Music can be therapeutic in many ways. I’ve seen this firsthand as a music therapist working with people in rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. Take, for example, researchers’ findings into the health benefits of piano lessons. What they reveal is that playing the piano or keyboard is not just fun but good for mental and physical health and longevity….
Depression is so common today that it is a garden-variety mental health condition in the U.S. and a leading cause of disability worldwide. Left untreated, it can lead to other serious health problems like poor diet and substance abuse.
Learning to play the piano, though, can reduce depressive symptoms, according to research that has looked at the benefits of piano in adults over the age of 65. One study found that even with a patient who had severe depression that manifested with psychotic symptoms, just one single piano lesson improved her mood and cognition.
Similarly, another study found that learning to read and play piano music not only helped people’s mood but decreased their fatigue and distress. Other related, positive effects included: better self-esteem; a greater sense of independence; decreased feelings of isolation, and temporary stress relief.
Like the piano, keyboard lessons were associated with lower rates of anxiety, depression, and loneliness in senior citizens. (For full details on the above studies, see the February 2016 issue of the journal Federal Practitioner.)
Reductions in Stress and Anxiety
In addition to serving as an effective holistic treatment for depression, piano practice can relieve stress and anxiety, research has shown. A study in 2011 revealed that piano reduces stress much more effectively than two other creative pursuits (calligraphy and clay molding). Just how exactly? By lowering levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol and anxiety levels.
In a study that compared the keyboard to reading magazines or solving puzzles, the keyboard proved more effective at reducing stress, a leading contributor to many causes of death in the U.S.
Enhanced Cognitive Ability and Better Brain Health and Function
Multiple studies at Harvard Medical School in conjunction with Beth Israel Deaconess have shown that piano lessons can help people’s brains more efficiently process information and learn new skills. Not only that—learning the piano can help prevent age-related decline, by improving memory and executive functioning and increasing brain plasticity (the brain’s capacity to change and learn). Neuro imaging studies have found evidence of these changes in the brain.
Dexterity, Finger Strength and Fine Motor Coordination
Elsewhere, research has found that piano playing can help stroke survivors and adults with osteoarthritis. In the first case, piano lessons improved finger movement coordination, manual dexterity, and the use of upper extremities. In the second case, 30-minute practices on an electronic keyboard four times a week led to a decrease in pain and an increase in finger strength and dexterity. These improvements in turn can help older adults with daily life functions that require fine motor skills.
These are just some of the health benefits of piano and keyboard lessons. From my own experience, many people find the pursuit itself downright fun. That alone may be good motivation to give lessons a try.
Musician Gary Wayne directs the music and fine arts therapy program at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.
By Gary Wayne