There has been a lot of research done into discovering the intellectual benefits of learning to play a musical instrument. Here of course, we will be applying this research to playing the guitar! The fact is that the more you learn and practice something, the better you become. No matter what the rate of improvement is, you still make progress.
When learning to play an instrument, you may consciously be thinking about enjoying the music and being able to play your favourite songs. However, during this process, your brain is also being trained to operate a certain way, which has lots of beneficial effects on the functioning of your brain, as studies have shown.
A government-commissioned study has found that learning to play the guitar at school improves children's behaviour, memory and intelligence. Researchers have found that it enlarges the left side of the brain, which helps students to remember a fifth more information when compared with non-musical pupils (article).
In this article, Lutz Jäncke, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, found that the parts of the brain that control hearing, memory, and the part that controls the hands, all become more active. This leads to growth and a positive change in the architecture of the brain. These changes were also apparent in people over the age of 65.
Creating your own music through improvisation or songwriting makes great use of your creativity. It's so much fun and incredibly rewarding to create your own melodies. I see it with my students all the time whenever we explore improvisation; they often surprise themselves with what they've just played!
Regular practice can take discipline, especially with areas that students find challenging. With persistence comes success and the development of discipline, which can then also be applied to other areas of your life.
Through discipline comes freedom
With a developed sense of hearing, musicians are able to pinpoint what others are feeling, just by the tone of their voice. Also, working and playing with other musicians teaches people to appreciate the value of teamwork.
There is a definite relationship between music and maths (I studied music with maths for my degree at university). Research suggests that musicians process music in the same cortical regions that adolescents process algebra.
Playing an instrument requires a certain level of hand-eye coordination, which is of course developed with practice. Reading guitar tablature and/or music involves your brain converting that information into specific motor patterns.
It's easy to set small goals in music, for example finishing a piece or just playing through to the end of a line of music, which when accomplished will give you a great sense of achievement.
Once you reach the stage of performing music in front of an audience, which takes a certain level of confidence to do so anyway, you reap rewards that can affect many other areas of your life.
Playing the guitar requires you to focus on a lot of aspects simultaneously, ie. pitch, timing, rhythm, fingering, etc. The more you practice your mental muscle of concentration, the easier it becomes.
Playing the guitar can help you to relax and release the stresses of the day. As you progress with learning to play the guitar, you will develop your ability to accurately express and release your emotions through playing, which can be very therapeutic.
Integrating all of these benefits into something that you want to do because it's fun and makes you feel great, gives your life that something special that can't really be found anywhere else.
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