The study in question was led by Dr Ines Jentzsc from the University of St Andrews and tested the cognitive abilities of musicians compared to non-musicians. The results concluded that learning to play an instrument could “slow or even prevent” the cognitive decline associated with ageing.
The research itself looks particularly at the skills learnt in musical performance. When a musician is playing in front of an audience, their awareness is heightened as they are continually monitoring their performance, making adjustments as and when they are required.
Psychological benefits of learning to play a musical instrument have been shown in previous studies, with results drawing attention to musicians’ fast reaction times and ability to inhibit irrelevant information.
Unlike previous studies, this latest study (published in the journal Neuropsychologia) focuses on amateur rather than professional musicians – revealing that even small amounts of musical activity is beneficial to cognitive performance.
The study also highlighted the diminishing support within the education system, pointing out that in times of financial hardship, funds for musical education are often among the first to be cut.
Dr Jentzsc believes this is worrying:
“This is particularly worrying given both anecdotal and limited research evidence suggesting that music can have strong positive effects on our physical as well as psychological functioning.”