What Are the Cognitive Benefits of Learning to Play a Musical Instrument in Adulthood?

March 4, 2024

We often associate the learning of musical instruments with childhood. Nevertheless, adults can also reap significant cognitive benefits when they decide to engage in musical training. It’s a misconception that one must start at a young age to become proficient. Adult learners can bring a higher level of dedication, a more developed understanding of music and enhanced life experiences to their musical education. This article aims to explore the cognitive benefits of learning to play a musical instrument in adulthood, including improved memory, brain health, and life skills.

Lifelong Learning and Cognitive Flexibility

The concept of lifelong learning implies a continuous process of acquiring knowledge and skills throughout one’s life. With the increasing awareness of the importance of cognitive flexibility in the face of the rapid pace of societal changes, learning to play a musical instrument in adulthood perfectly illustrates the concept of lifelong learning.

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Musical training requires a high degree of cognitive flexibility. This is the ability to switch between tasks or thoughts and adapt to new situations. Playing a musical instrument calls for simultaneous processing of different kinds of information such as rhythm, pitch, tone, and emotional interpretation. This dynamic mental exercise can help improve cognitive flexibility, enabling you to handle multi-tasking and problem-solving tasks more effectively in everyday life.

The Power of Music on Memory Enhancement

One of the most potent benefits of learning to play a musical instrument is its impact on memory. Research studies have shown that musicians often exhibit superior memory compared to non-musicians.

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When you learn to play a musical instrument, you must remember complex sequences of hand positions, finger movements, and rhythmic patterns. You also need to recall the sounds associated with different notes and chords. This process of learning and recalling exercises your memory muscles, leading to significant improvements over time. Regular musical practice can enhance both your short-term and long-term memory, which can help you remember information more effectively in other aspects of your life.

Brain Health and Musical Learning

Music is not just an aesthetic pleasure but also a workout for your brain. Learning to play a musical instrument engages various parts of the brain simultaneously, leading to improved brain health.

Playing a musical instrument can stimulate the brain in a unique way. Each note you play or listen to sends vibrations through your ear into the brain, where they are processed into sound information. This information triggers a series of reactions, engaging various parts of the brain such as the auditory, motor, and visual centers. This simultaneous engagement can lead to increased connectivity between different brain regions, promoting overall brain health and reducing the risk of cognitive decline in later life.

Music Lessons and Life Skills

Beyond the cognitive benefits, learning to play a musical instrument can also impart valuable life skills. It teaches discipline, patience, perseverance, and boosts self-confidence, which can have positive effects on various facets of your life.

Learning to play an instrument isn’t easy. It requires regular practice, discipline, and patience. These are skills that can be transferred to other areas of life, such as work, studies, or personal projects. Additionally, when you finally master a piece of music, the sense of achievement boosts your self-confidence. Learning to play a musical instrument can thus enhance your life skills, making you more resilient and adaptable in the face of challenges.

The Therapeutic Power of Music

Finally, let’s not overlook the therapeutic power of music. Playing a musical instrument can act as a stress reliever, emotional outlet, and even a form of meditation, contributing to improved mental health and quality of life.

The act of playing a musical instrument can be incredibly cathartic. It allows you to express your emotions and thoughts in a non-verbal way, helping you process feelings and alleviate stress. Moreover, focusing on the sounds and rhythms can have a meditative effect, calming your mind and promoting mindfulness. Regardless of how proficient you become, the simple act of playing music can have profound therapeutic benefits, enhancing your mental health and overall well-being.

The Impact of Musical Training on Executive Functions and Motor Skills

The cognitive benefits of learning to play a musical instrument extend to significant improvements in executive functions and motor skills. Executive functions refer to a set of cognitive processes that manage other cognitive functions, such as working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. These functions are critical for reasoning, problem-solving, planning, and executing tasks.

Learning to play a musical instrument necessitates the coordination of both hands, the reading of musical notes, and interpreting rhythm and tempo. This coordination and interpretation effectively exercise both fine motor skills and cognitive functions. Studies have shown that older adults who engage in musical training have enhanced motor abilities and improved executive functioning compared to their non-musical peers.

Furthermore, music lessons can also sculpt the brain’s structure. This process, known as brain plasticity, is the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. Playing a musical instrument can lead to increased connectivity between brain areas and structural changes in areas involved in playing music. This includes the auditory cortex, responsible for processing sound, and the motor cortex, which controls movement. Therefore, learning to play a musical instrument can promote brain plasticity, leading to a healthier and more flexible brain.

Music and Mental Health in Older Adults

The rewards of learning a musical instrument in adulthood are not just limited to cognitive benefits. There are also significant emotional and mental health benefits that come with engaging in musical training.

Playing a musical instrument can provide a sense of purpose and can be a source of joy and satisfaction for older adults. It allows for creative expression, which can have a powerful positive impact on mood and emotional well-being. This can be particularly beneficial for older adults who may be dealing with feelings of loneliness or depression.

Moreover, learning to play a musical instrument can also have a positive effect on working memory, attention, and processing speed, which are cognitive functions that tend to decline with age. Hence, musical training can be a valuable tool for older adults to maintain and even enhance their cognitive functions, thereby improving their quality of life.


The cognitive benefits of learning to play a musical instrument in adulthood are substantial and multi-faceted. From enhancing memory and brain health to refining life skills and executive functions, the rewards of musical training are profound. Furthermore, the therapeutic power of music cannot be overstated, offering a significant boost to mental health and overall well-being.

In conclusion, it is never too late to start learning to play a musical instrument. The cognitive, emotional, and mental health benefits it offers make it a worthwhile pursuit for adults of all ages. So pick up that musical instrument you’ve always wanted to play. Your brain will thank you for it.