How Playing Music Helps Anxiety and Changes Your Brain


Playing a musical instrument is one of the best things you can do to exercise your mind and improve your overall mental state. Playing an instrument is very different from listening to music. Listening to pleasant music is great, but it’s a passive process that uses your auditory nerve pathways in your brain.

But reading and playing music involves activation of motor pathways in the brain as well as the sensory pathways of auditory, visual and somatosensory (touch).

When researchers looked at the brains of piano and violin players, they could see portions of the brain corresponding to hand development being more developed than in people who did not play instruments.

Playing music also changes areas of the brain that control behavior and executive functioning like working memory, controlling your attention, organization and planning future activities.

I talk about problems in this area of executive function in this video Executive Function and ADHD Executive function problems can hurt you to the core as far as affecting how you feel about yourself and how others perceive you. A quick fix for this is medication like stimulants and antidepressants. But medications come with side effects.

So why not address the issue at the brain wiring level? Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change its structure in response to things that we do.

Practicing mindfulness is an activity that improves anxiety and depression through neuroplasticity. I talk about that in this video Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity .

So listening to pleasing music is good for your brain, helps your relax and improves neuroplasticity, but playing an instrument takes those benefits to the next level. Just like the benefits of compounding interest, the earlier you start the better. So if you have an anxious or depressed child, learning to play an instrument can be extremely beneficial. But it’s never too late to start and you can still see the benefits to your mental health.

Hudziak JJ, Albaugh MD, Ducharme S, et al. Cortical thickness maturation and duration of music training: health-promoting activities shape brain development. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014;53(11):1153-1161.e11612. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2014.06.015

Herdener M, Esposito F, di Salle F, et al. Musical training induces functional plasticity in human hippocampus. J Neurosci. 2010;30(4):1377-1384

Seinfeld S, Figueroa H, Ortiz-Gil J, Sanchez-Vives MV. Effects of music learning and piano practice on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in older adults. Front Psychol. 2013;4:810.

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