Music and the brain are often part of the same scientific research projects. How music is processed in the brain and how we learn to recognize and replicate music is a fascinating way to look at what the mind can do. For learning, many studies have shown that playing an instrument has benefits beyond just knowing how to make music. When even the most straightforward song is performed by a musician, the brain is processing the notes on the sheet music, hand movements on an instrument and sounds from the instrument that tell whether or not the tune is being played correctly. That's a lot of work for the brain to do, but staying in shape is a mental health practice as well as a physical one.
The benefits of learning to play an instrument are nearly limitless, and they are available at any age. Young children who take music lessons communicate sooner and better than those that do not, and a study at McMaster University shows they smile more, indicating they are more connected to their environment. In older adults, response time improves with music lessons, which is an indicator of brain plasticity. Keeping the brain in shape is critical for the elderly since that is when dementia can strike. Training in music can actually increase blood flow to the brain which helps after stroke recovery as well.