If you are suffering through the steep climb to a graduate degree, you are not alone. More than half a million Americans are pursuing advanced education at any given time. In today’s educational climate that could mean anything from a rigorous on-site literature degree complete with T.A. responsibilities, to online nursing programs juggled with a full-time job.
Graduate students are often managing even more than their undergrad peers because they have careers, research, and even families to tend to. Finding balance and effective stress management is a must, and a healthy hobby of playing music has been shown to improve attention and executive function in adults. Here are a few ways music can help get you through your graduate studies.
It could make you smarter
It has been hypothesized that Albert Einstein’s genius could be linked to his musical habits. The findings of a study published in 2013 in the journal Psychology & Sociology found that Einstein had extensive connections between the right (creative) and left (logical) hemispheres of his brain compared to control groups. He was an avid violinist and it is thought that the stimulation and engagement of both aspects of his mind contributed to his ability to make scientific and mathematical breakthroughs.
An extensive longitudinal study by the German Institute for Economic Research found that music was doubly effective at improving cognitive and non-cognitive skills than theater, sports, or dance. Who couldn’t use a boost in brain power to get through all of those papers and assignments?
It can grow your gray matter
Gray matter in the brain helps us process information. It is where the neuronal cell bodies that conduct neural transmissions live. Stress is correlated with a reduction in gray matter, which can negatively affect memory, motor function, and cognitive abilities.
A Harvard study reported in National Geographic found that adult musicians’ brains have more gray matter than their non musical peers. In fact, it found that just 15 months of musical practice in children showed a significant increase in gray matter.
Playing music may help you offset the negative effects of stress on the brain by helping to maintain - and perhaps even grow - your valuable gray matter.
You can use it to beat stress
Even in online degree programs and systems that use competency-based education, stress happens — and it can be debilitating. A music session can help your body’s stress response ease up. Musical practice has been shown to reduce the hormonal stress response, and even reverse the damage caused by stress on a DNA level. It is an outlet for you to escape from the stresses of daily life and study. But, unlike retreating to the couch to “Netflix & Chill,” music actually boosts your brain function while reducing your stress. Next time you are overwhelmed, try reaching for an instrument instead of the remote.
How to make music part of your routine
You don’t have to be a maestro to get the benefits of playing music. You just have to play! There is a vast reserve of paid and free tutorials and lessons available online to learn an instrument or refine your singing skills. You could also seek out and join a musical group in your community or at your school. If you have children, consider taking music classes together. You’ll both get the benefits of cognitive enhancements, and you can prepare a performance that will impress at family functions.
No matter how you choose to practice music, it is worth an hour or two of your time each week to keep you relaxed and focused during your studies, and protect your brain for your future after grad school!