I recently celebrated a personal milestone: My first full year of learning guitar. Itís something Iíve tried to do before. In the past, I always got frustrated and gave up. Thatís because I played piano as a kid, and Ė for me Ė it was always easier to find notes laid out on the 88-keys of a piano, than on the 6-strings of a guitar. Plus, piano never gave my fingers calluses!
But this time around, I didnít give up. I stuck with my lessons, practiced, and got comfortable enough playing guitar that my sister recently asked me: ďWhatís the deal? Are you trying to be a rock star or something?Ē
Honestly, I have no delusions of ever going that far with it. The reason I decided to go gung-ho with guitar is because of all the science Iíve read here at work about learning a musical instrument. For example, studies show that it can sharpen our focus, and boost memory. Plus, memorizing all those finger movements helps strengthen connections in the problem-solving part of the brain, which, according to the University of Toronto, helps make us smarter!
Then thereís this thing called ďbrain plasticity.Ē Thatís the term scientists use for our brainís amazing ability to grow, change, and adapt over time. Until recently, scientists thought the brain stopped growing new cells by the time we turned 30. But now, we know that itís constantly forming new cells as long as weíre alive! And, it turns out, one of the best ways to increase brain plasticity is to learn a new skill, like playing guitar.
Plasticity is the reason I can play a song one day, and be terrible at it. Then, I come back a few days later to find the part I once thought was impossible, is now a little easier to play. Itís because plasticity is clearing out old brain cells, and reinforcing the connections that help me play better.
Am I good enough to jump onstage? Hardly. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says we need to devote at least 10,000 hours to something before we can achieve true mastery. And so far, Iím only about 400 hours into mastering guitar. But if I get nothing else out of all this, Iím comforted by the fact that brain stimulation,in any form, is proven to help us prevent neurological disorders, including Alheimerís! Thatís a good enough reason for me to keep practicing plasticity.