Learning a new musical instrument isn’t just beneficial for psychosocial reasons. It actually alters cells at the molecular level and results in a significant and quantifiable benefit to one’s health.
I came across a University of McGill genetics study several years ago that outlined these evocative results and, combined with a Ted Talk by Jake Shimabukuro, who made the argument that “what the world needs now is ukulele,” and proceeded to rip the heck out of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, I decided to take up learning this “underdog of all instruments.” Plus, he espoused the ukulele as an instrument of peace — “if everyone played the ukulele the world would be a much happier place.”
A lot has been said and written about the benefits of lifelong learning. Qualitatively, it fights boredom, increases your curiosity and creativity, makes you a more interesting person, boosts your confidence and connects you to other people. But it also has scientifically quantitative benefits that are perhaps even more compelling.
It increases the myelin or the white matter in your brain that improves performance. It stimulates more neural pathways that allow electrical impulses to travel more quickly in the brain and therefore increases not only your ability to learn but the pace at which you learn.
And it has even been scientifically proven to stave off dementia.
Summers should be about learning beyond the normal educational system paradigm. This is not only true for kids but adults as well. And we do this by challenging our own assumptions about what we are capable of or what we are interested in and taking initiative.
A few days ago, I told a friend that I really wanted to learn how to metalwork: welding, plasma cutting, soldering etc. They looked at me rather incredulously and asked: “Why would you want to do that? You can hire people to do that.” Certainly, the practical reasons came to mind and are motivation enough. I’d like to be able to fix jewelry, create works of art for the garden, build a table frame. But really, at the heart of it, I simply wanted to learn. This they understood.
CBC recently asked its listeners the question: What are you going to learn this summer?
I’m going to learn how to run an excavator, how to build a large outdoor harvest table and chairs for 12 out of wood and metal, how to make a concrete countertop for my mom, about the dangerous illusions that shape our world by listening to Ziya Tong’s The Reality Bubble as I summer road trip, and how to play The Wood Brothers’ Sing About It on the Ukulele for a friend.
Learning will make you happier, and the genomes in your DNA will thank you.