The process of learning a new skill often reaps astonishing benefits, and learning the guitar is no different. Besides the benefit of now being able to play an instrument, you’d be surprised at the number of physical and psychological benefits that can be attributed to learning the guitar (or really any instrument for that matter). Many of these benefits also translate over to everyday activities and behaviors too.
In this article, we’ll check out five benefits of learning the guitar.
Improved Fine Motor Skills
If you’ve ever tried to learn how to use chopsticks as an adult, you’ll know how difficult it is to coordinate your fingers to precisely position each stick to create a firm grip on your food. Learning how to play the guitar is kind of like that, but about a thousand times more difficult (in my completely unscientific estimation). Just like picking up a new sport, learning to play the guitar greatly improves your hand-eye coordination as it requires very specific muscle movements that your body isn’t quite used to doing yet. Most beginner guitar players often describe the weird sensation of your hands not responding to your thoughts. The reason for this feeling is simply because your body has never performed those complex movements before, so it’ll feel almost impossible to move your hands in the manner required to play chords and scales. However, if you stick to it and keep practicing, those fine movements become easier and easier to perform, and you’ll also find that you’re able to pick up more new movements a lot faster.
There have actually been several studies conducted to explore the connection between learning an instrument and improved motor skills. In a study conducted by Hyde et al. (2009), children between the ages of 5-7 were placed under a 15 month musical training program while a separate control group was also monitored. The cognitive tests performed before and after the 15 months showed that the children who underwent musical training displayed improved finger motor skills and auditory discrimination, while brain scans found that there were structural brain differences specifically in the regions tied to motor and auditory processing.
In another study conducted by Anglia Ruskin University, it was found that music therapy improved the speech and motor skill recovery of stroke victims.
The best part about improving your motor skills from playing music is that it translates to other activities like knitting, martial arts, and sports. In fact, an article by Boyd et al. found that the ability to play a musical instrument predicted better performance on laparoscopic suturing.
Exercise for Your Brain
Another benefit of playing guitar is improvements in concentration and memory. Without a doubt, learning any instrument is a difficult task; the initial learning curve is particularly steep, which is why in order to see gains, you’ll have to really exercise your ability to concentrate and memorize things.
As you spend more time focusing on different guitar exercises or songs, you’ll find that your ability to focus on other tasks outside of playing music will increase as well. According to Jane O’Brien of the BBC, studies have found that learning musical instruments can help people with ADHD regulate their attention, impulse-control, and even memory.
Memorization plays a huge part in being able to get really good at playing guitar. The number of chord shapes, scale shapes, music theory concepts, and even songs that you’ll have to remember are astounding. Even just the basic open chords can be overwhelming to initial learners, so the ability to take things slow and memorize small amounts of information over time is an extremely important skill that you will develop while learning how to play guitar.
Just like how the ability to focus translates over to everyday tasks, your ability to memorize guitar-specific knowledge will also translate into your everyday life.
Probably the most enjoyable aspect of playing guitar is the cathartic experience that comes with creating music. It’s one of the most accessible avenues for free expression besides visual arts! The free expression found in creating music is linked to many health benefits.
We’ve talked about how playing guitar can help exercise your brain in the previous section, but according to Fred Cicetti of Live Science, playing music can also lower blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression. There is also emerging evidence that playing music can improve your immunological response to viruses and bacteria, but that debate is still up in the air.
The key reason for many of these emotional and health benefits is that playing music puts you in a flow state, similar to those achieved during long periods of meditation. During a flow state, time seems to get distorted, your heart rate lowers, and you’re generally more relaxed. Athletes often go to sports psychologists to learn how to achieve flow states to trigger peak performance!
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Freedom Through Discipline
Admittedly, learning how to play guitar doesn’t necessarily nurture discipline. However, getting good at playing guitar definitely does because the path to get really good at something requires a lot of discipline and dedication.
As I mentioned before, the learning curve for music is pretty steep, and each stage of your development will present new and more challenging obstacles. I’d love to say that it eventually gets easier, but the truth is, the initial stage of learning guitar is probably the easiest, and as you progress through your musical journey, noticeable improvements and “eureka” moments are harder and harder to come by. This means that in order to keep progressing and improving your guitar playing skills, you have to be very disciplined in your approach to practice.
Many pros often stick to a set practice schedule with hours of practice a day! The legendary Steve Vai even has a 10-hour guitar workout that is available online. 10 hours may sound like an insane amount of time to practice guitar in a single day, and it probably is, but that’s the amount of time and dedication it takes to become a Steve Vai.
Of course, most of us are not trying to become the next Steve Vai, and many of us just want to play guitar casually. However, even the most casual players have to practice to see any improvements at all. The ability to stick to a practice schedule, especially on the days where you don’t want to practice, will undeniably nurture discipline. Discipline is the defining trait that all great musicians, artists, and athletes have in common.
It’s definitely possible to spend your entire musical journey jamming alone in your bedroom, but the best musical moments come from playing and performing with other people.
Finding people to jam with, or even participating in an open jam, can lead to meeting a ton of cool like-minded people. The shared experience of playing music together can also strip away a lot of psychological barriers and often leads to close and long-lasting relationships. On a personal note, most of my closest friends are people who I’ve played music with. Some I’ve known since my childhood, and some I’ve only met in the past year.
For those of you who have children at home, playing music with your kids is also a fun bonding activity. In fact, Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello have found that group music activities promote greater group cohesion, cooperation, prosocial behavior, and empathy towards other preschoolers in the same musical group. Besides, having social benefits, it’s also a ton of fun for the kids. Afterall, children love dancing and making a whole bunch of noise.
Some of these benefits may seem obvious in hindsight, but they’re often overlooked. Most people get into playing guitar simply because they want to pick up a new hobby or impress their friends and family (many guys I know did it to impress some girl). However, we should be aware of the deeper and more powerful benefits of picking up the guitar, or any musical instrument for that matter.
- Anglia Ruskin University. “Music Therapy Helps Stroke Patients.” ScienceDaily.com. March 5, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200305203539.htm#:~:text=Music%20therapy%20is%20understood%20to,better%20arm%20function%20and%20gait
- Boyd, Tanner, Inkyung Jung, Kent Van Sickle, Wayne Schwesinger, Joel Michalek, and Juliane Bingener. “Music Experience Influences Laparoscopic Skills Performance.” Journal of the Society of Laparoscopic & Robotic Surgeons, no. 12(3) (2008): 292-294. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3015886/
- Cicetti, Fred. “Is Playing a Musical Instrument Good for Your Health?” Live Science. October 22, 2013. https://www.livescience.com/40597-playing-musical-instrument-good-health.html
- Hyde, Krista, Jason Lerch, Andrea Norton, Marie Forgeard, Ellen Winner, Alan C. Evans, and Gottfried Schlaug. “The Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development: A Longitudinal Study.” The Neurosciences and Music III: Disorders and Plasticity from the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, no. 1169 (2009): 182-186. https://www.musicianbrain.com/papers/Hyde_MusicTraining_BrainPlasticity_nyas_04852.pdf
- Kirschner, Sebastian and Michael Tomasello. “Joint Music Making Promotes Prosocial Behavior in 4-Year-Old Children.” Evolution and Human Behavior, no. 31 (5) (2010): 354-364. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513810000462
- O’Brien, Jane. “Power of Art: Can Music Help Treat Children with Attention Disorders?” BBC News.com. March 5, 2013. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21661689
About the Author: Ze
Ze first began his journey playing original music and top 40s pop tunes around the country's popular venues. Eventually, through the music of John Mayer, he found a strong attraction to blues music. Ze has years of experience teaching beginners and intermediate guitarists. Currently with Liberty Park Music he is teaching Introduction to Guitar Playing for Complete Beginners, Rhythm Guitar to learn about strumming, chords and more, Guitar Essentials as a fast-track review course, and lots of Song Lessons on pop and rock hits.