What is it about making music that sets the brain alight?”
– In this TED-Ed video that went viral a few years ago, educator Anita Collins examines some of the long-term positive effects of playing a musical instrument.
Among the benefits, Collins’ research found that playing music activates every area of the brain at once, and thus helps with various brain functions such as motor skills, creative problem-solving, and even sociability or self-esteem.
What does this mean for a child? Well, you can imagine how these benefits are only maximized when they happen within a brain that’s still in early stages of development.
The saying “start them early” surely applies, so now let’s take a deeper look into each benefit…
Fine Motor Skills
Playing music requires fine motor skills, which are controlled in both the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
When an individual plays an instrument, they naturally interlink both hemispheres - the linguistic, mathematical precision pertaining to the left hemisphere of the brain and the creative, non-linear thinking that the right hemisphere is accustomed to.
Playing music is a great way to increase the volume and activity of the Corpus Callosum, the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres, thus allowing messages to pass through the brain faster.
It is precisely the diversity in brain activity described above that has also been linked to enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills with individuals who play music.
In other words, musicians are more prone to thinking outside of the box, finding novel ways to effectively solve problems in both social and academic settings.
Making music requires a person to understand both the cognitive aspects of music and the emotions that are expressed through it. With that, it has been found that musicians have enhanced levels of cognitive behavior, also known as executive function. This means a high level of attention to detail, working memory, strategizing and planning.
Enhanced Social Skills
In his seminal book How Music Works (McSweeney’s, 2012) musician and multi-disciplinary artist David Byrne refers constantly to music as “social glue”.
With this term, Byrne makes the case that connection and social binding are the reasons music exists in the first place. He adds that this theory does not pertain solely to humans, but to other species as well, such as birds or whales singing.
It should come as no surprise that music helps children get closer to other kids and adults alike. It is often common-ground to spark conversation, as well as an excellent activity to develop teamwork and communication skills.
Furthermore, playing an instrument has also been linked to improving confidence and self-esteem of individuals.
Apart from the various cognitive benefits, music is primarily fun and relaxing, factors which also play a decisive role in a person’s ability to appreciate him/herself and feel appreciated by those around as well.