People with mental health issues may benefit from learning to play an instrument, after a new study found that the task can boost mental wellbeing.
The research also revealed that the music lessons can boost a person’s cognitive abilities, as it improves the brain’s faculty to process sights and sounds at the same time.
Improving this multisensory process has a knock-on effect on almost every aspect of our lives, from driving to watching television.
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The study saw 31 people divided into three groups – one group took part in piano lessons, the second was instructed to listen to music, while the control group used the time to complete homework.
Those undertaking the piano lessons had no prior musical training and took part in one-hour weekly lessons for 11 weeks.
Cognitive psychologist and music specialist Dr Karin Petrini, from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology, said: “We know that playing and listening to music often brings joy to our lives, but with this study we were interested in learning more about the direct effects a short period of music learning can have on our cognitive abilities.
“Learning to play an instrument like the piano is a complex task: it requires a musician to read a score, generate movements and monitor the auditory and tactile feedback to adjust their further actions. In scientific terms, the process couples visual with auditory cues and results in a multisensory training for individuals.
“The findings from our study suggest that this has a significant, positive impact on how the brain processes audio-visual information even in adulthood when brain plasticity is reduced.”
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The research showed that even after just a few weeks of music training, participants’ multisensory processes improved, from processing simple flashes and beeps to more complex tasks.
Such improvements were not seen in the control group or the participants tasked with listening to music.
More research is now underway to further test the effect of learning to play an instrument on mental health, after the study found that it helped to reduce depression, anxiety and stress.
The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.