Life Upgrade: Learning an Instrument

Flossing. Eating vegetables. Exercise. In the screaming vortex of our internet age, there are only a few things that are held – indisputably – as good habits. Learning an instrument falls quietly into this category. Some may consider it trivial – a luxury to be indulged in the surplus of free time. But an instrument has the power to sync the body and mind, strengthening both in the process. Like a new gym recruit who notices peripheral benefits from his training, an instrument might improve your life in ways you never knew.

Drum for Life

At the very least, setting twenty minutes aside per day to practice will tear you from the tyranny of cellphone and laptop screens. And with body-immersive instruments like drums, you may also crush your exercise quota. Holding a drumbeat engages your entire body, burning more calories per hour than race walking – while looking much cooler. To hear it confirmed; a study from Chichester University remarked that touring drummers have the constitution of top athletes.

Brain Boost

Scientists have shown conclusively that learning an instrument beefs up brain function across the board. We require training to break our clumsy, primate nature and create precision. And this training sharpens our concentration and memory. Neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday at the University of Westminster in London, explains; “music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t…it’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.”

Even older people can absorb some benefit. Last year, a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that a brain perceives sound differently when switching from passively listening to music, to actively playing it. Engaging with music repairs and strengthens neuron pathways. This effectively guards against Alzheimer’s and other degenerating mental illnesses. The message is clear – starting an instrument in the autumn years of your life might just help you keep your marbles a little longer.

Awareness and Reflection

Learning a musical instrument isn’t a binary shift. You don’t suddenly snap from a non-player into a player. It’s a long, rewarding process that never stops. A ceilingless journey, unlike learning to ride a bike, or drive a car. But this soaks a level of awe and respect into the player. You’ll be able to deeper appreciate the music of others. Not just as sonic gratification, but the product of dogged practice and determination.

Popular instruments like guitars often transcend different styles and geographies. A shared instrument can be the bridge you need to appreciate new genres from across the world. These might even be attached to subcultures, which you can now access and explore through music.

Emotional Health and Emotional Wealth

The greatest benefit of an instrument is perhaps this – companionship. If life is a journey, an instrument is a permanent handrail. The human experience, while beautiful, is also rigged with heartbreak and suffering of all colours. Much of this is beyond our control, where we can only control how we respond. Learning an instrument will give you a friend to confide in through life’s persistent hills and valleys.

The very fact that you need to physically create sounds provides a tactile therapy more effective than any stress ball or punching bag. You can bend the strings of a guitar – violently, if you wish to. You can thrash out the frustrations of your day onto a drum kit. It’ll be there for every breakup. It’ll be waiting for every achievement. Music provides a healthy outlet for expression, in both joy and sorrow. This is priceless.

It might take more effort than popping a multivitamin, but learning an instrument will add value and vitality to your life. It offers you a platter of both provable and ineffable gains. Almost consider it an investment, where even those who like but don’t love music would be well-advised to try. After all, you don’t need to be a health nut to exercise. But a small contribution of time to learning an instrument could be exactly the uplift that you need.

Words by Neelesh Vasistha

Photography by Vincent Ko

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