We’ve all heard of online companies like BrainHQ, Luminosity, and FitBrains, that promise to “train your brain” and make you sharper and more focused—although many researchers don’t agree with the claims. However, there is one hobby that experts agree really can make your brain sharper and healthier: Learning to play a musical instrument.
If you’re looking for a healthy past-time, we may have just found it. Scientists have actually known for a few years that musicians have better language processing skills and that learning to play can improve your working memory, which means you may become better at processing new information. One study also shows learning a musical instrument may boost your long-term memory. New research from the University of Montreal study now even shows that musicians tend to be more mentally alert than those who don’t play an instrument.
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“Music probably does something unique,” explains neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday from the University of Westminster. “It stimulates the brain in a very powerful way, because of our emotional connection with it.”
Interestingly, the differences between musicians and non-musicians even show up on brain scans. An area called the corpus callosum, which is basically a mass of nerve fibers connecting the left and right sides of the brain, is bigger in musicians. More research shows that musical training can booste verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and even literacy skills. “[Learning music is] a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust,” explained Loveday.
If you’re considering taking up the brain-boosting hobby, but don’t want to shell out serious cash for lessons, there are free apps online like Yousician, Simply Piano, and Fender Play, a guitar app, that can teach you how to play. “Fender Play is an online learning platform specifically for beginning players. It’s designed to get you playing in minutes through a guided learning experience showing new players, step-by-step, how to achieve their goal,” explained Mary Keenan, Product Manager at Fender Digital. The app walks learners through the basics, from how to hold the instrument all the way through playing songs at an intermediate beginning level.
On the brain benefits of picking up a guitar, Keenan agreed that anyone can benefit from musical instruction, from “very young children to seniors.” She explained: “Research shows that cognitive and neural function is improved across the board, regardless of age. Fender Play takes advantage of this finding by applying best practices from neuroscience and biomechanics into the learning approach.”