Your Brain On Music – Measurably Healthier, Enhanced Functionality
During the past decade, clinical research has revealed a great deal about how playing a musical instrument affects the brain.
This is an activity that produces measurable differences in brain function and even form. Taking lessons and regularly playing a musical instrument offers brain benefits to every age group, according to numerous researchers and experts.
These benefits can include enhancing brain development, improving cognitive function on multiple levels, and protecting, as well as treating, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and age related brain dysfunctions.
Measurable Structural Changes
On June 17, 2012, Medical News Today reported on the results of research conducted by Italy’s University Hospital San Raffaele. The findings, formally brought forth at the 22nd Meeting of the European Neurological Society (ENS), offer fascinating insight into how playing musical instruments produces measurable change in the brain and how quickly those changes can be seen.
According to the results of those recent studies, measurable difference could be seen within just two weeks in a person who had not played an instrument before engaging in regular practice.
While it is becoming common knowledge, due to a wealth of clinical research, that regularly playing a musical instrument can improve cognitive function in various ways, not a lot has been known until recently about the fundamental mechanics of that improvement.
The physical structure of the brain – including cells, neurons, dendrites, and synapses – supports and communicates the electrical impulses and chemical reactions that are the base of cognition and other brain functions.
Brain Plasticity Heals And Protects
Learning something new, as explained in a February 2003 article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a peer reviewed Association for Psychological Science published journal, makes physical changes in the structure of the brain. That goes back to the concept of everything that happens in the brain being chemical and electrical in nature.
That is the form that information takes in the brain. Without changes in the structure to meet the electrical and chemical demands of the new information and experiences, learning doesn’t take place. This concept of the continuously evolving brain has been dubbed brain plasticity.
In the developmental stages of this concept, it was generally accepted that this plasticity was primarily a condition of young, developing brains. It was thought that, after the rapid brain development of childhood was over and the physical maturity of the brain set in, brain plasticity was dramatically reduced.
That point of view wasn’t without precedent. There are other parts of the human body that are more flexible during the growing period, becoming less so upon maturity, such as the bones of the skull.
Researchers found that learning to play a musical instrument could help improve the rate and quality of brain development in children and young adults, but didn’t hold the same point of view for later learning.
In fact, some researchers thought that, due to what they considered the be the almost nonexistent plasticity of the older brain, such learning would be far more difficult for those well into adulthood. However, further studies utilizing the more technologically sophisticated brain watching equipment available today have contradicted those initial theories.
Play Today For A Healthier Tomorrow
Stroke victims, for example, are able to overcome losses in motor function over time because their brains make new pathways for information to travel, circumventing the stroke damaged areas by creating new dendrites and other essential chemical and electrical signal transferring structures.
That is just one of many indications that brain plasticity lasts throughout life. Playing musical instruments and other activities that involve using multiple parts of the brain in an active manner have been demonstrated via clinical testing to help protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and age related cognitive dysfunction.
In the simplest of terms, the continuous evolution of brain structure to meet the ongoing demands of being mentally active and engaged, means that when some cells do die of age, there’s still plenty to handle cognitive functioning. The loss is better able to be withstood, without the more severe effects that a less mentally active person with fewer new dendrites and synapses might experience, because there’s more to spare. An active brain is a healthy brain.
Learning to play a musical instrument is one of the activities specifically noted by researchers time and time again as being useful in promoting brain health and function at any age. It requires focus, motor activity, memory, and a variety of other brain functions. Activities of that nature, those that use multiple areas of the brain, are a great workout.
Habitually using the brain in this manner helps to make other cognitive processes faster and smoother, as well. Music lessons offer more than training in the creative arts. Regular practice and continued learning is a great way to improve today and protect tomorrow.
Justin Miller is a professional blogger that writes on a variety of topics including taking guitar lessons.