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Learning to Play Music May Improve Multisensory Processing, Reduce Depression

Recent research shows that one-hour weekly piano lessons have a variety of benefits

Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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According to a small study published in Scientific Reports, learning to play the piano can improve one’s ability to process multisensory information and reduce depression, anxiety, and stress.

Researchers from the University of Bath recruited 31 adults to either undergo piano lessons, listen to music, or be part of a control group that did neither. All three groups performed their respective activities—playing music, listening to music, or doing something else—for one hour a week, 11 weeks in a row.

After only a few weeks of piano lessons, participants displayed an improved ability to process multisensory information—sight and sound. We engage with multisensory processes constantly, from driving a car to watching television, so the improvements derived from music lessons can carry over into many other facets of life.

Additionally, participants taking music lessons showed reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, suggesting that music lessons could prove beneficial for individuals with mental health struggles. The researchers are now conducting follow-up research to confirm this hypothesis.

“We know that playing and listening to music often brings joy to our lives, but with this study, we were interested in learning more about the direct effects a short period of music learning can have on our cognitive abilities,” said cognitive psychologist and music specialist Karin Petrini, PhD, of the University of Bath. “The findings from our study suggest that this has a significant, positive impact on how the brain processes audio-visual information even in adulthood when brain plasticity is reduced.”

Though taken from a small sample size, these findings square with other research on the effect of music lessons, such as a 2022 study from Portland State University which found that music classes can positively impact students’ comprehension in other subjects. With these studies and others like it, educators can build a strong case in favor of allocating more resources to school music programs—not just for education’s sake, but for the apparent mental health benefits as well.