"Music gives wings to the mind," goes a quote attributed to Plato. Although Plato probably never actually said that, whoever did may have been on to something.
A new study by neuroscientists at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto has revealed that learning to play an instrument can result in immediate benefits to several indicators of brain function, suggesting possible musical rehabilitation for brain trauma, and other practical reasons to bang the drums or tickle the ivories.
It seems to be the fine movements needed to reproduce a sound that made the difference. Participants were asked to listen to music from an unfamiliar instrument—a Tibetan singing bowl. They were then asked to reproduce that music with the actual instrument. Learning to reproduce the sounds and rhythm led to changes in certain audio-induced brain waves, and better connectivity between auditory and sensorimotor areas of the brain. Participants who just reproduced the sounds using a computer did not see the same changes.
The study joins other evidence from the same lab showing that learning to play an instrument impacts various cognitive functions. Musical training in younger years can even have protective effects against decline in old age.
There's still more work to do, but a growing chorus of research is suggesting that creating music can help your brain become as fit as a fiddle.
P.S. If you need more proof, here is our very smart science team's band, Untidy Naked Dilemma, playing Video Killed the Radio Star and Don't Stop Believin'.