“Setting my mind on a musical instrument was like falling in love. All the world seemed bright and changed.” - William Christopher Handy, a man regarded as the Father of the Blues.
You often hear people refer to an activity or a hobby as an ‘escape’. When you’ve had a long day and nothing seems to be going right, sometimes you need an activity that totally absorbs the mind. For so many people around the world this escape comes in the form of an instrument.
Over 4 million people in Australia play an instrument. On top of (hopefully) producing beautiful music, there are a number of benefits that playing an instrument has on a person’s mental wellbeing. The first one is that it teaches mindfulness. Ah yes, you’re probably thinking – the ‘M’ word that everyone keeps raving about. Mindfulness refers to being completely focused and immersed in the present moment. When you’re strumming a guitar, playing the piano or singing a melody, you often enter this mindful state without even knowing it. The reason is simple – you have to be 100% focused otherwise you will hit the wrong note. This instant feedback tells you that you’re distracted and need to regain concentration. Practising mindfulness reduces stress and anxiety, whilst allowing you to think clearer with a greater sense of calm.Mozart started composing music when he was 5 years old. Incredible? Yes. Relatable? No. Whilst history tells of some unique individuals who seemed to be able to pick up an instrument and just play, this is unfortunately not the case for everyone else. However this is not a bad thing as it forces people to learn two very important life skills – patience and perseverance. It’s a big part of the reason why so many schools in Australia have mandatory music lessons through primary school and early secondary school. Ask anyone who plays an instrument and they’ll tell you that progress only comes from practise. But they will probably also talk about the fulfilment that comes with playing a piece of music that previously seemed impossible.
Another key benefit that playing an instrument has on mental wellbeing can be seen in the effect it has on your brain. Research has shown that people who regularly practise an instrument exhibit a high level of what’s known as neural plasticity. This refers to the brain’s ability to change, both chemically and physically, based on learning experiences. You could say that playing an instrument is like a gym workout for your brain – stimulating it, challenging it and eventually, improving it. Memory is the main beneficiary of this process. Musicians not only have a greater memory capacity, they are also able to recall pieces of information faster than non-musicians.
If you pick up an instrument feeling stressed or uninspired, chances are you’ll put it down feeling completely different.
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