By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll think learning piano should be a compulsory activity for not only children but adults as well.
We hardly ever think of learning an instrument as a healthy lifestyle choice.
I’ve heard plenty of people (including my wife!) say I need to go out running more. But she never says “you need to get healthy – play more piano”!
As you’re about to find out, learning to play an instrument – in this case, piano playing, but really learning any instrument – has a staggering amount of health benefits. And not only to your physical, but your mental health too.
If you’re curious what they are, read on and be prepared to be wowed!
Hand Strength and Dexterity
Playing the piano is first and foremost a physical activity.
Yes, there’s a lot going on in the brain, but you don’t play the piano through the mind alone. There are fingers hitting keys and feet hitting pedals involved.
Playing the piano is a physical workout for the fingers. Over time you’ll strengthen your fingers and they’ll become nimbler, improving your fine motor skills in the process.
Better Hand Eye Coordination
Piano playing is a bit like juggling.
Compared to other instruments, the piano is particularly good for your health as it requires you to read both the bass and treble clefs at the same time (you need to use both sides of your brain). This is akin to riding a bike while flipping a pancake!
Your hands need to follow different rhythms and often move in completely opposite directions. This helps to improve your hand-eye coordination.
Whether it will make you ambidextrous off the piano is a different matter, but it will definitely enhance your fine motor control.
Increase Human Growth Hormones (HgH) Levels
As you age, you naturally slow down a bit. Any of us over the age of 40 know that.
The pituitary gland, a bean-shaped gland situated at the base of your brain, regulates important bodily functions such as growth, blood pressure, and reproduction.
It also produces a chemical called called ‘human growth hormone’ or HgH, which by all accounts is a bit of a wonder drug! It gives you higher energy levels (we all need a bit of that), boosts muscle mass, and even lessens the aches and pains of growing old, including osteoporosis.
A study by the University of Miami conducted an experiment with two groups of adults. It found that the group that had piano lessons had significantly higher levels of HgH than the group that didn’t.
Improves Self Esteem and Confidence
Mental health is more talked about these days than ever before. With good reason too. Being happy and content ‘in yourself’ is something every single person should strive for.
It’s proven that playing an instrument builds your confidence levels in general. With every ‘mini victory’ – whether that’s the first time you’re able to play a beginner piano song, to fathoming out a diminished scale – you get a confidence boost, “I can do this”, you say to yourself.
It takes a long time to learn the piano to a decent standard, but it doesn’t matter. Even small victories like learning a new sequence of chords can be massively uplifting.
However, playing in front of a crowd is the ultimate confidence builder. If you’ve ever played a gig, you’ll know all about the natural high you feel during and after a show.
This is all rocket fuel for growing your confidence and your self-esteem.
Reduces Stress & Anxiety
We all have a degree of stress in our lives. It’s pretty hard to avoid in modern life, but the beauty of music (both listening and playing) is the power it has to reduce negative emotions.
It can even provide an effective way to process emotions. In fact, piano lessons (and playing piano in general) are a common form of therapy used for ADD (attention deficit disorder).
Even if you aren’t particularly stressed or anxious, learning to play the piano can serve to lift the spirit. Can it make you happier? Well, as we all know, happiness is always fleeting, but for a minute or so, yes, I believe it can.
Improves Hearing Skills
Heard of the ‘auditory cortex’? No, neither had I until I started researching this topic.
It’s a part of the brain that has the job of processing sound (I guess somewhere in the brain needs to do it, why not there!). Through playing music, the brain is trained to recognize different tones, chords, intervals, and levels of pitch in music.
This can even be beneficial in learning foreign languages. Don’t they say that music and languages go hand in hand?
Increases Brain Function / Cognitive Ability
Can music make you smarter? You know, more intelligent. Can it raise your IQ?
Well, you won’t suddenly become a genius, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that playing music makes us smarter, more intelligent versions of ourselves.
Have you heard of the term neuroplasticity?
When the brain is in ‘learning mode'(my name for it, not a medical term) it forms and reorganizes synaptic connections: it basically changes, and like plasticine, is ‘moldable’.
Learning or reciting a piece of music gives your brain the sort of workout that a trip down the gym with a personal instructor would give you. I don’t speak from experience (never employed a PT) but I imagine it’s pretty tough!
Higher Test Scores
But can it help your kids get higher test scores / perform better in a test? Yes, research shows that IQ goes up.
Research conducted by Georgia and Texas Universities also found there’s a definite link between the number of years of music instruction and academic achievement, especially in maths, science, and languages.
While it’s easy to think of music as very left brain, and mathematics as logical and right brain, they do in fact have a lot in common. Both are patterns, and you can even use mathematical phenomena in music such as differential calculus and geometry.
It’s no surprise then that students who do well at music are also adept at right brain studies such as maths and science.
I am always misplacing my keys. Can it help me become less forgetful?
(University of Sarasota Study, Jeffrey Lynn Kluball; East Texas State University Study, Daryl Erick Trent)
Enhances Concentration Skills and Focus
Much of modern-day digital marketing is a race to get your attention. Think of how your Facebook feed works, it’s never-ending. Or YouTube. Or Netflix. They want to get you hooked and keep you hooked.
The ability to filter out the noise and distraction and focus (what Cal Newport calls ‘deep work‘) is becoming a scarce commodity.
Unsurprisingly, playing the piano improves concentration. Just 20 minutes a day can help children concentrate better in every area of life (even getting ready at bedtime…no, that will never happen). For adults, the mental assault course that playing provides also helps with concentration.
Superior Speech and Language Skills
As we alluded to earlier, languages are music are common bedfellows. Research has even pointed to music helping children with dyslexia improve their ability to learn and process speech.
Power Up Creativity
Creativity used to be a term only used in fringe circles. People who did serious work were too busy to be creative. These days, it’s the complete opposite. Creativity is a major buzzword. With the ensuing rise of AI and ‘computers doing our jobs’ the general consensus is that the future of work will look a lot different. Rather than being given a set of rules, we’ll need to be a lot more creative. We’ll be tasked with doing the work that the computers can’t figure out, which will become less and less the smarter they get.
So we need to learn to create. To be creative. The great thing about music, in particular, the piano (and especially improvisation) is it really brings out the creative side in you that may be lying dormant after the umpteenth ‘all hands meeting’.
The interesting thing is what’s going on inside the brain. When you’re playing piano, the brain is stimulating parts of the brain which help with creative thinking. So when you have an issue, sometimes the best course of action is to play some music which stimulates the ‘creative bit’ of your brain. Next minute, you’ve fixed your cash flow problem and learned the chorus to Let it Be in the process 🙂
As we’ve seen, it’s quite remarkable just how many health benefits there are!
So next time you ‘escape to the piano’, rather than seeing it as escaping, look at it instead as you would nipping to the gym or going for a country walk. The benefits far outweigh the time out your day.
What’s remarkable is that while you’re working out Beethoven’s Fur Elise, your brain is in overdrive, bringing with it a range of health benefits:
- increased brain function / cognitive ability
- better academic performance among children
- improved concentration and focus
- hand eye coordination
- better memory
- improved self-esteem
- helps with self expression and communication skills
- even anti-aging (through the release of the HgH hormone)
Will getting some keyboard lessons improve your multitasking skills? Well, if you’re a guy, perhaps not! But it can’t hurt.