How playing an instrument benefits your brain Anita Collins
Did you know that every timemusicians pick up their instruments, there are fireworks going offall over their brainé On the outside,they may look calm and focused, reading the music and making the preciseand practiced movements required. But inside their brains,there's a party going on. How do we know thisé Well, in the last few decades, neuroscientists have madeenormous breakthroughs
in understanding how our brains workby monitoring them in real time with instruments likefMRI and PET scanners. When people are hooked upto these machines, tasks, such as readingor doing math problems, each have corresponding areas of the brainwhere activity can be observed. But when researchers gotthe participants to listen to music, they saw fireworks. Multiple areas of their brainswere lighting up at once,
as they processed the sound, took it apart to understand elementslike melody and rhythm, and then put it all back togetherinto unified musical experience. And our brains do all this workin the split second between when we first hear the musicand when our foot starts to tap along. But when scientists turnedfrom observing the brains of music listeners to those of musicians, the little backyard fireworksbecame a jubilee.
It turns out that while listeningto music engages the brain in some pretty interesting activities, playing music is the brain's equivalentof a fullbody workout. The neuroscientists sawmultiple areas of the brain light up, simultaneously processingdifferent information in intricate, interrelated,and astonishingly fast sequences. But what is it about making musicthat sets the brain alighté The research is still fairly new,
but neuroscientistshave a pretty good idea. Playing a musical instrument engages practically every areaof the brain at once, especially the visual,auditory, and motor cortices. As with any other workout, disciplined,structured practice in playing music strengthens those brain functions,allowing us to apply that strength to other activities. The most obvious difference betweenlistening to music and playing it
is that the latter requiresfine motor skills, which are controlledin both hemispheres of the brain. It also combines the linguisticand mathematical precision, in which the left hemisphereis more involved, with the novel and creativecontent that the right excels in. For these reasons,playing music has been found to increase the volume and activityin the brain's corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres,