Learning to play the piano, or learning music, for just a few weeks enhances your cognitive abilities and lifts your mood.
A recent study from the University of Bath illustrates how learning to play a musical instrument improves the brain’s capacity for processing visuals and sounds and how it can also aid in brightening a gloomy mood. The study’s authors report their findings in the academic journal Nature Scientific Reports, demonstrating how beginners who took piano lessons for just one hour per week for 11 weeks experienced significant improvements in their ability to recognize audio-visual changes in their environment as well as decreased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Music enhances people’s ability to process multisensory information
31 persons were divided into a control group, a music training group, or a music listening group for the randomized control study. People who had no prior musical instruction or expertise were told to complete weekly one-hour sessions. The control groups either listened to music or used the time to finish their assignments while the intervention groups played music.
The researchers discovered that people’s capacity for processing multimodal information, such as sight and sound, was improved within a short period of time after beginning classes. Every action we engage in, from driving a car and crossing a road to seeing someone in a crowd or watching TV, benefits from an improved “multisensory process.”
With musical training, audio-visual processing becomes more accurate
These advances to the multisensory system went beyond musical aptitude. People’s audio-visual processing accuracy increased across tasks after receiving musical training. In tests where participants were asked to decide whether auditory and visual ‘events’ occurred simultaneously, those who took piano instruction performed more accurately.
This was true for both straightforward displays that displayed flashes and alarms and for more intricate displays that showed a person speaking. Both the music-listening group, in which participants listened to the same music as the music group, and the non-music group, whose members studied or read, did not exhibit this fine-tuning of participants’ cognitive capacities.
Learning music helps lower depression, anxiety, and stress
The results showed that individuals also had lower sadness, anxiety, and stress levels after the training compared to before it, in addition to increases in cognitive abilities. More study is being done to verify the authors’ hypothesis that music instruction may be helpful for those who struggle with mental health issues. “We know that playing and listening to music often brings joy to our lives, but with this study, we were interested in learning more about the direct effects a short period of music learning can have on our cognitive abilities,” said Dr. Karin Petrini, a cognitive psychologist and music specialist from the University of Bath.
“Learning to play an instrument like the piano is a complex task: it requires a musician to read a score, generate movements and monitor the auditory and tactile feedback to adjust their further actions. In scientific terms, the process couples visual with auditory cues and results in multisensory training for individuals. “The findings from our study suggest that this has a significant, positive impact on how the brain processes audio-visual information even in adulthood when brain plasticity is reduced.” Notes
- Each music training session included two segments. The first 20-minute segment was dedicated to finger exercises. The second segment consisted of learning songs from the ABRSM 2017-2018 piano grade one exam list for 40 minutes. All training sessions were carried out on a one-to-one basis. Participants learned these pieces in the order presented below. They proceeded to the next song once they could play the former one correctly and fluently:
- William Gillock A Stately Sarabande. Classic Piano Repertoire (Elementary).
- Johann Christian Bach Aria in F, BWV Anh. II 131.
- Giuseppe Verdi La donna è mobile (from Rigoletto).
- Bryan Kelly Gypsy Song: No. 6 from A Baker’s Dozen.
- Traditional American Folk Song: When the saints go marching in.
Materials provided by the University of Bath. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Yuqing Che, Crescent Jicol, Chris Ashwin, Karin Petrini. An RCT study showing a few weeks of music lessons enhance audio-visual temporal processing. Scientific Reports, 2022; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-23340-4
The University of Bath. “Playing the piano boosts brain processing power and helps lift the blues.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 December 2022. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/12/221202124841.htm>.
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Name of the Organisation: Music as Therapy, India
Music as Therapy is based in Hyderabad. Since 2015 it supports caregivers to introduce music for children with learning disabilities and autism. Most recently the institute has been considering the ways music might help local carers for people living with dementia.
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