Research shows that learning an instrument at a young age can provide mental health benefits, as well as improve cognitive and physical abilities. Although learning an instrument has many benefits regardless of age, these benefits are strengthened if the skill is acquired during youth, particularly during the critical stages of brain development.
Mental health benefits
The following mental health benefits have been identified in children who play a musical instrument:
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Reduced depression
- Increased self-esteem
The reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression found in children who play an instrument is largely due to the emotional expression and relaxation provided through a musical outlet. For instance, if they are dealing with difficult emotions or feeling overwhelmed, they can express themselves and decompress through playing music.
The increased self-esteem found in children who play an instrument is from the satisfaction of achievement from accomplishing a goal, such as learning a song, writing a composition, or performing for an audience.
Playing music with others also increases social skills and helps develop the ability to collaborate, which aids in increasing self-esteem and reducing anxiety levels.
Playing an instrument increases activity in areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning, improving the following cognitive skills:
- Focus and memory
- Cognitive flexibility (the ability to think about multiple concepts at once)
- Self-control and time management
Skills associated with executive functioning are beneficial to all areas of life, although are especially crucial in academic environments.
Some instruments work on coordination and motor skills more extensively — particularly those that require complex movements from various parts of the body — such as the drums.
However, all instruments work on these physical skills to some degree, as they involve physical movements that demand accuracy and precision.
Music can also be used intentionally to shift moods and decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, within the body. According to Alan Doman, a music producer and Ted-X speaker, “To help relax your stress, play simple instrumental music with a slow tempo under 60 beats per minute. When you need an emotional lift, choose music that makes you feel good. Songs that have a great rhythm, fast tempos over 70 beats per minute with an uplifting theme will improve mood.”
Learning to play a musical instrument, especially at a young age in a school music program also has social benefits. Similar to participating in sports, belonging to the school choir, orchestra or band can build lasting friendships and bond students over a mutually shared goal, such as a statewide concert or competition.
Alan Harvey, neuroscientist and musician, explains how performing in a group can be socially and physically beneficial, “Levels of the hormone oxtocin (in the bloodstream) are raised when people are singing together. Oxytocin is associated with empathy, trust and relationship building. Our sensitivity to pain and stress hormone cortisol decrease when we are involved in group music making activity.”
The best methods to get your child involved in learning an instrument are music programs provided by schools and local music instructors. If neither of these options are suitable, there are also many courses, tutorials, and instructors that can be engaged with on the various internet platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.
Regarding choosing an instrument to learn, the options are endless and it is ultimately a matter of preference. To help your child choose, consider what instrument appeals to them and how it is applied in the genre of music they are interested in learning.
Something to consider
Remember, you cannot pressure your child into learning a musical instrument. It is better to spark inspiration within them by playing music within the home, taking them to a variety of musical performances and on trips to see local concerts. Your child will only learn an instrument if they have an interest in it, and the benefits can only be gained if they are actively engaged. Taking this into consideration, the idea can always be brought up to see if they are interested.