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The therapeutic and health benefits of learning to play an instrument

Jan 26, 2012, 8:43 a.m.

It's never too late to start learning an instrument. In fact, learning to play an instrument as an adult can bring multiple benefits into a person's life, not the least of which are boosting one's mood and spurring on a sense of accomplishment at a phase in life when some may be wondering if there is anything new left to discover. Adult learners may never reach the heights of Itzhak Perlman, but everyone can enjoy the benefits of music while discovering new passions and unleashing hidden dreams.

One of the most exciting benefits of music for adults is increased cognitive function and brain stimulation. Research shows that learning an instrument fires up several areas of the brain, literally enhancing the brain's structure, even in people over the age of 65. Parts of the brain controlling memory, auditory processing, and motor skills all benefited significantly when study subjects spent as little as a couple of hours each week learning an instrument over the course of four to five months.

The mind-body connection of learning an instrument also brings several physical benefits for adults who decide to take up an instrument later in life. Those who decided to study piano, guitar or violin were able to improve their hand strength and manual dexterity, while those who opted for a wind or brass instrument were able to enhance their lung capacity and breath control.

Music's power as a mood booster is unquestioned. Not only does the music itself have the power to affect areas of the brain that improve mood, it can enhance a person's social life as well. Interacting with a music teacher, meeting fellow students, playing at recitals, or just entertaining friends and family can deepen social bonds and heighten a sense of accomplishment. Playing music alone can also help people overcome stress and explore or sort out life's emotions in a positive, healing way.

So stop waiting: Pick up that violin or saxophone, or sit down at the piano and start playing.

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