In a recent study published in The Journal of Neuropsychology is now linking music lessons in childhood to a great mental activity later in life. In this study, researchers recruited 70 healthy adults between the ages 60 and 83 years of age. The study participants were divided into three groups based on the extent of their musical background. Each participant was given a set of cognitive tests. Those who had studied an instrument or learned to read music performed better on the tests than those with no musical background.
The musicians who participated in the study were all amateurs and began playing an instrument around the age of 10. Most studied the piano, but some studied woodwinds, stings, percussion, or brass instruments. Some participants still played their instrument at the time of study. However, these participants did not perform any better on the cognitive tests than others who had stopped playing. The study seemed to suggest that the duration of musical study was more important than whether musicians kept playing at an advanced age.
Lead researcher Dr. Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, a clinical neuropsychologist at Emory University, said about the study, “Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging. Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older.”
The study did not prove that the study of music or musical instruments will protect the brain function during old age, but that musical study is associated with better brain function. This study is believed to be the first to demonstrate the benefits of musical activity extended across a lifetime. Previous research already confirmed that learning an instrument has benefits during childhood.
When asked if parents can help protect their children’s brain function decades in the future by insisting that they learn to play the piano, Dr. Hanna-Pladdy responded, “We don’t know what the answer is,” she said. “But one of the nice things is that music lessons are not harmful, so why not?”