How Does Learning a New Musical Instrument After Retirement Affect Neuroplasticity?

Retirement brings with it a wealth of free time and opportunities to engage in new hobbies. Recently, there is a growing interest among retirees in music training. But what does learning a new musical instrument after retirement do to the brain? Numerous scholarly articles on Google Scholar and PubMed have investigated this question, examining the effects of musical training on cognitive functions, brain engagement, and memory performance. The findings are nothing short of fascinating.

Music and Cognitive Engagement

Music is not just a source of entertainment. It is a complex cognitive task that engages multiple brain regions. When you play a musical instrument, you’re not just producing sound. You’re reading musical scores, interpreting the notes, coordinating your fingers to hit the right keys, and listening to the output to ensure it matches what’s written. This requires high levels of cognitive engagement.

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A PMC article published in 2021 highlighted an intriguing observation. It reported that older adults who engage in musical activities show a slower cognitive decline compared to non-musicians. The study suggested that the cognitive demands of music training could stimulate brain functions, maintaining cognitive fitness even as we age.

Furthermore, a Google Scholar article from 2022 underlines the role of music in fostering neural plasticity — the brain’s capacity to reorganize and adapt. So, picking up a guitar or sitting down at a piano isn’t just a hobby — it’s a workout for your brain.

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Music and Memory Performance

What about memory? Does strumming a guitar or blowing a trumpet affect your ability to remember? According to several studies published on PubMed, the answer is a resounding "yes."

One study showed that musicians outperformed non-musicians in memory tasks. The researchers hypothesized that the enhanced memory performance was due to increased brain engagement during musical training. Another article on PMC showed that musical training might even combat memory-related diseases like dementia.

The neural pathways involved in memory processes seem to be strengthened by musical activities. Therefore, learning a new musical instrument could potentially help you keep your memories intact for a longer time.

Music and Brain’s Structural Changes

Beyond cognitive engagement and memory performance, learning a new musical instrument can literally change the structure of your brain. A study on Google Scholar reported that musicians have more substantial neural connections than non-musicians. The repeated engagement with music may induce neuroplastic changes, leading to more robust neural networks.

In particular, the corpus callosum — the brain region linking the left and right hemispheres — tends to be larger in musicians. This suggests that musical training can enhance the integration of information across different brain areas, contributing to more efficient cognitive processing.

Moreover, a PubMed article reported that the changes induced by musical training are not restricted to professional musicians. Even late-life music learners show structural brain changes, indicating that it’s never too late to reap the cognitive benefits of musical training.

Music as a Shield Against Cognitive Decline

Music’s protective effect against cognitive decline is another exciting area of research. A study on Google Scholar compared the cognitive performance of older adults with and without musical training. It found that those with musical training showed significantly less cognitive decline compared to those without it.

Another research on PubMed showed that musical activities could delay the onset of dementia. In other words, learning a new musical instrument after retirement could potentially shield against cognitive ailments that often come with aging.


In conclusion, the benefits of learning a musical instrument extend far beyond the pleasure of creating melodies. The cognitive engagement, memory enhancement, structural brain changes, and protection against cognitive decline all point to music as a potent tool for maintaining brain health, especially in the golden years.

However, it’s important to note that more research is needed in this area. Future studies should explore the effects of different types of musical instruments and training intensities on brain health. Nonetheless, the current body of research suggests that picking up a new musical instrument could be a sound investment in your cognitive well-being.

With its power to engage, change, and protect the brain, music is indeed a universal language – a language that could keep our brains speaking clearly and eloquently even as the years roll on.

The Long-Term Impacts of Musical Training

Delving deeper into the long-term impacts of musical training, we begin to see a profound effect on the cognitive reserve of older adults. The cognitive reserve theory posits that the brain can build resilience against aging and neurological diseases through mental stimulation. This resilience can delay the onset of dementia symptoms, even in the presence of brain pathologies.

A meta-analysis on Google Scholar indicates a direct correlation between long-term musical training and enhanced cognitive reserve. The study found that older adults who had undergone musical training were less likely to exhibit signs of cognitive decline. This suggests that the music-making process, involving the interpretation of auditory and visual cues and the coordination of precise motor actions, acts as a form of cognitive exercise that boosts the brain’s resilience.

Moreover, a free article on PubMed Google highlighted the role of episodic memory in the cognitive reserve building process. Episodic memory refers to our ability to recall specific events and experiences. The study indicated that musical training could enhance the functioning of the episodic memory system, thereby increasing cognitive reserve.

Additionally, other aspects of memory, such as working memory, also appear to be significantly improved with musical training. Working memory – the ability to hold and manipulate information over short periods – is a key component of many cognitive tasks, from language comprehension to problem-solving. A PMC free article demonstrated that older adults who played musical instruments outperformed their non-musician counterparts in working memory tasks.

The Role of Life Course in Musical Training

While it’s clear that musical training can have significant cognitive benefits, does it matter at what point in the life course this training begins? A Google Scholar article suggests that the timing of musical training could affect the extent of its cognitive benefits. Early-life music training seems to have a more robust effect on cognitive function and brain plasticity. However, that’s not to say that late-life music learners don’t reap benefits.

In a study published on PubMed, older adults who started musical training later in life still showed significant improvements in cognitive function compared to non-musicians. What’s remarkable is the level of brain plasticity exhibited by these late-life music learners. Contrary to the common belief that the brain’s capacity to change and adapt decreases with age, these findings indicate that the brain maintains a significant degree of plasticity throughout the life course.


Indeed, the evidence from scholarly articles on Google Scholar and PubMed points to a powerful relationship between musical training and cognitive health in older adults. This multifaceted relationship encompasses cognitive engagement, memory performance, brain structural changes, cognitive reserve enhancement, and the ability to combat cognitive decline.

However, as is often the case in science, more research is required to fully understand the nuances of this relationship. Future studies should delve into the impact of the type of musical instrument, the intensity of training, and the timing of musical training initiation on cognitive health outcomes.

In the meantime, learning a new musical instrument after retirement appears to be a worthy endeavor. Not only does it bring joy and a sense of accomplishment, but it also seems to be a potent brain workout. So, whether it’s strumming a guitar, tickling the ivories, or blowing a trumpet, keep the music playing. Your brain will thank you for it.

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