17 Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Piano (from Children to Seniors)


17 Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Piano (From Children to Seniors)

There are dozens of benefits of playing piano. Playing the piano is good for your brain, and there are many related health and physical benefits, especially for children and seniors.

Here are 17 of them. There’s a bunch of fascinating science below, but we also put everything into an infographic for fun. Take a look:

Benefits of Learning Piano at a Young Age

1

Playing the Piano Improves IQ

Studies show that there is a link between IQ and playing the piano. In a study entitled “Music Lessons Enhance IQ”, Professor Glenn Schellenberg from the University of Toronto concluded that, among children whose IQs were growing, IQs increased more among groups of children who had additional piano or singing lessons (as opposed to those who had extra drama lessons, or those taking no additional lessons).

How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain

2

Playing the Piano Changes the Structure of the Brain, Which Improves Learning Ability

Remember how we’ve always been told that a child’s brain is like a sponge?

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Well, it doesn’t just absorb information, the brain also changes after being exposed to certain activities.

A study by Sara L Bengtsson and Stefan Skare at the University of East Anglia compared the “white matter” in musicians and non-musician`s brains.

White matter links different parts of the brain and can affect processing speeds and learning. The study found that the musicians have alterations in the white matter`s structure, which can benefit a number of high-level brain functions and improve learning.

Another piece of research found that learning to play the piano strengthens the connectivity throughout brain regions, and even creates much stronger “fiber bundles” between the two hemispheres, specifically where tactile and movement information is processed. New pathways help musicians process information quicker, and even acquire new skills at a faster pace.

This benefit is summed up by Gottfried Schlaug, director of the music and neuroimaging lab at Beth Israel Deaconess and Harvard Medical School in Boston:

“While some people may be born with brains that are well suited to learning music, learning to play instruments leads to changes in the brain too.”

Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, Director of the Music and Neuroimaging Lab, Harvard Medical School

3

Playing the Piano Improves Academic Performance

The cognitive boost that children get from learning to play the piano can really help them in their academic learning, as shown by VU University of Amsterdam researchers.

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They carried out an in-depth, large-scale investigation into the impact of music lessons on children`s learning. The researchers looked at cognitive aspects of children`s education, such as short-term memory, planning, language development skills and inhibition, over two and a half years of theory and practical piano lessons. They concluded that their study “supports a transfer effect from music education to academic achievement”.

Dr. Arthur Jaschke, who led the study, concluded that:

Children who received music lessons showed improved language-based reasoning and the ability to plan, organize and complete tasks, as well as improved academic achievement.“

He added that, “this suggests that the cognitive skills developed during music lessons can influence children’s cognitive abilities in completely unrelated subjects, leading to overall improved academic performance.”

Dr. Arthur Jaschke, VC University Amsterdam

4

Playing the Piano Improves Language Skills

Learning the piano can be a great tool to help to learn languages, as it improves your “musical ear” and develops the same part of the brain. This can help you to “tune in” to languages and their patterns, and increase your verbal memory.

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According to research undertaken by the Rotman Research Institute, children who play music can develop a more advanced auditory cortex – the part of the brain that is responsible for processing auditory information. This gives them the tools to process hearing more quickly and efficiently, as well as improve comprehension of the different sounds and words that they are hearing.

Likewise, playing the piano can help to improve perceptual learning – for example, to be able to tell the difference between two pitches, as shown in another Rotman Research Institute study.

A study by Dr Charles Limb – a hearing specialist at John Hopkins University – found that when a pianist improvises, the language part of their brain stays active. While the player is not communicating with words, the study shows that the elements of communication (the syntax – the musical version of grammar and structure) are still present.

By looking at the brain activity of pianists while they were improvising, Dr Limb explained that “they appear to be talking to one another through their instruments.” The use of the brain was the same as when people have a linguistic conversation, both while they were actually playing, and also while responding to another player, if playing together.

This shows how developing your piano playing and improvisatory skills can also help to develop your language skills.

What Happens to Your Brain When You Learn an Instrument?

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Another study conducted by Long Island University investigated if in-class piano keyboard lessons would lead to better vocabulary and verbal sequencing, which involves tasks like arranging words in a coherent order.

It was found that elementary school children, drawn from middle-class public schools in New York City, who received three successive years of piano training, outperformed students who did not receive piano training in vocabulary and verbal sequencing tests. The authors stated that the result may be attributed to increased “auditory stimulation” associated with piano lessons, which is known to improve verbal skills.

Finally, a study on Mandarin-speaking kindergarten children found that only six months’ worth of piano lessons can have a significant impact on their ability to develop their language skills.

The study looked at 74 children from four to six years old in Beijing. It showed that those who had piano lessons three times a week, for six months, found that after only one month, they performed better than the other groups in a language test. They also performed better than the group who had no additional training at vowel sounds, pitch detection and differentiating words.

John Gabrieli, cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, has this to say:

“There’s evidence that early exposure to piano practice enhances the processing of sounds that extend not only from music, but also into language.”

Dr. John Gabreli, Professor in Health Sciences and Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience, MIT

This all shows that by studying the piano (and especially improvisation), you can develop the parts of the brain which are responsible for language – which, of course is useful for everyone, but can be particularly effective for children, and even more so for those who are having trouble in developing their language skills.

So if your child is tired of reading, just let her play the piano for a while!

5

Playing the Piano Boosts Self Esteem

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In a fascinating study on fourth-grade children attending public schools in Montreal, Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi found that piano instruction for three years significantly boosted the self-esteem of the children who participated in the study.

What’s interesting is Dr. Costa-Giomi’s observations on how the piano lessons increased the children’s self-esteem. She states that:

“The children…received individual attention from experienced teachers, the opportunity to play in recitals in front of their peers and relatives, and the means by which to develop their musical interests and abilities.

In addition, the children in the piano group spent time at home practicing, an activity which probably drew the attention of other family members and likely engaged occasional supervision from an adult.

Any single or combination of these multiple factors might have produced the increase in self-esteem of the children taking the lessons.”

Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi, Professor of Music Education, Ohio State University

Another interesting example of piano instruction increasing the self-esteem of kids is the Keys of Inspiration program started in the USA by world-famous pianist Lang Lang.

Keys of Inspiration encourages piano performance at all levels as a means of social development for youth by providing students with a safe, creative outlet in school.

A classroom in Harlem, New York is among the ones that have greatly benefited from this project. Three-quarters of the students come from economically vulnerable families, and nearly half of them would rarely come to class, and perform poorly at tests.

Since the project had started, the children that used to skip school regularly are now in class on a daily basis. Playing the piano has taught the students about dedication to a craft, being motivated to perform better, and having the right attitude towards life.

How did they do that? They simply introduced regular piano classes into the children’s curriculum!

6

Playing the Piano Helps Kids Be More Social

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One of the benefits of group musical training is that it can help children who struggle in social situations to build better social skills.

In a study conducted by Professor Glen Schellenberg at the University of Toronto, children ages 8 and 9 were split into two groups. One group attended 40 minute, weekly group music lessons over the course of a 10-month period, while the second group did not attend the lessons.

The study concluded that for children who already had good social skills, the music lessons didn’t make a difference. But for kids who had poor social skills, the group music lessons increased their sympathy toward others and increased their “prosocial” skills, including helping others, conflict resolution, and sharing.

“One of the important factors in our study was the impact of group music lessons in particular.

In introducing the social aspect there seems to be a motivation to provide support for others and a willingness to receive help from peers. It may be the social aspect engendered by the lessons, but also that sense of collaboration and cooperation.”

Dr. Glen Schellenberg, University of Toronto

7

Playing the Piano Boosts Creativity

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By scanning the brains of accomplished pianists whilst they are playing, researchers have been able to show how playing the piano can boost your creativity.

The “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex” is the area of the brain which is responsible for supressing stereotypical responses and increasing improvisation skills, and this is activated during musical improvisation. As the part of the brain which gives stereotypical responses is supressed, you start to play with your own `voice` and not one of someone else.

Interestingly, the more experienced the player, the study found, the less active the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is – which suggests that the brain is being more efficient and is better developed for those who improvise a lot.

Bottom line: it appears that playing the piano acts as a sort of an exercise for the prefrontal lobe, which makes players better at creative thinking and coming up with new ideas on the fly. This helps people quickly come up with creative solutions in difficult and stressful situations.

Dr. Ana Pinho, who carried out the study, concluded the following:

“More improvisation training led to more automation and higher functional connectivity between regions that are important for creative playing.

This greater connectivity improved the efficiency and communication between those brain regions.”

Dr. Ana Pinho, Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Coimbra, Portugal

8

Playing the Piano Improves Math Skills

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One of the biggest areas of piano research has been its effect on math skills.

Why math skills?

Because playing the piano has been show in multiple studies to improve something called “spatial-temporal reasoning”, which is basically being able to visualize objects in our head (also called using our “mind’s eye”).

Picture yourself putting a puzzle together. You dump the puzzle pieces on a table, then you try to figure out how to assemble the puzzle by first picturing – in your mind – which pieces on the table might fit together. That’s using spatial-temporal reasoning. 

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that playing the piano can significantly improve your spatial-temporal reasoning and proportions, as shown in F.H. Rauscher`s study at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Another of Dr. Rauscher`s studies found that children who took rhythm lessons had even more improved spatial-temporal skills – as well performing better in mathematical tests.

Another investigation of how musical training can help with math performance, carried out by the University of California Irvine, shows that children who were taking music lessons performed better than those who weren’t, leading to the idea that the music lessons could be having a positive impact on math performance.

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece also found the same thing in their study of kindergarten children.

According to China`s Lang Lang – one of (if not the) world`s leading pianists:

“As long as music tuition is done properly, you will see students learn how to focus, learn how to commit, learn how to be creative. It teaches you logic. It can be very mathematical.

And if you have a child struggling with a text, it can help to express that text through music, to use music as a medium of interpretation.”

Lang Lang, world-renowned Chinese pianist

9

Playing the Piano Improves Reading Skills

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According to a study published in the journal Psychology of Music, children who took part in a 3-year program of piano lessons twice a week had significantly better vocabulary and verbal sequencing scores than students who didn’t do piano lessons.

One explanation the authors have for the improvement in vocabulary was an enhancement of “auditory attention” skills, a direct result of the piano lessons. Children who took the lessons were exposed to complex auditory tasks during their three-year training period, including identifying melodic pitch and “tonal patterning”. This likely improved their verbal memory, which would help with vocabulary.

10

Playing the Piano is NOT Screen Time!

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Have you seen the latest stats on how much time kids spend on their devices these days?

According to one report, children ages 8 to 12 spend four hours and 36 minutes a day on average using a screen, while kids below 8 spend two hours and 19 minutes!

If you have a sick feeling in your stomach right now, you’re not alone…

Besides all of the other health and brain benefits outlined in this article, an obvious benefit of playing the piano is that it doesn’t involve staring into a screen (which itself is the cause of many health problems. Did you know that excessive screen time decreases brain connectivity – which is the exact opposite of what playing an instrument does?)

What If Every Child Had Access to Music Education from Birth?

Benefits of Learning Piano for Adults

11

Playing the Piano Relieves Stress

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Just the fact that you are taking time out of your day for music makes a difference in relieving the stress of everyday life.

Playing the piano can help you to learn to focus your mind generally, but also use it as a form of meditation for stress relief by allowing you to put other thoughts and worries out of your mind.

Research carried out at Chicago Medical School showed that music can lower blood pressure and help fight off depression and anxiety.

12

Playing the Piano Improves Your Mood & Decreases Depression

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It’s important to remember that you are never too old to learn to play the piano – in fact, there is research which tells us that learning to play an instrument in old age is a great way of helping to keep you both physically and mentally healthy.

A study by Dr. Sofia Seinfeld and collaborators showed that elderly adults who played the piano every day for four months significantly improved their mood, decreased depression, and improved brain functions like concentration and attention.  

13

Playing the Piano Improves Memory

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Music has a unique effect on the brain in some of the ways that it can stimulate its connections, and one of the biggest benefits is to your memory and navigation.

An unusual study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed the effects of tuning a piano on the brain.

The brains of nineteen professionals who tune pianos by ear for a living were observed in an MRI scanner. The researchers found that this unique profession has an impressive effect on both grey and white matter in the brain.

Oddly enough, most of the matter growth wasn’t located in the auditory part of the brain, as you might be expecting, but in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is responsible for memory and navigation in space.

It appears that playing the makes the hippocampus work more efficiently, which suggests that it will also improve your memory and your ability to orient in space. How about that?

There is also evidence that by learning the keyboard at an early age, children can improve their working memory.

14

Playing the Piano Improves Decision-Making

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Another significant body of research studies the effect that practicing the piano has on decision-making.

A study by Dr Ana Pinho shows that when jazz pianists are playing, the part of the brain which is responsible for decision making – a section of the frontal lobe – is activated. This makes this area of the brain very efficient and means that the connections are quicker and decision-making becomes easier, more efficient and more spontaneous.

So it appears that seasoned musicians are much better and faster at sending information within various parts of the brain’s frontal lobe.

Making this connection faster makes the brain process more information in a shorter amount of time. This makes us more efficient thinkers.

“More improvisation training led to more automation and higher functional connectivity between regions that are important for creative playing. This greater connectivity improved the efficiency and communication between those brain regions,” Dr. Pinho said at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

However, this isn’t the only exciting finding this research has shed light on.

It appears that experienced piano players are able to disconnect from the part of the brain that is responsible for giving template-like, stereotypical answers, thus making you have a more innovative approach towards solving daily tasks.

15

Playing the Piano Stops the Decline of “Executive Function”

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“Executive function” is not the name of Tom Cruise’s new action movie! J In plain English, executive functions allow us to mentally play with ideas; take the time to think before acting; meet unexpected challenges; resist temptations; and stay focused.

Have you ever seen teenagers do crazy things? They’re doing that for a reason – executive function in the brain doesn’t mature fully until the age of 25 (so teenagers find it hard to resist temptations).   

A 2006 study examined if piano lessons, given to adults aged 60-85 with limited or no prior musical instruction, could reduce age-related decline in executive function.

The lessons required participants to attend a half-hour lesson each week, as well as independent practice for a minimum of three hours each week. The study found that piano lessons resulted in improved performances on neurological tests following the six month training period.

But there was a catch: these benefits were lost by three months after the lessons were stopped. So the study concluded that continuous piano lessons may combat age-related cognitive decline by strengthening connections between different areas of the brain.  

16

Playing the Piano Improves Hand-Eye Coordination

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There are also a number of studies which reveal that playing the piano improves hand-eye co-ordination, and is also good for your fine motor skills.

Research such as that carried out by Alan H D Watson, which investigates what we can learn about motor control of the hand from studying musicians, shows how beneficial playing the piano is.

17

Playing the Piano Strengthens the Body

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One of the obvious health benefits of playing piano is that it involves exercising the hand and arm muscles regularly.

It’s also good for dexterity, as shown by a study carried out by Miriam Villeneuve and Anouk Lamontagne.

Their research into the effect of playing the piano on stroke victims shows that manual dexterity was greatly improved after a period of regular piano lessons – and practice.

Another study carried out by the Institute for Music Physiology and Performing Arts Medicine shows that piano players have better co-ordination between auditory and motor functions.

Finally, we all know that often the hand which is used for writing can be stronger than the other. Well, playing the piano can help you to strengthen both hands (as well as your back, if you use a back-less chair!).

This happens through something in the brain called the “central sulcus”.

The central sulcus is deeper either on the right or the left-hand side – and this is what determines whether someone is right or left handed.

A study by Dr. Shuyu Li shows that pianists have a more symmetrical central sulcus, which, given that they were born right or left handed, suggests that this has developed over their growth as a pianist.

The Benefits of Taking Piano Lessons

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