There’s no better time for self-reflection than the New Year, especially after the year we’ve had. 2016 was unkind to most of us, but there’s a silver lining to the year from hell. Now that we’ve survived ’16, we have the motivation to make 2017 as different as possible — meaning the vast majority of us have big plans in the future. Our New Year’s resolutions are an opportunity to let go of the bad habits and influences in our lives and replace them with healthy ones. As you re-evaluate your life choices and pen a list of goals, consider learning an instrument this year. You’ll reap a surprising number of benefits when you do.

Boosting Brain Power

Sure, a lot of your friends are probably planning to spend time at the gym, but a treadmill fails to work out your number one muscle: your brain. Music, on the other hand, does exactly that. Neuroscientists have linked regular practice with improved executive brain function—which means you can increase your IQ by several points by learning the guitar or piano.
When you read and play music, you’re stimulating the same areas of the brain responsible for language comprehension, problem solving, and mathematics. Just like how you can sculpt a bicep by lifting weights, you can strengthen these neural connections and improve brain power by playing your instrument. You’ll see results in your personal and professional lives as you solve problems in creative and critical ways.

Improve Mental Health

You’ve probably already experienced the effects music can have on your emotions. After a long day at work, you put on a relaxing song in order to forget the day’s trouble. Before you and your friends hit the town, you put on your dance party mix. After a bad breakup, you indulge yourself in sad songs that speak to your broken heart. Music has the ability to tap into our inner feelings and allow us to express our emotions in a healthy way.

There’s science behind it all. When we listen and play music, our brain releases dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin — those hormones that help us feel good and sleep better. Scientists have discovered that playing music can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. There’s also something to be said for the sense of pride and self-confidence that comes from mastering a challenging song!

Decrease Physical Pain

A lofty claim it may seem, but studies have found music has the power to alleviate pain. Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London studied over 7,000 surgical patients. They allowed some of these patients to listen to music before and after their surgeries, while the rest had to wait in silence. Those that were able to listen to some tunes reported feeling less anxious before their procedure, and they needed less pain relief afterwards. Do you think you could skip a dose of Aspirin by plucking at the guitar?

Develop Hand-Eye Coordination

Was 2016 a clumsy year for you? Learning how to play an instrument can help you become dexterous in the year to come. When you practice your instrument, you’re forcing your body to multi-task. You’ll be reading notes off of the sheet music you’ve bought from an American or Canadian online music store, and you’ll have to translate them into the correct embouchure and fingering in order to make the right sound. As you’re doing this, you need to keep time and remember the key signature affecting the notes, all while looking ahead to the next bar to play the song smoothly. It’s akin to tapping your head while rubbing your stomach as you run a marathon and talk on the phone. It sounds hard now, but with a few months of practice under your belt you’ll be tapping, rubbing, running, and talking with the best of them.

If you’re ready to make 2017 bigger and better than last year, make sure you find an instrument you want to play and stick with it. Learning how to play will get your brain, body, and soul in better shape this year, so don’t forget to add it to your list of resolutions. It’s the only way you’ll get to reap the benefits music has to offer.

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