of the brain. It may also be effective in therapy to improve cognitive skills. In fact, the study found that learning to play music can increase IQ by an average of about 7 points! And while I may be including this first benefit with the kids, this finding was true for adults too!

Better Test Results

No matter how you slice it, testing is an important part of the way our school system works, so why not help give your student a leg up? A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, suggested that “Students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English, and 20 percent in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts.”

Improved Memory

Learning to play an instrument and perform a piece of music requires an awful lot of memorization; from what the notes mean, to where their fingers should be, and countless other little details that go into making music. Studies have suggested that making music, and indeed even just listening to music, can stimulate your brain and help increase memory. A study using 22 children, ranging in age from three to four and a half years old, was performed to look at this. The children were split into two groups, one that was instructed in singing or lessons with a keyboard, while the other got no music lessons at all. Both groups had the same daily preschool activities. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the children who were taught the keyboard improved their “spacial-temporal skills 34 percent more than the other children.” Spacial-temporal skills are the ability to move objects around in time and space in your head to solve multi-step problems. This is the skill that lets you load your car up will all sorts of different shaped boxes and suitcases before a trip, without relying on trial and error. This skill requires a lot of memory power, and the study found the increase to be long lasting.

Better Organizational & Time Management Skills

Probably one of the most important skills a child can learn from playing an instrument is how to organize their time. Student musicians need to juggle their homework, social life, and interests, as well as find the time to practice without wasting their time. And speaking of practice, learning to play an instrument also helps teach children about structure, and how to make sure they plan ahead and give themselves time to practice every day.

Benefits for Adults over 50

Exercise Your Brain

As those among us who are a little more fit know, circuit training involves moving from one exercise to another, allowing for a nice, full body workout. Learning to play music is like doing this for your brain.

According to research, most of the things we do each day only use a few areas of the brain at once. Playing an instrument, however, is a full-brain job. So, if you’re at all interesting in keeping your mind sharp well into the decades ahead, try picking up an instrument!

Reflection of Who You Are

If you were forced to take music lessons when you were a child, you probably didn’t get the opportunity to choose your own instrument. In fact, a great many of us are introduced to music with the recorder flute. Others are expected to pick up the piano or violin.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with introducing your child to music early, forcing an instrument on them can backfire.

But, as an established adult looking for something new, you get to call the shots! Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn to play? Did you idolize a particular musician in your youth? Now you get to choose what you play, when you play, and how you play! This alone can make it easier to stick with than when you were a kid.

Make New Friends

I know I said I would be focusing on mental benefits, and not social ones, but this truly is a bit of both. Life after 50 can sometimes be challenging from a social perspective. Many parents now have empty or emptier homes, and just might not have the same social ties they once did. Add to this the fact that many people have gone through a divorce or lost a partner at this stage in their life. All this can lead to feelings of ennui, or even depression.

Learning to play an instrument is the perfect way to get out and meet new people, on your own terms. At first, your main interactions will likely just be with your teacher or the small group you take lessons with. But, after a little while, you’ll probably start to meet other musicians through performances or other events. Eventually, you may even start your own band!

Learning to play an instrument has amazing benefits for all ages, and they go far beyond the few we have time to talk about today.

Start your lessons now!