Playing An Instrument Might Help You Age Better

Playing An Instrument Might Help You Age Better

Being a longtime musician aids in reaction times.


My daughter recently started violin lessons. While I’ll admit there’s quite a bit of squawking involved, my husband and I are soothed, knowing that the music training is doing good things for our daughter. Mastering a musical instrument contributes to academic success, boosts reading and language skills, and helps develop character traits such as discipline and perseverance. A new study published in the journal Brain and Cognition suggests that being musical may even alter how she ages.

The study, conducted at the Université de Montréal’s School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, showed that musicians have faster reaction times to sensory stimuli than people who have not studied music.

Study participants included two groups: some were musicians, who had started playing between the ages of 3 and 10 and had at least seven years of training, while others were non-musicians. They sat in a room with one hand on a computer mouse and the other hand on a box that would vibrate occasionally. They were told to click the mouse if they heard a sound from speakers in the room, or if the box vibrated, or if both happened. Each of these cues—the audio from the speaker, the tactile of the box moving, and the two combined, was done 180 times. The researchers found a significantly faster reaction times for the musicians, across all three of the types of stimulation.

“These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory reaction times,” wrote the study’s lead researcher, Simon Landry, who is pursuing a doctorate degree in biomedical science. “The more we know about the impact of music on really basic sensory processes, the more we can apply musical training to individuals who might have slower reaction times,” Landry wrote.

What does all this have to do with aging? As humans get older, “we know their reaction times get slower. So if we know that playing a musical instrument increases reaction times, then maybe playing an instrument will be helpful for them.”

Playing an instrument, it seems, affects the senses in ways that are not always related strictly to music.

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.

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