By John Salak–
Music can calm the savage beast and perhaps people who are depressed and anxious. Those playing piano can also enhance their brain processing power and lift their blues.
People generally don’t need to have others tell them about the power of music, even the benefits of music on mental health. Many have a visceral reaction to music’s ability to calm, excite, inspire and more. Science, however, has increasingly recognized the benefits of music therapy. Early education specialists rave about the power of music to help young children engage and develop. Scores of researchers have also unscored the importance of music therapy on several fronts.
One recent study specifically noted the “positive effects of music therapy on decreasing level of depression and anxiety in patients with cancer. Therefore, nursing care should include music therapy.”
A research team from the University of Bath in Britain reports that simply learning music can impact an individual’s mental well-being and cognitive abilities, like processing multisensory information.
The Bath study involved 31 people assigned to learn music, listen to it or serve as a non-engaged control group. Those taking piano lessons for one hour a week for 11 weeks reported significant improvements in recognizing audio-visual changes while also being less depressed, stressed and anxious.
The positive cognitive impact was seen within a few weeks of starting lessons and has far-reaching benefits for daily activities, from driving to more effectively dealing with surroundings and absorbing information.
These budding piano players also saw a significant drop in depression, anxiety and stress, especially compared with those who just listened to music or were in the control group.
“We know that playing and listening to music often brings joy to our lives. But with this study, we were interested in learning more about the direct effects a short period of music learning can have on our cognitive abilities,” explained Dr. Karin Petrini, a cognitive psychologist and music specialist at the university.
The complexity of learning to play the piano is probably why the process enhances cognitive growth.
“Learning to play an instrument like the piano is a complex task: it requires a musician to read a score, generate movements and monitor the auditory and tactile feedback to adjust their further actions. In scientific terms, the process couples visual with auditory cues and results in multisensory training for individuals,” she added.
The results, ultimately, open up a range of therapeutic possibilities, both for building cognitive strength and relieving depression. Researchers are exploring these options. Does the type of music matter?
Not sure. Billie Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elton John were not in the Bath study. Instead, researchers opted for Bach, Verdi and When The Saints Go Marching In. Perhaps Great Balls of Fire, Piano Man and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are next.