How to sharpen your brain with music

Before I got even a week into the Washington State stay-at-home order, I was already spending twenty minutes of every hour staring at the wall, waiting for a miraculous text from Gov. Jay Inslee to tell me that I was good to go back outside. As disappointing as it was to realize that Gov. Inslee was never going to text me, I felt inspired to get into some old habits, one of which was playing the guitar. 

As a young boy, I found that the only thing I’d deem an acceptable occupation was being the next Gene Simmons. But the winds of life swept the guitar out of my hands and then swept me through middle school, high school, and most of college while simultaneously keeping the guitar out of arm’s reach. Momentarily, those winds have ceased, and I grabbed the fretboard and began to play once again.

It was frustrating, I’ll be honest, but once I got my fingers well-oiled again, it began to serve as a very fulfilling pastime. But as I continued to learn some of my favorite songs, rediscover chords, and practice pentatonic scales, I realized that I felt much more than fulfilled. I felt sharp and quick again. It was nothing short of addicting. If I was even stuck on a writing assignment, I would turn to my guitar to blow off some steam and get inspired. Which led me to ponder the following question: how does playing an instrument affect the brain?

I would say it’s fairly obvious that I’m not a neuroscientist. At this point, I am barely even a writer. However, my intuition told me that the tingly feeling I got in my face and head, and the pure elation I felt growing from the depths of my chest cavity, meant that I should write about someone else’s neurological discoveries concerning the music I was playing and the feelings I was getting. Anita Collins, through a TED-Ed YouTube video, explained not only the wonderful benefits of listening to music, but playing music as well.

This video, and in turn Collins, said that listening to music creates “fireworks” in the listener’s head, but when music is played, the brain gets a “full-body workout.” This is because playing an instrument requires coordination, memorization, and evoked emotion. In doing this, playing music not only engages the visual, motor, and auditory cortices, but it connects the right and left side of the brain. Because of this, musicians often feel more natural in times of critical thought or problem solving.

So I implore the reader to pick up an instrument. Whether you’re a seasoned piano player, or you’re tone deaf, it’s good to reap these benefits any way possible. Even just learning “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” could have immense benefits that would be simply too good to miss out on. The stay-at-home order may be boring, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t take this downtime to have fun and sharpen your brain.