The Surprising Mental Health Benefits Of Playing Guitar

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Girl With Stratocaster
Image: Haley Powers

Fender has been marketing, and studying – like grown ups

Fender’s got it figured out. They’re working with the guitar in ways that show that they really understand the instrument, and also they really understand how the world works these days, especially from a marketing respect – and we all know that marketing is all about understanding what people want in a timely fashion. Meaning – what people want today – not 10 years ago.

I’m not saying all the other companies are falling behind, because people pick up guitars for the exact same reasons that they did 10 years ago, but now, there are more reasons. And Fender has been proactively trying to figure it all out.

To put it succinctly – I’d say Fender is trying to figure out why people really pick up the guitar habit, rather than trying to guess – or even worse – create reasons.

To do this, they assembled a team consisting of a research consulting agency (not surprising) as well as a neuroscientist. How cool is that? They’re really digging in. Anyway, the study was called “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players.” – and we’re going to explore it here.

The Neuroscience

Ok, so this not-so-nerdy (ahem, cool as hell) neuroscientist is named Daniel Levitin, and he’s from McGill Univeristy. And he’s not only concerned with what music does to people today – but he’s also got some evidence based knowledge on music’s role throughout evolution. He says that music, historically has provided humans pre-baked way of letting our minds wander, which is important for reducing anxiety. It basically gives your mind a break, and then later, you’re able to be more productive.

“Playing an instrument can certainly improve a person’s overall well-being. Playing even five minutes a day can lead to a range of physical, mental and emotional benefits.” – Daniel Levitin, Neuroscientist

We wrote an article a while back on how to take a more holistic approach to guitar practice, which I think would lend itself nicely to these concepts.

They also found out that playing guitar: 

  • Reduces stress
  • Enhances youth brain development
  • Promotes social bonding (which in itself is excellent for mental health)
  • Improves hand-eye coordination
  • Increases productivity
  • Inspires creativity
  • Boosts immunity (!)
Fender Guitar Study
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It’s not just kids learning how to play guitar.

Fender combined this (and more) evidence with what they’ve found compiling stats from their 67 thousand members of “Fender Play”, their own online music school. They found some interesting things, like the fact that their target audience is a bit older than they thought.

Fender figured that when they looked at the stats, they’d find young guitarists wanting to learn how to play, but they discovered that a very large percentage of their customers ended up being older folks picking up the guitar as a self-development tool, and an almost spiritual self investment.

Women make up 50% of new guitar sales.

We’ve always encouraged and promoted female guitarists, and I think this is great news. We’ve also mentioned that there are a few stereotypes in guitar culture in general, and I feel that women can help us bust out of that rut in many ways, and start recognizing some of the other aspects of guitar that make it a killer choice for a primary instrument.

More and more people are starting to play guitars with no intention of becoming famous

Where are you on this? I’d imagine its a spectrum, with most people being in the “I know it isn’t gonna happen, but I’m not losing all hope” category. But still, it shows a healthy interest in picking up the instrument for more immediately productive reasons.

Reasons like: Self Improvement. Over 70% of the people Fender talked to said that they picked up guitar as a way to improve themselves, even preferring to play in private. Past that, over 60% said that they wanted to play for family and friends, as an upper goal. Others, mentioned better self confidence as a goal.

Conversely, being a rock star might not be good for you, anyway.

People also stated that playing guitar has helped them:

  • Increase their patience
  • Express themselves in new ways
  • Have more confidence
  • Increase their work ethic

“Playing an instrument has a meditative aspect that can release positive hormones in the brain and can reduce the stress hormone cortisol, increase productivity, and create social bonding to combat loneliness in the digital age.” – Daniel Levitin

So what does all this mean?

Well, Fender – and the guitar in general, is keeping up with life in this ever evolving age we live in. The guitar has provided distinct benefits and held a unique cultural importance in each of the previous decades, almost since the early 1900s. It’s not surprising that it is still being used to improve life, but it’s the ways in which people are doing that lately are surprising, as well as the new variety of people doing it.

It’s good news to anyone who loves the guitar.  For those of us “existing” old school guitarists, it gives us some new avenues to explore. Even some new reasons to keep on keepin’ on.

I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions – B.B. King


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Tim Monaghan

Tim has been playing guitar & bass since he was 12 years old and has been in Jazz, funk, rock & metal bands. Influences include Jeff Beck, Stanley Clarke, Doug Stegmeyer, Baden Powell, Steve Vai, and pretty much anyone else who has a unique style that expresses their individuality. One of Tim’s many hobbies is building, tweaking, and repairing basses and guitars.

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