Want to know how to strengthen your brain? Then you’re in the right place.
What if there was an exercise or skill that would improve the performance of your mind on almost every level – both in the sciences and the humanities?
This is a skill that we are guided to by a study published this year in the American Journal of Educational Psychology. And not just any other study, because it lasted over 5 years and involving more than 110,000 participants – students from several different schools in Canada.
In this article you will find out what one skill has been used to connect exceptionally well-developed students and how it can benefit you.
How To Strengthen Your Brain:
In the broadest sense of personal development, there have already been “miraculous skills” that are supposed to have a beneficial effect on the mental performance of those who will invest in their training.
These included juggling, language learning and meditation. In some cases, “something had sense”, while in others, through myths or erroneous interpretations of research, the influence of a given skill was overestimated.
Today, one of these “miraculous skills” has been promoted from “we have reason to believe” to “research confirms” that this is it. A study published this year analysed the academic performance of more than 110,000 students from 4 different schools, based on many years of schooling.
Students, who in the course of the selection of classes “to choose from” polished our mysterious ability, over the years proved to be statistically better than their peers.
Better, on the one hand, in subjects such as Mathematics or “Science”, which is an introduction to chemistry and physics. On the other hand, they also proved to be better in typically humanistic subjects, led by English, i.e. they were devoted to humanistic skills of reading, writing and analysing texts.
What is more, students who have started to improve their skills in primary school, but they continued to practice it also in secondary school, they were on average a whole school year ahead of their peers in all the basic subjects, which was also confirmed by the final tests.
As you can see, the difference is incredible. So what is our mysterious skill?
It is learning to play an instrument.
When I read about it for the first time, I immediately had doubts in my head. An ordinary student rarely reaches for an instrument. A student who is at least moderately wealthy, from a good home, whose parents can afford a musical instrument or private lessons – of course.
So it is obvious that children from good homes who play instruments will learn better, not because they play, but because their parents care about them and invest in them.
The authors of the study, however, thought about it as well. In Canada, you can simply choose an instrument at school and get an instrument that is owned by the school for the purpose.
In addition, with a huge sample of 110,000 students, researchers could exclude the impact of additional factors such as family wealth, ethnicity, gender or prior academic achievement.
The results of the study are clear – students who started to practice playing an instrument, started to do better and made faster progress. Why is this so? Good question.
I wouldn’t be surprised if researchers said, for example, that learning to play a game improves the ability to use hands precisely, which would have an effect on some techniques, manual work, or that it improves hearing sensitivity, which helps to learn foreign languages later on.
But why increased efficiency in mathematics, scientific subjects or typically humanities?
The research confirmed the thesis of the beneficial influence of game science, but it was not able to investigate the causes. Scientists could share their assumptions with us, and these turn out to be really interesting.
According to Dr. Martin Guhn, co-author of the study, a student learning to play an instrument in a school learns at the same time:
- Reading and notation – which in many fields is analogous to learning a foreign language.
- He makes a better hand-to-eye coordination.
- He learns to listen carefully.
- And in school conditions, playing together in a team is a training of team and group activities.
But Dr Guhn talks about one more factor – how learning to play an instrument makes self-discipline.
The side effect of self-discipline training can be more important than other factors.
Quite by accident, I have been dealing with music as a hobby for a few years now. And from this perspective I can confidently say that there are many more benefits of playing an instrument! Reading and notation, for example, also develops the skills of the… mathematical!
Music has this in common that every sound comes at the right time. And this property is reflected in the note notation, which determines not only the pitch of the sound, but also the length of its duration. This in turn forces us to count and sum up all the notes and pauses in a bar.
With simple melodies it doesn’t seem to be a big problem, but with more complicated ones it’s a challenge. What’s more, playing from notes requires perfecting the memory, both short and long term.
For example, each song can be played in several different tones, which in turn requires a constant holding in one’s head which sounds this time need to be played half a tone higher or lower.
When playing an instrument, it is important to coordinate not only the hand with the eye, but also both hands and sometimes legs. Sometimes what one hand does seems to be completely unrelated to what the other is doing, and this is a typical situation when playing the piano.
This in turn improves communication between completely different parts of our brain. When playing instruments, it is also very important to be able to focus deeply. It’s not just about hearing, which needs to be sensitized to every sound you make and, consequently, the consonance of many sounds, but also the counting, maintenance, change and later return to tempo, careful listening to the rest of the band, etc.
Playing the game also develops sensitivity and imagination, which allow us to interpret a given song properly and give it emotional depth. While it is becoming more complicated to reach higher levels than the students participating in the study, there are even more general developmental benefits than at the beginning.
As a person involved in gamification, I would add another factor to the assumption of the scientist – learning to play an instrument is a field in which we quickly see our own progress.
We don’t have to wait to test ourselves for the next test, such as in mathematics or in most other school subjects. We take on the challenge of playing a melody and immediately see how it goes.
This, in turn, means that our brain sees that practice and training lead to continuous progress. And he learns it at a really deep level, which can then make us more motivated, because we simply intuitively see more sense in learning and in training in general. Not only in this, but also in other areas.
So playing an instrument, learning to play it is a miracle. But how can this knowledge be useful to you?
Since the claim that a person ceases to develop mentally with age can be put between fairy tales for a long time. You can take up training on a musical instrument, whether you’re still studying, studying, working or even retired. Even as an adult or an elderly person, you should feel the difference in your mind after a while.
If you want to do it on your own, then yes – the cost of buying an instrument will be difficult to circumvent. But in the age of YouTube and the Internet you can skip the initial expenses for at least private lessons, using numerous courses and video lessons available online for free.
One note – if you want to open the way to a slightly higher level of learning, in order to maximize the benefits of playing an instrument, you may want to consider using a teacher.
This can prevent you from learning the wrong habits, which are very difficult to change later on. But of course it doesn’t mean that self-taught learning is impossible – if you are limited in time or budget and you don’t plan to go beyond the level of a hobbyist.
Research hasn’t shown particularly great differences in the impact of individual instruments, so if you want to develop your mental capacity, you can invest in a budget keyboard or a guitar, for example.
Classic guitars sufficient for the very beginning of learning can be purchased up to $100. However, I recommend to allocate a slightly larger budget for the instrument. Cheap mass-produced instruments have it in common that they can be very discouraging to play by unpleasant sound, incontinence of the outfit or structural defects that affect the comfort of playing and clarity of sound – and thus give you a false impression that the game is not for you.
If you want to save money, it would be a good idea to buy a better used guitar for about USD 200-250. When deciding on an instrument, especially from a lower price range, it is best to consult the opinion of someone who has been playing for some time, or if this is impossible – search the Internet and read the opinions.
You’ll find a wealth of tests and reports on the web. You can also learn to play musical instruments from a variety of cultural institutions. Who knows, maybe your local community centre has something for you?
Here’s a note for those who would like to start singing at the place where you play. The positive side effects of developing vocal skills have unfortunately turned out to be much lower than in the case of playing an instrument.
Thank you for reading this article.
Maybe you know any hobbies or passions that in your opinion have a particularly good influence on your physical or mental development? Especially in an unexpected, unobvious way. Or maybe you see in yourself some passion that positively influenced your development?