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How playing an instrument benefits your brain - Anita Collins


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When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

The connections between brain research and music have been ongoing for the past two decades, but there are actually a lot of different areas within the research, and it is easy to confuse them.

Firstly there is the area of music and the brain, which is about how we process music in our brains. Daniel Levitin wrote a great book called This is Your Brain on Music ( which is all about how we process music.

Then there is the area of music therapy and the brain, which is about how we can use music to assist people who have had brain injuries, physical trauma or have been born with a disability, to improve their physical and cognitive function. It is also being used extensively with people who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Oliver Sacks wrote a great book called Musicophillia ( and Norman Doige has a book on brain plasticity called The Brain that Changes itself ( that talks about the power of music therapy.

Then there is the area of music education and the brain, which is about how music learning can impact on general brain development in children and adults. In the research it is called music training and is generally understood to be the formal and sequential learning of music, through playing music as well as appreciating and listening to it. There are a number of research institutes that are working in this part of the field, the Dana Foundation (, the BRAMS Institute ( and the Music, Mind and Wellbeing Institute (

Keeping up with the research is tricky if you are not a neuroscientists. Here is a resource that can keep you up to date with the research, and here is a list of the references that were used to support the writing of the script for this lesson.

Research into the nature of how the corpus callosum impacts on the brains functions, and how learning a musical instrument impacts on this, is ongoing. Recently, neuroscientists have dug deeper and found that changes in the corpus callosum may be dependent on the type of musical training a musician does and could be localized to the anterior corpus callosum. This area has shown an increase in bi-manual coordination (where the brain coordinates simultaneous multiple movements like using a knife and fork). Here is some of the latest research.

Sometimes it is hard to explain all of this research to someone else so here is a short video you can share with parents, teachers and students about how music education can enhance brain development.

Learning to sing or play a musical instrument can help disadvantaged children improve their reading skills, US research suggests.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Anita Collins
  • Director Sharon Colman Graham
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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