5 Ways Playing a Musical Instrument Changes Your Life
Last updated on December 8th, 2022
Around 68% of adults in the U.S. say they listen to music every day – not a surprising statistic. What I do find surprising, though, is that only 12% of adults play a musical instrument. Music’s potential to enhance well-being goes far beyond what passive listening provides.
Do you play a musical instrument? I don’t mean that brief stint several years back or the lessons you took as a kid. Rather, I want to know if you currently play an instrument. If not, would you like to learn or refresh your skills? Before you answer, I’ve got a few irresistible reasons to take up an instrument.
Benefits of Playing an Instrument as an Adult
Forget about instrument mastery or even performance-level skills. Let’s discuss recreational music-making for personal enjoyment. Picture yourself strumming a catchy rhythm on a ukulele or letting your fingers fly across the keys of a piano.
If you felt a pop of excitement at the idea of playing an instrument, imagine what the real thing feels like! Making your own music not only makes you happier, but it also makes you healthier. When you play an instrument, you walk away with five health benefits worth noting:
1. Exercise for your Brain
Playing an instrument grants you the rare ability to activate both sides, or hemispheres, of your brain at the same time. Bi-lateral brain activation enables flow, a state of consciousness marked by altered perceptions of time, intense focus, and peak productivity.
Hemispheric synchronization also teaches the different sides to communicate better with one another. This kind of brain exercise speeds up decision-making and problem-solving, lengthens attention span, and improves memory.
2. Stress Relief
Beyond providing an escape from the daily grind, playing an instrument inhibits the flow of stress hormones. You feel alert yet relaxed. All the while, your blood pressure and heart rate return to pre-stress levels.
3. Reduced Anxiety
Playing an instrument commands attention to the present moment. That, in part, explains its effectiveness in fighting anxiety. Based on time itself, music clashes with the future-forward thought patterns of anxiety. Put another way, the mindful aspect of making music leaves no room for worries.
4. Depression Suppression
Research attempts to unravel depression’s mysteries have revealed a complex chemical signature. Music affects these brain chemicals. Playing an instrument cranks up the release of serotonin and dopamine lacking during depressive episodes. At the same time, it suppresses cortisol, which tends to run amuck. Compared to conventional therapies alone, adding music-making shows promise in managing depression.
5. Resilience to Stress
Play an instrument, and you’ll find yourself learning and practicing delayed gratification, frustration tolerance, flexibility in solving problems, emotional expression, and forward movement after mistakes. The same skills lend themselves well to keeping you out of stress’s reach.
Instruments that Make it Easy to Create Music
Push aside any self doubt that creeps in about playing an instrument. Percussion instruments allow you to get into a rhythmic groove instantly. Shakers, drums, tambourines, bells, cabasas, cymbals, etc. fall under this category.
For more variety, though, find an instrument pre-tuned to a “pentatonic scale.” That way you’ll eliminate the need for hours of practice or years of experience to make beautiful music. When buying a new instrument, the product description should provide this particular detail, including the specific notes in case you need to re-tune to maintain the scale.
A pentatonic scale consists of five different notes that always sound good together. No matter how you play a pentatonic instrument, you’ll end up with pleasant music. And just like that, the biggest barrier to playing an instrument disappears!
Create music you love while gifting yourself with better health and greater happiness with one of the pentatonic instruments from the list below. Listen to each instrument to get a better idea of whether it suits you.
The most common tuning of soprano, concert, and tenor ukes happens to be four (instead of five) notes of a pentatonic scale. Just strum – don’t attempt to make chords.
A type of medieval harp. Thanks to a surge of interest in this instrument in recent years, it’s relatively easy to find online. Traditionally, it was tuned to a pentatonic scale. Nowadays, you’ll need to double-check the set up.
Also known as a thumb piano. You’ll find this instrument in a variety of tunings, so confirm that the one you want is pentatonic before you bring it into your life.
Also called a slit drum. It’s available from numerous brands and comes in various sizes and tunings – make sure you get a pentatonic one. Listen to both metal and wooden ones to see which sound you like better.
You might find them sold under other names such as tone bars or resonator bells. If it looks like a xylophone that’s been taken apart, you’ve got the right instrument. Look for pieces sold together as a pentatonic set.
Many drum heads, made of either synthetic or natural materials (like animal hide), come tuned to a set pitch. Others allow you to change the pitch as you play by stretching or relaxing lines attached to the drum head. It gives more variety to the drum’s sound, and thus more to play with.
Let Your Inner Child Out to Play
Adults benefit from playfulness every bit as much as children – for some of the same reasons, too. Your sense of character and confidence flourish in the spontaneity, expressiveness, creativity, and receptiveness to fun found through play.
I must mention one more perk of learning to play an instrument. It comes with a sense of self-satisfaction. Shaping something beautiful with your own hands allows your personality and preferences to shine with total authenticity. It feels fulfilling regardless of whether you share your art with others or not.
I’m a music therapist, dog mom, nature enthusiast, business owner, introvert, sleep and stress management coach, and research lover. My mission is to help you remove stress as a barrier to better health, greater happiness, and more meaningful connections with the people and passions that make life exciting.