News and Guides

Forget Sudoku – Learn the Bassoon

January 31st, 2024

Forget Sudoku – Learn the Bassoon

Forget Sudoku – Learn the Bassoon

Forget Sudoku – Learn the Bassoon

An interesting article on the impact of playing a musical instrument on cognitive decline in older adults has just been published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry:

The relationship between playing musical instruments and cognitive trajectories: Analysis from a UK ageing cohort*

The article is publicly available here.

We would recommend you read the article yourself, but if you do not have time we summarise the most interesting points below.

According to the article, ageing is associated with an accumulation of cognitive deficits leading to Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which in turn can be a precursor to dementia including Alzheimer’s. The article states that:

Keeping the brain active during life has been associated with an increased cognitive reserve, therefore reducing the risk of cognitive impairment in older age.

The idea is that, by building up a reserve of cognitive function through brain-intensive activities, a person can withstand or lessen cognitive deficits in older age and thus stave off or reduce the impact of MCI and later dementia.

The article goes on to say that: “Previous research has identified a potential relationship between musicality and cognition.” This is what the research upon which this article is based was investigating.

The cohort used for the study comprised 1,107 adults over 40 in the UK. 89% of participants had had played a musical instrument at some point in their lives, with 44% currently still playing. Woodwind instruments were the second most popular category of instrument after keyboard instruments.

The study found that those with experience of playing at least one musical instrument showed significantly better working memory and executive function than the average population, with other aspects of brain function also improving.

The study also found that those playing a woodwind instrument had a significantly better executive function performance than those playing other instruments, but not so much of an impact for working memory.  There was no additional benefit from playing multiple instruments though.

In addition, it was found that performance across a number of aspects were better for those currently playing instruments compared with those who had played them in the past. Having played an instrument at some point in your life seems to bring continuing benefits, but these can be enhanced by continuing to play.

The report asserts that:

The(se) findings confirm those reported in previous studies, adding strength to the evidence base relating to musical engagement and cognitive health, and highlighting the potential value of education and engagement in musical activities throughout life as a means of harnessing cognitive reserve as part of a protective lifestyle for brain health. 

No benefit was found for those just listening to music unfortunately – the hard work and challenge of actually playing seems to be what creates the benefit. 

For all bassoonists out there, the message is: continuing to play is very likely to help with memory and brain function in later life. The longer and later in life you play the better.

And for those who haven’t started yet or gave up at some point in the past, the message is: take up the bassoon or indeed another instrument. It is never too late to gain the benefits of playing.

For teachers, funding bodies and other interested parties the message has to be: encourage as many people as possible to play an instrument at any age; it will bring immense benefits to them and, by extension, society generally.

The act of reading music seemed to be of benefit in and of itself, so ideally educators should focus on instruments and musical genres where the requirement to read music is paramount.

Of course, there are plenty of other good reasons to take up, or to continue to play, the bassoon or any other instrument, which we have covered in previous articles.

If you would like to take up the bassoon and need some advice on how to start please get in touch. We have customers of all ages from under-10s to over-80s so, whatever your age, don’t be put off from starting.

*The International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry: The relationship between playing musical instruments and cognitive trajectories: Analysis from a UK ageing cohort. January 2024. Authors: Gaia Vetere, Gareth Williams, Clive Ballard, Byron Creese, Adam Hampshire, Abbie Palmer, Ellie Pickering, Megan Richards, Helen Brooker, Anne Corbett