Psychological benefits of playing an instrument

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words
and that which cannot remain silent”

Victor Hugo

Can you determine one common thing between the simple clap and today’s DJs? These two may seem very distant, but in fact, they have the same basis – the rhythm, which is one of the essential music elements. Through the entire history, people enjoyed music, just like we do today.

Our antecessors used to shout and dance around the fire. Although we don’t do that anymore, we do go to concerts and play different instruments. Unlike our antecessors, today we have sophisticated instruments that we can use to produce complex sounds. You can consider these as different ways of expressing the same thing – the urge to experience and create music.

Where this urge comes from? Why do we need music so much?

One of the main reasons can be the fact that we have a lot of psychological benefits when we play music. Some of them you can spot without much effort but others you can’t; either way, all of these have positive effects.

Intellectual benefits

Brain Training

Just by intuition, you can probably sense this one. In order to play an instrument, you have to train not just our hands, but your brain as well. A lot of processes occur in your brain when you play an instrument. You have to separate your hands, to control your fingers, to play a specific note at a specific moment… and all of that at the same time! Not an easy job, right?

Scientific Proof

So, practicing your scales and technique won’t beneficial just to your playing abilities, but also to your brain. Having all of this in mind, it probably won’t surprise you that scientists have found out that playing an instrument activates the entire brain. Not only that, but it will also strengthen the connection between the left and the right brain hemisphere. Scientists believe that this connection can improve different executive functions (planning, predicting the consequences of a particular action, etc.).

It can also benefit your cognition in general, but also the creativity and divergent thinking.

Better Concentration

I myself have found that now I can concentrate better than I could before I started playing my guitar. Also, I often come up with great ideas that are not necessarily related to music (sometimes I even surprise myself!).

Positive influence on the mood

Not just that playing an instrument will improve your cognitive functions, but it can also affect your mood. In my experience, when I have a bad day, nothing can calm me down as playing my guitar. I just sit and play for a while. It helps me to forget my problems and worries. Also, after this “therapy session”, I feel much better and relaxed.

Music Improves Mood

Of course, I’m not the only one with this conclusion. Psychologists investigated this relationship between playing an instrument and emotional state. Their findings will encourage you! Playing an instrument can lower the level of depression, help you cope with the anxiety, and boost positive mood.

When I tell this to people, some of them have doubts. They say: “How can you know the direction of this relationship? What if happy people choose to play an instrument more often? ” This question does make sense. However, you shouldn’t worry. Psychologists thought of this, and they arranged these experiments properly so they could determine the direction of this correlation. The conclusion: Playing an instrument can positively affect your mood.

Flow experience

Have you ever been so involved in your playing that you forget things such as time, your problems, and even to eat? If you have, then you know what flow experience means. Flow experience shares a lot of similarities with meditation. However, in meditation, you focus on breathing. In this case, you are focused on playing.

Music and Flow

If you have experienced this, I believe we can agree that flow can ensure us a lot of benefits. After the flow experience, we feel relaxed and fulfilled. Like in the previous case, psychologists have discovered that people who experience the flow regularly tend to be happier than the ones who don’t.

Playing an instrument represents probably one of the best ways to ensure flow experience. Trained musicians don’t have to think about the actual process of playing; they can just relax, improvise, and have a great time.

I can confirm this based on my personal experience. Sometimes I play for hours, without even realizing it. I could describe this state as “no self-awareness”. Of course, without self-awareness, you can’t be aware of anything!

Flow experience can help you calm your mind, relax your body, and at the same time, practice your guitar skills.

So, keep on practicing; in no time, you will play your instrument without even thinking about it.

Say the inexpressible

Sometimes when you feel bad or stressed-out, and it seems like you can’t find the words to express your emotional state, take your instrument and start playing. Play anything, whatever comes to your mind. You don’t have to play a particular song, just improvise.

Soon, this process absorbs you. The stress, the worries, and the negative emotions – it will all go away. Even though you can’t verbalize these emotions, you can express them, and thus, get rid of them. Just like when you talk to your best friend; only, in this case, you don’t need words.

Conclusion

I believe that anyone who plays an instrument already knows all of this intuitively. It simply feels good to play. Nothing can compete with that feeling when you play a great solo or when you come up with an interesting riff. Creating music really is one of the best things in the world, so you should start playing as soon as possible; or, if you already have your instrument, keep on practicing.

By playing music, you will ensure a whole list of positive psychological effects. It’s a win-win situation – you do what you love, you feel great about it, and it is good for you.



Aleksandar Mratinkovic is a psychologist and musician. He has been engaged in different fields of psychology (Clinical, Developmental, Educational, and Industrial psychology) and has published several scientific papers. Currently, he interns at the Institute for Psychophysiological Disorders and Speech Pathology in Belgrade.

He plays guitar, bass, and drums. Besides playing, he also has an interest in composing, writing about music, and teaching.

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