PLAYING MUSIC KEEPS YOUR BRAIN SHARP · Parkinson's Resource Organization

PLAYING MUSIC KEEPS YOUR BRAIN SHARP

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PLAYING MUSIC KEEPS YOUR BRAIN SHARP

“If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.” Research has shown that listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory.” 

If you want to firm up your body, head to the gym. If you want to exercise your brain, listen to music.

Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better, it can improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development, especially for those who start in childhood.

Findings show that extensive musical training affects the structure and function of different brain regions, how those regions communicate during the creation of music, and how the brain interprets and integrates sensory information. 

These insights suggest potential new roles for musical training including fostering plasticity in the brain, an alternative tool in education, and treating a range of learning disabilities.

These findings show that:

  • Long-term high-level musical training has a broader impact than previously thought. Researchers found that musicians have an enhanced ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight.

  • The age at which musical training begins affects brain anatomy as an adult; beginning training before the age of seven has the greatest impact.

  • Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the rain.

Some of the brain changes that occur with musical training reflect the automation of task (much as one would recite a multiplication table) and the acquisition of highly specific sensorimotor and cognitive skills required for various aspects of musical expertise.

"Playing a musical instrument is a multisensory and motor experience that creates emotions and motions -- from finger tapping to dancing -- and engages pleasure and reward systems in the brain. It has the potential to change brain function and structure when done over a long period of time," said Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an expert on music, neuroimaging and brain plasticity. "As today's findings show, intense musical training generates new processes within the brain, at different stages of life, and with a range of impacts on creativity, cognition, and learning." 

Musicians may also be more mentally alert, and a study at the University of Montreal shows that musicians have significantly faster reaction times than non-musicians.

The findings suggest that learning to play a musical instrument could keep your brain sharp as you age, and may help to prevent certain aspects of cognitive decline in older adults.

“As people get older, for example, we know their reaction times get slower,” says Simon Landry, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student in biomedical ethics. “So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.”

For the small study, the researchers compared the reaction times of 19 non-musician students and 16 student musicians who had been recruited from the university’s music program and had been playing an instrument for at least seven years. The participants included violinists, percussionists, a viola player and a harpist. “We're only now starting to better understand the benefits of musical training and they seem to range beyond simply playing music.”

Each participant was seated in a quiet room and asked to keep one hand on a computer mouse and the other on a small box that occasionally vibrated silently. The participants were instructed to click on the mouse when the box vibrated, when they heard a sound from the speakers in front of them or when both things happened at once. The stimulations were done 180 times each.

As hypothesized, the musicians had significantly faster reaction times to non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory stimuli than the non-musicians.

Landry says this is likely because playing music involves multiple senses. With touch, for instance, a violin player has to feel the string on her finger, but she also needs to listen for the right sound to be produced when she’s pressing on the string.

“This long-term training of the sense in the context of producing exactly what is desired musically leads to a strengthening of sensory neural pathways,” Landry told The Huffington Post. “Additionally, using the senses in synchronicity for long periods of time ― musicians practice for years ― enhances how they work together. All this would lead to the faster multisensory reaction time.”

For more information and to learn the value of Musical Therapy visit Jay Anderson, Minding Music – Music Therapy in the Wellness Village http://www.parkinsonsresource.org/the-wellness-village/directory/minding-music-music-therapy/ Jay Anderson has been a member in the Wellness Village since February 2019

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Updated: August 16, 2017