This time of year is often a period of reflection and looking upon new horizons; deciding what didn’t work last year and what to improve, or start, in the next twelve months. Joining a gym, spending more time with loved ones, or pushing yourself up the career ladder are all common resolutions heard around the water cooler. Another popular one? Learning how to play a musical instrument.
Interest in learning music often peaks at this time of year, as people seek to expand their skill set or start something new. No matter what age, learning a new skill can have great benefits, both cognitviely and emotionally. As neuroscientist Nina Kraus discovered recently, learning about music can facilitate getting better at other things, and in ways that can last a long, long time.
A number of her studies conclude that:
Musical experience has a pervasive effect on the nervous system. Our recent articles show that lifelong musical experience enhances neural encoding of speech as well as music, and heightens audiovisual interaction. Our work suggests that musicians have a specialized neural system for processing sight and sound in the brainstem, the neural gateway to the brain. This evolutionarily ancient part of the brain was previously thought to be relatively unmalleable; however, our studies indicate that music, a high-order cognitive process, affects automatic processing that occurs early in the processing stream, and fundamentally shapes subcortical sensory circuitry.
So, go ahead and pick up that instrument that you’ve always wanted to learn — its never too late — and as you can see, the benefits may be more than just becoming a better or happier or more fulfilled person. There is no better time than now to take on something new.
Happy New Year!