Does playing the guitar make you smarter? Well, learning the guitar DEFINITELY helps to strengthen your brain a lot more than vegging out on Netflix or scrolling through junky social media feeds does. (No judgment here. I’m just as guilty as anyone).
Learning to play the guitar can be beneficial to your overall mental health and focus in several different ways. Including, but not limited to:
- Requiring you to flex your brain and take on complicated topics
- Building confidence when you make progress
- It’s therapeutic and reduces stress
- Enhancing creativity
- Leading you to learn new concepts you never knew existed
I am a firm believer that learning to play an instrument enhances your overall level of happiness. There is no feeling like being totally entranced in the piece of music you are playing. It’s a different world, and a place I suggest you visit. You won’t regret it.
1. Flexing your brain muscles and taking on something difficult makes you stronger.
Have you ever noticed that you really only learn when you are subjected to some kind of struggle? Think back. Your teachers forced you to read difficult topics where the only way to absorb the knowledge was through bludgeoning your brain repeatedly with the material.
Yes, it’s horrible, but it works. There is something inside the struggle to learn complicated information that forces our brains to memorize, improve, and strengthen.
Learning to play the guitar is a great example of this type of learning. Don’t let this scare you off. It’s a good thing. Every time you sit down at the guitar and push your learning just a little further, you are exercising your brain and pushing the limits of your current abilities and thinking.
It’s like the gym, but for your brain. Taking on the challenge of learning a new scale is like doing brain push-ups, and the more you do it, the stronger you’ll get. It gets easier and easier the more you work at it.
It takes discipline to sit down with the guitar or a Music Theory reference/topic and put dedicated effort and time to learn while subjecting your brain to a state of learning discomfort. But this is where the growth happens.
Playing the guitar requires a lot of memorization. It always baffles me how all of our favorite musicians can memorize so many songs! How can their brains hold in so many chord progressions, melodies, rhythms, and lyrics?
Well, they have put in hours and hours of work to condition their brain (whether they were aware of it or not) to have the ability to retain and recall that memorized set of information.
Taking a complicated topic and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable sections is an instrumental skill in our daily lives. Learning to play music forces you to think in this manner and thus helps develop your problem-solving abilities.
This is especially true when you are learning a piece of music by ear. You are forced to break the song into smaller pieces and then build it back together once you have figured out the progression and melodies of any particular section.
Learning to read music is also another mentally challenging discipline that forces you to focus on complex rules and concepts. This again is an excellent exercise for your brain, similar to working on a Sudoku or Crossword puzzle.
2. Consistent progress builds confidence.
When you make positive strides in your guitar playing, you flat out feel good. Sitting behind the instrument can no doubt be so frustrating at times. You’re trying to learn a piece of a song while playing it over and over, and your fingers just won’t do what your mind wants them to.
I’ve been there, a lot.
In fact, this type of discomfort is always prevalent in some form or another when learning to play the guitar. There is always some new difficult skill you can work on to improve your playing. But if you aim to challenge yourself, work hard, and consistently push yourself to stay outside of your comfort zone, you will see improvement.
When this improvement comes, it provides an amazing sense of accomplishment and confidence in your own abilities. It raises your overall level of happiness when you succeed. You are then armed with the motivation to gain more of that awesome feeling that progress and success provide you.
It’s much easier to sit down with the guitar and work on something difficult if you have had some success and truly believe that you are capable of mastering/improving at the new skill. This type of motivation helps to fight off limiting beliefs and thoughts that may lead to you making excuses for yourself. Convincing yourself that some particular discipline is too difficult for you to excel at.
Setting small, achievable, but challenging goals on the guitar is an excellent exercise in building confidence and growing on the instrument. It’s much easier to convince yourself that you can learn a certain scale in one position on the fretboard instead of learning the scale across the entire neck. You are much more likely to take on the challenge if you truly believe that you can master it.
Instead of attempting to learn an entire difficult piece of music all at once, break it up into smaller sections and attack them one by one. Start with the easiest first and move to the harder ones as you start to understand the song better.
Give yourself praise when you finally achieve something that you were unable to accomplish in the past. This mental reward for yourself will inspire you to continuously take on new challenges, leading to more success.
Let your confidence snowball larger and larger as you learn more and feed your brain with feelings of success and accomplishment. We all want to feel as though we have value and can add something unique to the world that surrounds us.
Give it a try. I truly believe it is a great way to build up your self-image. Everybody likes music, and who makes music? Musicians, of course. Bring our your inner musician!
3. It’s therapeutic and reduces stress.
Though learning new skills on the guitar can at times be frustrating, all of the time spent with the instrument in your hands definitely doesn’t feel this way. Playing music that you are comfortable with is extremely therapeutic.
Honestly, I don’t know the science behind why this is. I just know personally through thousands of hours that playing guitar is a very relaxing experience. It takes you away to a different world that only exists through musical expression.
This is especially true when playing by yourself. With no distractions, you are forced to concentrate solely on the notes flowing out of your mind, hands, and the guitar. Maybe it’s the sense of being in total control of the instrument with nothing to worry about aside from the sounds you are creating that provides you with such a stress-free environment.
Playing the guitar takes up enough of your attention that it is quite difficult to focus on other things while you are playing. It’s pretty hard to worry about any other issues that add stress to your life as you are actively playing through a piece of music. This healthy break from the stress can give your mind the rest it needs away from all the worries we each face in our daily lives.
Sometimes it feels good to just check out for a while, even if only for 10 minutes or so. Give yourself some time to focus on only one thing. Our modern lives have us constantly distracted at almost every second of the day via the radio, computers, phones, and TVs. Don’t get me wrong. I love wasting my time on youtube just as much as anyone. I could travel down the wormholes endlessly.
Playing guitar provides you with some time out of the day to focus on your own self-improvement, be it your own little musical meditation session. Even just noodling through some of the music you have played over and over throughout the years can provide you with some sense of relaxation.
I would recommend this form of relaxation to anyone as I fully know the benefit it has provided to me in my life.
If you’re new to the instrument, learn some basic chords, and play through some simple songs. The next time you have an especially stressful day at work or home with the family, take yourself into a quiet room and play the guitar by yourself for 20 minutes. No doubt, you will feel some element of relief from the stress that was affecting your mood.
4. Enhances creativity.
I have never thought of myself as an artistic person. I can’t draw or paint to save my life. I don’t know much about photography. I couldn’t sculpt anything to resemble anything (ever seen those guys that carve a Grizzly Bear into a tree stump with a chainsaw….how the heck??…). But I do know how to make you a nice sounding melody with a piano, guitar, or my voice.
Once you learn the basics of music theory, the doors to your inner creativity will be opened in ways you never thought possible. Personally, I think that creating beautiful sounding chord progressions and melodies is much easier than learning to paint or draw.
If you follow a few simple music theory concepts when building out these musical sections, the available options to pay something that sounds nice to a listener’s ears are abundant and endless.
As with any other artistic skill, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Over time you can develop your own style and way of moving around the instrument. You can create music that not only sounds good to you but sounds good to anyone who may be listening.
It’s very inspiring to create something from scratch that others enjoy. What better feeling in the world is there than to make another human happy?
You will find that the more you create new chord progressions and melodies, the more the instrument will open up and allow you to develop new musical ideas. It’s really, really awesome.
5. Knowledge begets knowledge.
Let’s carry on deeper into the notion that the more you learn, the more you will learn.
What I mean by this is, the more your skills develop, the better understanding you will have of how to improve yourself. I like to think of it in comparison to reading a “for dummies” book.
Now, in no way whatsoever are “for dummies” books completely comprehensive on a certain subject, nor will they make you an expert on a topic after reading. However, they do open you up to new ideas about the given topic that allow you to understand exactly what disciplines you need to master to become an expert at the given skill.
For instance, if you know nothing about playing guitar or music theory, you will have no idea about the major scale. Well, if you read a “for dummies” book on playing guitar and the author grazes over the major scale for half a chapter, you now have discovered something you need to learn. Had you not read the chapter in the book, perhaps the concept would never have been presented to you.
This type of learning situation applies to everything you learn on the guitar. The knowledge you gain of any certain discipline opens up doors to new topics over and over. It’s the knowledge that compounds on itself.
Everything that we learn in life can provide us with this same knowledge on knowledge effect, but do we work at it every day? Or do we just watch Netflix?
Learning guitar provides you with a reason to expand your knowledge. Perhaps you are new to the guitar but have great aspirations to play live, record music, or become the world’s next great rock star. You’re in luck. You have a wealth of knowledge soon to be added to your mental bank.
Just having the drive to learn something new adds value to your overall mental state. If you are confident that you can learn to play the guitar (if I can, you can), you are already a step ahead of the portion of the population that never even realizes they can work hard and improve.
If you are on the fence about committing the time to learn to play, I say you go for it. If you put the effort in, you’ll succeed.