Science says: Musicianship has cognitive benefits and may reduce depression, too

Music may help reduce "the blues" and boost your mental acuity, according to science...
G3 Performs At The Magnolia (Kenny Aronoff, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Bryan Beller, Eric Johnson)
G3 Performs At The Magnolia (Kenny Aronoff, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Bryan Beller, Eric Johnson) / Daniel Knighton/GettyImages

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, "Music is the universal language of mankind." It's also scientifically proven that, to a significant degree, playing music not only brings people joy but also keeps their minds sharp. Sure, this sounds good anecdotally; anyone who has witnessed firsthand the transformative power of music will recognize it can hold a certain kind of power (which is why some songs get literally over a billion listens). However, it's not just anecdotal. The benefits of music are also routinely shown in scientific studies.

Continuing to engage with music has undoubtedly contributed to keeping our brains healthy as we grow older, and this is even more true for musicians, thanks to the "multiple cognitive demands" of playing an instrument. A recent study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, adds to a growing body of research highlighting the multifaceted benefits of musical involvement on cognitive well-being in later life. Engaging in musical activities can significantly enhance brain health and memory retention among older adults, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter.

The study, which examined data from over 1,000 participants, revealed that involvement in music, whether through playing an instrument or singing in a choir, can substantially improve cognitive abilities, particularly in solving complex tasks and enhancing memory functions. Dr. Jennie Dorris, a research scientist and at the University of Pittsburgh and a musician herself, said the study "provides new insights on the effects of specific instruments — such as brass, woodwinds, strings, and keyboards — on aspects of cognition."

Long-term cogntive advantage and a way to treat depression(?)

who persist in musical pursuits into their later years tend to experience even greater cognitive benefits. Similar studies have suggested that "playing a musical instrument is associated with long-term cognitive advantage..." Moreover, the research suggests that learning to play a musical instrument could also alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, offering potential mental health benefits.

One source from 2016 explains: "The brain works on a principle of 'use it or lose it.' Therefore, exercising the brain is important, and musical training may fill that need. Learning a skill such as playing an instrument reorganizes the brain’s neural pathways...Brain plasticity is the ability of the brain to change its structure, and engaging older adults in sensory, cognitive, and motor activities creates positive outcomes...Research also indicates active participation in music lessons creates larger plasticity effects than does passively listening to music.16 Musical training provides a multisensory activity that requires integrating signals from different sensory modalities with motor responses."

Singers are often better off mentally, too

The positive impact on brain health is evident not only for instrumentalists but also for singers, with the social aspect of choir participation possibly contributing to these improvements. The lead researcher of the latest study cited in this article, Anne Corbett, a Professor of Dementia Research at the University of Exeter, highlighted the study's insights into the relationship between musical engagement and cognitive performance, emphasizing the potential of music to bolster the brain's agility and resilience.

This research underscores the potential of musical education as a component of public health initiatives. Encouraging older adults to embrace musical activities could serve as a proactive measure to mitigate cognitive decline and foster overall brain health. Granted, there have always been some musicians who appeared depressed, and even met a tragic end.,