Medical Benefits of the music practice

Lesions among musicians are very frequent.

This is surprising, even for the interpreters themselves.

It is for this reason that, when a specialist in art medicine is invited to a medium of communication, the most common is to be questioned about the risks involved in this activity.

Often, at the end of the interview, one has the feeling that rather than encouraging injury prevention, what has been achieved is to prevent parents from taking their children to music schools.

Thus, although it is still necessary to explain why these injuries occur and, above all, how they can be avoided, I am increasingly required to include in my media interventions some positive message; although I am rarely specifically asked about it.

It is not a question of disparaging the risks of instrumental practice. But we must not forget its great benefits. Put simply, playing an instrument has great psychological, cultural, social, and even medical benefits.
And, although it often entails certain physical ailments, these can be prevented. So, today, please, let me vent.

Let me tell you about the benefits of instrumental practice. Since these are numerous, I will focus, almost exclusively, on the medical type.

We know that any learning process involves changes in our body.

These changes are appreciated in the nervous system and, if the training performed carries a certain physical load, also in the skeletal muscle and cardio vascular.

Thus, the brain functions related to the perception and execution of music, of course, are more developed in those who have received training in this field.

Musicians process music information faster and more accurately. This is achieved by increasing the size of the brain areas responsible for these tasks and an improvement in neural connections responsible for the perception and production of sound.

But are these changes only useful for performance and musical perception or do they also have advantages in other fields?

There is evidence that the fields of language and music are closely interconnected. We even know that they share many areas of the brain. That is why we should not be surprised by the existence of scientific studies that show how the subjects trained in the musical field show greater abilities and abilities in the language.

We know that these people construct and perceive language better, they learn more easily The language itself, understand and learn better foreign languages ​​and are clearly better at reading.

There are studies that show that those over 65 who participate in musical activities have a better quality of life. Their better ability to discriminate sounds also allows them to be more efficient. In understanding conversations in noisy environments, a problem that usually increases with age and that in musicians does to a lesser degree.

The beneficial effects of musical practice on language are so evident that musical training is already being used as a tool for the improvement of speech and language disorders. Thus, for example, you are successfully testing for disorders such as dyslexia.

The musical learning is so specific that the skills that are acquired when playing do not have a clear and direct repercussion on other activities. Learning to play the piano does not automatically allow us to play the guitar or be better at typing on the computer keyboard.

However, it has been found that musicians have more facilities for new motor learning.
We know that the brain areas responsible for hand movements become, over time, a little larger in musicians. In musically untrained individuals, the cortical areas corresponding to the dominant hand (the left hemisphere in the right-hand ones) are clearly greater than the contralateral ones.

In contrast, in the case of musicians, due to greater equity in the use of both hands, this difference tends to fade.

These changes in the size of brain areas are also seen in vision and hearing. The corpus callosum, the neural structure responsible for inter-communicating the two hemispheres of the brain and, therefore, responsible for the coordination of tasks and abilities also has larger size in musicians.

These changes in brain size are due to the fact that the learning process stimulates nerve cells.

Little more than a year of beginning the musical training. It is all the more evident the younger the instrumental practice has begun and the longer it has been maintained. It has been seen that, for these improvements to persist throughout life, it takes only 3 years of musical education.

In addition, although the benefits will be greater if this work starts at an early age, improvements are also observed if musical training begins in adulthood.

There is doubt whether some of these differences may already exist prior to the beginning of instrumental practice and that, therefore, these changes and the benefits derived from them are not really a product of musical activity. It has also been discussed whether the musically enriched environment to which the musician is subjected in his childhood could also represent a relevant factor.

That is why several studies have analyzed this possibility. The conclusions are clear: children who choose to study an instrument do not do so because they are especially gifted in advance or have brains organized differently from others.

The observed differences, therefore, are due to intensive musical training and not to preexisting biological qualities or to the cultural context in which the person grows.

The medical benefits of instrumental practice not only focus on improving skills and learning ability.

There are changes that affect health status and quality of life. Let’s just put some examples. As you know, age has a deleterious effect on our brain. Over the years we lose nerve cells. However, it has been observed that early music training contributes to avoiding or minimizing these losses.

It has been shown, for example, that orchestra musicians do not manifest the same degree of loss of brain volume that all people manifest as they age.

They are also less susceptible to neuronal degeneration making them less prone to dementia. Non-verbal memory, executive processing, or ability to name objects than non-musicians.

Finally, let me cite, briefly, some of the psychological benefits of instrumental practice. There are studies that show that those over 65 who participate in musical activities have a better quality of life.

This is due, among other factors, to the fact that playing gives them greater self-esteem, makes them feel competent and independent, has less feeling of isolation and solitude and helps them not to worry so much about their problems.

So, all to play or to sing. It will make us happier, healthier and better able to adapt to this changing world. There is no excuse not to feel talented for music. It is obvious that if one does not like to play, one does not have to force the situation. But we know that these benefits are not only obtained by high-level musicians. Anyone can get them.

Nor does the type of instrument touched seem relevant. Singing also offers the same benefits. Therefore, start learning music as soon as possible and extend it the more time you spend throughout your life. It is a good investment.

It is true that a large part of the children (or adults) who start learning music will end up leaving earlier than desired.

But even they will benefit, throughout the rest of their lives, from the changes that this learning will have behaved.

Little more than a year of beginning the musical training. It is all the more evident the younger the instrumental practice has begun and the longer it has been maintained. It has been seen that, for these improvements to persist throughout life, it takes only 3 years of musical education.

In addition, although the benefits will be greater if this work starts at an early age, improvements are also observed if musical training begins in adulthood.

There is doubt whether some of these differences may already exist prior to the beginning of instrumental practice and that, therefore, these changes and the benefits derived from them are not really a product of musical activity. It has also been discussed whether the musically enriched environment to which the musician is subjected in his childhood could also represent a relevant factor.

That is why several studies have analyzed this possibility.

The conclusions are clear: children who choose to study an instrument do not do so because they are especially gifted in advance or have brains organized differently from others. The observed differences, therefore, are due to intensive musical training and not to preexisting biological qualities or to the cultural context in which the person grows.

There are changes that affect health status and quality of life. Let’s just put some examples. As you know, age has a deleterious effect on our brain. Over the years we lose nerve cells. However, it has been observed that early music training contributes to avoiding or minimizing these losses. It has been shown, for example, that orchestra musicians do not manifest the same degree of loss of brain volume that all people manifest as they age. They are also less susceptible to degeneration making them less prone to dementia.

Musicians aged between 60 and 83 who have played at least 10 years have better non-verbal memory, executive processing, or ability to name objects than non-musicians. Finally, let me cite, briefly, some of the psychological benefits of instrumental practice. There are studies that show that those over 65 who participate in musical activities have a better quality of life.

This is due, among other factors, to the fact that playing gives them greater self-esteem, makes them feel competent and independent, has less feeling of isolation and solitude and helps them not to worry so much about their problems.

So, all to play or to sing. It will make us happier, healthier and better able to adapt to this changing world. There is no excuse not to feel talented for music. It is obvious that if one does not like to play, one does not have to force the situation. But we know that these benefits are not only obtained by high-level musicians. Anyone can get them.

Nor does the type of instrument touched seem relevant. Singing also offers the same benefits. Therefore, begin musical learning as soon as possible and extend it the more time you spend throughout your life. It is a good investment.

It is true that a large part of the children (or adults) who start learning music will end up leaving earlier than desired.

But even they will benefit, throughout the rest of their lives, from the changes that this learning will have behaved.

Jaume Rosset i Llobet
Medical director of the Institut de Physiologie i
Medicine of l’Art-Terrassa. Director of
Fundació Ciència i Art.