Playing a Musical Instrument
Q. A friend of mine recently told me that playing a musical instrument is more stimulating for the brain than simply listening to music. Is there anything to that?
A. The results of a study led by Dr. Bernhard Ross and colleagues were published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience (24 May 2017, 3613-16; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523). The researchers found that playing a musical instrument can help protect against cognitive decline, a goal of healthy aging. Learning to play, versus just listening, was found to change the brain’s "wiring." You’ve heard no doubt about brain plasticity; the ability for the brain to change its software, if you will. The sound-making actions led to immediate "plastic" changes in the brain after just one learning session. That’s more reinforcement for the value to the brain of learning to play an instrument. Of course, the earlier in life the better, assuming you would like to become exceedingly competent. Nevertheless, unless you are comatose, my brain’s opinion is "better late than never." Some individuals began taking music lessons in their eighties, which is helping to keep their brains sharp. The report is that they’re having the time of their life! Eighty is the new sixty, you know.