Piano Players’ Brains

I just read another fun article about how beneficial piano playing is for the brain. While studying any instrument is a great practice, this article highlights what is unique to playing the piano:


I think it overstates a few things, such as its assertion that for an advanced pianist …the weaker hand is strengthened to the same degree as the stronger one. Even very experienced pianists would probably say they have a weaker hand, but certainly playing with two hands does hugely impact “brain balance.” PET scan research has repeatedly shown that playing the piano stimulates multiple parts of both hemispheres of the brain.

We know that the primary reason that piano playing is such an amazing brain workout is that it requires intense multitasking; we must read the notes, observe the fingering, count the rhythm, listen to the music, press the damper pedal, play with emotion, and so much more! And I have seen first-hand that the multi-tasking skills we cultivate at the piano are put to use in other parts of our lives.

I had never considered, however, the idea put forward in this article, that experienced piano players turn off the part of the brain that offers stereotypical brain responses. It makes sense that playing the piano with expression gets us into the habit of expressing ourselves more authentically, in general. Although the word “authenticity” is sometimes overused, I think that it’s an important concept worth considering. Dr. Brené Brown (author, research professor) has this to say about authenticity:

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be, and embracing who we really are…..Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to let ourselves be vulnerable.

I love the idea that playing the piano can lead us to living a more authentic life. And it certainly makes us feel extremely vulnerable at times!

The aforementioned article also touts the virtues of improvising. As a jazz musician I improvise all the time. Sometimes my habit of improvising doesn’t turn out so great when I improvise on recipes in the kitchen…. But for the most part, I find that my willingness to improvise helps me to be more flexible and adaptable in the world. If you are interested, check out my blog posts about improvising here:

Improvising Part 1  |   Improvising Part 2  | Improvising Part 3  |

Also, scroll down to the bottom of the science article to see some links under REFERENCES to learn more about why it’s SO great to play the piano. This one is particularly interesting :

Science Shows How Piano Players’ Brains Are Actually Different From Everybody Else’s

Have you noticed any changes in the way you think or act since starting piano lessons? Does multitasking at the piano keyboard help you to multi-task in other areas of your life? Have you noticed increased attention and focus since playing (or in the hours after playing) the piano? What impact has playing the piano had on your life? By the way, how is your 10-Minutes-A-Day pledge going? I welcome your comments and observations!

With love and music, Gaili


6 Replies to “Piano Players’ Brains”

  1. I began at age 55. Now still learning and playing at age 85. Would like to tell you how music has changed my life. Ruth Naser

  2. Tell us more Ruth!! I think it is fantastic that you play at your age. I know someone and they stopped playing because they thought they were getting too old at the age of 42.

    1. Hi Mekayla- I would like to hear more from Ruth as well! I hope she comes back to us! Wow, a 42-year old feeling to old to play the piano? What about Horowitz? He played his whole life 🙂

      1. Never too old. Music gives meaning to my life. I go to sleep thinking about music and wake up thinking about what I’ll teach or play that day. It keeps the brain sharp, helps prevent artheritis, and just plain makes life fun. I think God gave us music as part of the package….like the spirit and soul. We interface with God by our music. We don’t needs words. Sometimes my music is praying without words. The music says it so much better than I. Thank you for your blog.

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