The Neuroscience of Music

By Rebecca Hynes

Having an opportunity to study music has been such an advantage and delight in my own life that I wanted to take a moment and look into what it means for others as well.  Over my years of piano study, I’ve met so many people who wish they’d had music lessons when they were younger or think, “If only my parent made me practice!”  It’s almost like I’m hearing a sense of loss here.

But, taking a dive into the world of science, neuroscience especially, I found not just a few nice perks, but a whole slew of incredibly significant assets provided by musical training.  A study featured in the Washington Post summarizes their findings:

“What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skills, anxiety management, and emotional control.”

Wow.  Read that again.  Attention skills, anxiety management, emotional control.  These are major areas that will contribute to the advancement and happiness of our upcoming generation of world-changers in every single sphere of their lives.  The same study group also noted that they believe that kids playing music could turn out to be a major treatment option for ADHD and similar disorders.

The correlation between music study and successful, well-adjusted lives extends even further, however.  In our lessons, students learn to narrow their focus for the very best progress on each song.  They learn to use critical thinking skills to evaluate their playing.  They gain confidence in front of people every time they perform for studio recitals, solo recitals, or adjudicated festivals.

Perhaps the most critical character quality someone can have is perseverance.  Persistence.  Consistently taking that chunk of 20 minutes, or 30, or an hour, every day to practice will pay big “stick-to-it-ivity” dividends in school now, as well later on when it’s time to attend college, show up to work every day, be a reliable spouse, whatever life may hold for your child.

So.  Learning an instrument helps develop your brain.  It helps develop crucial character qualities.  But let’s not forget the reason your child probably started lessons in the first place: it’s just plain fun!  All the days of tears, frustration or wondering if a piece will ever be mastered, believe it or not, add up to endless joys as musical skills are acquired. So next time you hear a well-loved classical piece, a fun bit of jazz, a catchy tune floating up from your piano, pop in for a bit and see that smile on your child’s face as they practice.  It is so, so worth it!

And for all of the parents who may still be wondering if this venture is worth the hard work it takes to make it happen for your child — believe me, I have never met an adult who quit piano as a child and didn’t come to regret it. On the flip side, everyone I know who stayed the course with their musical training never ever forgets the loving, determined encouragement and courage they received from their parents to keep on going.

Wishing you all the very best!

Becky Hynes

P.S.  If you would like to read more about the study I mentioned above, you can find the link here.  You may also enjoy this NPR article expounding on the effects of musicianship on the brain.

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