Music makes the mind ‘more open and adaptive to what is around us.’  (1)

Many people find music fun. Many people find playing an Instrument fun. However, as the opening statement suggests, music can be a lot more.

Below we will look into the health benefits – both physical and psychological – of playing a Brass or Woodwind Instrument.

Physical

Respiration: For many years playing a Brass or Woodwind Instrument has been linked positively with the Respiratory System.(2) Large breath expelled in a controlled manner is essential and necessary for even mediocre playing. It is not uncommon for Doctors to recommend trying to play brass or woodwind instrument as a way to control asthma symptoms. (3) While the scientific evidence behind this is still unclear many personal testimonials vouch for a big improvement which they accredit to playing. (3)

Muscular Strength: Most instruments have some weight to them. For example, the trumpet weighs anything from 32-72 oz.(4) When playing it is important that the player holds their arms and upper body still to ensure a smoothness of sound that is not interpreted by body movement. After playing for some time a novice player will often comment on tiredness of their arms. Over time this improves greatly as the players’ stamina advances, thus evidencing the strengthening of a musicians muscles.

The other area of the body that positively benefits from playing a Brass or wind instrument is within the core. When engaging the diaphragm a player use their abdominal muscles alongside the aforementioned muscles. As with the arm muscles, the core muscles will also improve over time and steady use. A player will feel this enhancement with the furtherance of their stamina and all round ability.

Psychological

Coordination and Dexterity: As mentioned above breath control is one of the factors to playing successfully. The other two key elements are the lips and tongue. Individually no one factor will allow you to play. As such a musician has to coordinate all of these things together.(5) While this coordination practice will not give the player a highly notable physical improvement in this area it is the psychological aspect of this that would truly benefit with the creation of neural pathways(6) that otherwise may not be made.

Literacy Comprehension and Mathematical Skills: Starting as early as the work of Pythagoras there has been a long-standing correlation between playing an instrument and a positive impact on an individuals literacy and mathematical skills. Sir Thomas Browne referred to music as “mystical mathematics of heaven.” The link is irrefutable.(A)

Cognitive Scientists have found overlaps between musical and mathematical ability.(8) A Journal published by the Luther College(9) makes a strong argument for the link between musical ability and the level to which one is literate. In this case, we are defining literacy as a ‘control of [the] secondary use of language’.(B) The way in which music does this is outlined below.

Literacy Skill Musical Skill
Phoneme awareness Pitch awareness
Discrimination of auditory elements Discrimination of pitches and key awareness
Speech signals Auditory signals
Letters, words, and sentences Notes
Visual focus / Concentration Visual focus / Concentration
Rhyme and Rhythm Rhyme and Rhythm
(7)

Social Development and Team Skills: A UK study in 2000 found a strong, positive correlation between learning to play an instrument and the development of social skills; developing teamwork; developing a sense of achievement, confidence, and self-discipline.(10) Presumably, the more socially developed someone is the better their ability to work in a team: and thus by improving ones team skills one improves their social development. It is obvious how playing an instrument can do this.

Music is social by its very nature. You learn from one person and play with others. Getting along, literally performing as a unit with interweaving parts makes being part of a team unavoidable. For many who struggles with – or are nervous of – one on one social interaction bands offer a way to build skills and confidence. Initially, you are your part, (third trumpet, first trombone, etc,) to start with you can talk as this. You have something potentially impersonal as the weather to discuss: the music. The initial conversations could be virtually scripted. This gives people a space to improve this skill at any point in their life.

Responsibility and Time Management: Particularly for a young individual still learning how to take on and manage a number of responsibilities playing an instrument can have a notably positive impact on their self-responsibility and time management. Your behavior directly impacts on others, through events such as rehearsals and concerts, you take responsibility for your time, in turn improving your time management. An individual also has to take on a level of personal responsibility the care and maintenance of their instrument. (11)

Perseverance and Resilience: To become talented a musician you cannot simply quit. Even taking a break can halt progress. As such the commitment of playing teaches and reinforces the importance of perseverance with tangibly measurable results, (ie playing a note higher, or a beat longer than one could before.) The same can be said of teaching resilience.

According to a study by American Psychological Association(12) two ways that one can build resilience is to move towards your goals(C) and to take decisive action(D). These are both skills one can honed through music, as well as the aforementioned perseverance through the action of practice.

Memory: A good memory can be evidenced by learning as learning shows the ability to take on new information, understand it and store it in an accessible manner. Our minds remember through encoding; acknowledging an event/fact via a sense; moving it into short-term memory and; transferring it to long-term memory. The final step can occur in a number of different ways such as repetition or association with something else.

Within this there are two sections that are particularly relevant to a musician, Implicit and Procedural memory. Implicit memory is often explained as memories that are automatic or unconscious. These memories are learned. Procedural memory, a subset of implicit memory, is a part of the long-term memory responsible for knowing how to do things, aka motor skills. (13) An example of this is how a musician knows their finger placement for commonly played notes without having to consciously think.

Mindfulness: Psychology today describe mindfulness as ‘a state of active, open attention on the present. […] mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.’ (14) Mindfulness is considered a useful skill for all manner of people of all ages and has been closely linked with a balanced mental state.

To play an instrument one has to concentrate on the here and now. To do otherwise would result in an auditory mess and the inability to progress. When a player has enough practice that the practicalities of playing comes from the stores of the Procedural memory it is somewhat easier to see how playing can help a musician with mindfulness.

 

References.

(1) Yo-Yo Ma – “As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.” c. 2012   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurence-vittes/yo-yo-ma_b_1920286.html  first accessed 24-01-17

(2) Burton Mail – http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/concert-celebrate-bandsman-carls-life/story-21480813-detail/story.html   ‘giant lungs, which had expanded after years of tuba playing’ first accessed 24-01-17

(3) https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/living-with-asthma/music/ first accessed 24-01-17

(4) http://rouses.net/trumpet/trumpet_weights.html  first accessed 24-01-17

(5) https://joeytartell.com/2015/03/12/coordination/ first accessed 24-01-17

(6) https://www.truevitality.com.au/articles/creating-new-neural-pathways-2/  first accessed 25-01-17

(7) http://www.luther.edu/oneota-reading-journal/archive/2012/learning-literacy-through-music/ first accessed 25-01-17 – 01/02/17

(8) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/11099632/What-can-maths-teach-us-about-music.html first accessed 01-02-17

(9) http://www.luther.edu/oneota-reading-journal/archive/2012/learning-literacy-through-music/ first accessed 06-02-17

(10) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0255761410370658 first accessed 14/02/17

(11) http://metropolitanarts.org/14-reasons-take-music-lessons/ first accessed 14-03-17

(12) http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx first accessed 05-04-17

(13) http://www.livescience.com/43713-memory.html first accessed 05-04-17

(14) https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness first accsess 05-04-17

(A) While it is widely agreed there is a link between music, maths and literacy, how strongly related and big an impact one has on the other is disputed.

(B) James Paul Gee (1989), Professor of Literary Studies at Arizona State University, defines literacy as “control of secondary use of language.”

(C) ” Move toward your goals –  Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” ” (12)

(D) ” Take decisive actions –  Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away. ” (12)

About the author

Heidi has been working for a number of years at Normans progressing from the Saturday Sales Assistant to a Brass Specialist. A grade 8 player she loves to play all genres of music spanning Classical to Jazz. With over ten years of playing both the Trumpet and Cornet this is, of course, what she loves to write blogs about.

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