Playing the piano boosts the brain’s processing power and helps lift the blues – Zoo House News
- December 3, 2022
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A new study published by researchers at the University of Bath shows the positive effects learning to play a musical instrument has on the brain’s ability to process images and sounds, and how it can also help improve a to raise bad mood.
The team behind the study published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, showing how beginners who took just one hour of piano lessons per week for 11 weeks reported significant improvements in detecting audiovisual changes in the environment and reduced depression, stress, and anxiety .
In the randomized control study, 31 adults were assigned to either music training, music listening, or a control group. Individuals with no prior musical experience or training were instructed to complete hour-long sessions weekly. While the intervention groups played music, the control groups either listened to music or used the time to do homework.
The researchers found that people’s ability to process multi-sensory information – ie sight and hearing – had improved within a few weeks of starting classes*. An improved “multi-sensory process” has benefits for almost every activity we participate in – from driving and crossing a street to finding someone in a crowd or watching TV.
These multi-sensory enhancements went beyond musical ability. With musical training, people’s audiovisual processing on other tasks became more accurate. Those who received piano lessons showed greater accuracy on tests that asked participants to determine whether audio and visual “events” occurred simultaneously.
This applied to both simple ads depicting flashes and beeps and more complex ads showing a person speaking. Such fine-tuning of the individual’s cognitive abilities was absent in the music listening group (where participants listened to the same music being played by the music group) or in the non-music group (where members studied or read).
In addition, the results went beyond improvements in cognitive skills to show that participants also had lower depression, anxiety and stress scores after the workout compared to before. The authors suggest that music training could be beneficial for people with mental health problems, and further research is currently underway to test this.
Cognitive psychologist and music specialist Dr. Karin Petrini, from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology, explained: “We know that playing and listening to music often brings joy into our lives, but with this study we wanted to learn more about the direct effects a short period of learning music can have affect our cognitive abilities.
“Learning an instrument like the piano is a complex task: it requires a musician to read a score, create movements, and monitor auditory and tactile feedback to adjust their further actions. Scientifically, the process combines visual and auditory cues, resulting in multi-sensory training for the individual.
“The results of our study suggest that this has a significant, positive impact on how the brain processes audiovisual information, even in adulthood when brain plasticity is reduced.”
Each music training session consisted of two segments. The first 20-minute segment was devoted to finger exercise. The second segment consisted of 40-minute learning of songs from the ABRSM 2017-2018 first grade piano exam list. All training sessions were carried out individually. The participants learned these pieces in the order given below. They moved on to the next song as soon as they could play the previous one correctly and fluently:
William Gillock A stately Sarabande. Classical piano repertoire (basic level).
Johann Christian Bach Aria in F, BWV Anh. II 131.
Giuseppe Verdi La donna è mobile (from Rigoletto).
Bryan Kelly Gypsy Song: No. 6 from A Baker’s Dozen.
Traditional American Folk Song: When the Saints March In.
Materials provided by the University of Bath. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.