In 2015 study conducted by professor James Hudziak and his associates, proved that
children who play musical instruments are easier to focus, are better at controlling their
emotions and less fearful.1 Study has shown that practicing music affects the part of the
cerebral cortex (this part of brain is connected to problems with depression, aggression and
concentration) that refers to the performance of tasks, memory work, control over attention,
and the organization and planning of the future. Musical background acquired in childhood
also affects parts of the brain associated with the process of emotion. That’s why instrument
playing lessons can have much more positive effects on children with for example ADHD,
anxiety, or aggression problem, than a series of psychotropic drugs that are commonly used in
treatment of these disorders.
Musical training is not only beneficial for a developing brain of a young child. Visible
difference on many levels can also be observed in adult brains belonging to people that play
on an instrument. Individuals learning to play a musical instrument are distinguished by a
sharper mind, because they pick up their own mistakes and fix them faster than less musical
people, according to the outcome of research done by Dr. Ines Jentzsch and her coworkers at
1 Hudziak J et al., (2014). Cortical Thickness Maturation and Duration of Music Training: Health-Promoting
Activities Shape Brain Development. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 53
(11), 1153–1161.e2. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.
the University of St. Andrews.2 Researchers suggest that even moderate musical abilities can
save us from cognitive decline due to both age and disease.
As part of the study, the researchers compared the achievements of musically active
and inactive individuals in the cognitive field. In total, 36 young people took part in the
experiment, divided into 4 groups (8-10 people each), according to the number of hours they
spent practicing playing the instrument throughout their lives. Then, during a two-hour test,
the specialists analyzed the participants’ mental abilities. In the process, they determined the
response time to simple mental tasks (e.g. the Stroop test- e.g. the word “blue” written in red)
and performed a series of physiological measurements. Scottish scholars focused primarily on
the speed of response, accuracy and the ability to see and correct mistakes. They proved that
the more hours a person spent playing an instrument, the faster answers she/he gave, without
compromising their correctness. Longer musical training meant that the respondents detected
and eliminated errors more efficiently and quickly.
Playing an instrument is a skill beneficial also for senior individuals, where it has not
only a power to positively affect cognitive or motoric skills but also improve wellbeing and
perception of life quality in general. Research carried out by Sofia Seinfeld and her colleagues
involved 29 people with no previous experience in playing an instrument (experimental group
n=13, control group n=16), in age range 60-84 years old. Participants from study group were
asked to engage in piano lessons for next 4 months, one supervised lesson per week, 45
minutes of self-practice each day.3 Members of control group were also participating in
academic trainings like lessons in English, painting or philosophy. Tests carried out on
participants after they completed their trainings showed a significant improvement in
2 Jentzsch, I., Mkrtchian, A., & Kansal, N. (2014) . Improved effectiveness of performance monitoring in amateur
instrumental musicians. Neuropsychologia, 52, 117-124. doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.09.025
3 Seinfeld S., Figueroa H., Ortiz-Gil J., & Sanchez-Vives M., (2013). Effects of music learning and piano practice
on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in older adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, art. 810. doi:
attention, executive functions, mood enhancement and assessment of the quality of one’s life.
Further tests also proved betterment in selective processing or inhibitory control, which was
only present in group that participated in piano lessons, no significant change was present in
control group. There was also noticeable enhancement in motoric functions, visual tracking,
processing speed and attention among those who took piano lessons.
Studies discussed above show how beneficial musical training can be for individuals
no matter their age or level of advancement. Research outcomes suggests that musical
activity can be effectively used in treatment of emotion dysregulation in children,
improvement of cognitive skills in adults and saving cognitive resources in ageing brains.
Seeing how positive outcomes of playing an instrument can be, it’s worth reconsidering to call
for more pressure on promotion and creating wide access to musical trainings. Not only in
schools, also in community centers, hospitals, or nursing homes. However sad paradox shows
that during any economical crisis, all governments are looking for austerities in education and
art sectors. Meanwhile, funds allocated to the development of musical skills should be
increased, because music not only enriches our lives enormously, but also brings many far-
reaching physical and mental benefits.