Music training doesn't just offer non-musical benefits.
Intuitively none of this is surprising given:
- the overlapping skills involved in certain musical and non-musical tasks (e.g. you use your fine motor skills when learning the piano and when typing on a computer), and
- the concept of use-dependent development. This concept refers to the role experiences have in helping to sculpt the developing brain. The areas and networks that activated more frequently (i.e., those that are used more often) are larger and more robust than those not activated as frequently.
These, though, are the extrinsic benefits of being an active learner of music. Extrinsic referring to, of course, those non-musical perks of being a musician. And although there is value to the extrinsic benefits—including some important enrichment-based opportunities for children with access to fewer resources—it begs the question…what about the intrinsic benefits?
The intrinsic benefits are a little harder to define (at least for this musician). But they are there. These are the benefits that are more self-gratifying. They are generally emotionally- or psychologically-based. And although there may be some commonalities among musicians in the intrinsic benefits they feel, it’s generally a more personal, individualized experience. The intrinsic benefits felt by one musician may not be the same as those felt by another.
As for this musician, here are 5 intrinsic benefits I have gained:
#1: Immense Emotional Pleasure
As with most people, listening to music elicits a variety of emotions—happiness, tenderness, sadness, nostalgia. Know what’s better than listening to beautiful music? Playing it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s felt while playing piano alone in my house or from performing in front of a crowd, the happiness—elation even—that follows playing a beautiful piece of music is almost addictive.
#2: An Insta-Social Network
I’ve often felt that being a music major in college helped ease any anxiety I may have felt during this major life change. It didn’t matter that I now lived 1500 miles away from home, being in the marching band gave me an instant social network that began before school even started. And I’ve carried that benefit to multiple schools and internships in multiple states—a connection to a group of people with similar interests and experiences as me.
There are times that the music I am listening to causes me to laugh. It’s generally not the words that elicits this reaction, but some a little less tangible—it’s how the composer structured the music or the musical nuance a performer added that causes the chuckle. Better yet, I've found that this happens more frequently the more experienced I become as a musician. I laugh more at—and with—the music.
#4: Challenging Growth
Being a musician makes you work. You work your fine and gross motor skills, you work your analytical skills, you work to be emotional and to connect with an audience. You persist and practice over and over again. You perform and make mistakes, then go back to the practice room. It challenges multiple intellectual and emotional areas, but if you love learning like me—that challenge is priceless.
#5: Gratifying Accomplishment
The other side of the challenge coin is the gratifying feeling you get when you finally make it. When you have a great music therapy session. When you nail a particular piece of music. That feeling may not last long—you may be back at that practice room the next morning—but it’s yours to carry and hold.
Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website, www.MusicTherapyMaven.com, for additional information, resources, and strategies.