Music and Mental Health
“I feel that, from now on, music should be an essential part of every analysis.” – Carl Jung (1875-1961)
“Music is life itself.” – Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
They say that music feeds the soul. The Welsh government seems to think so, at least, having recently announced a new National Music Service to give all children in Wales the chance to make music but, is it true that making, or even just listening to, music can actually be a positive influence on our general mental well-being?
It is certainly true that we’ve always done it. In Germany in 2009, researchers discovered the remains of four flutes made of bone and/or ivory suggesting that, even in Europe, people were making music over 35,000 years ago1. From the football terrace to the Albert Hall, as human beings, music is part of what we do – and it’s good for us!
Writing for the BBC’s Classical Music in October 2021, Professor James Goodwin2 explained that, even just listening to music engages the parts of the brain responsible for hearing, listening, attention, language, emotion, memory and thinking all at once. If you’re making music, you can throw in all the parts involved in movement, co-ordination and social interaction, too. By uniquely engaging all of these parts of the brain at one time, it helps them work together.
Music helps us learn to balance negative and positive emotions, he goes on to explain. As with all of the arts, the way music can induce a sense of uplifting euphoria or heartbreak, or anything in between, helps to keep all of those emotions running smoothly enabling us all to better deal with the adverse events of life.
A total workout for the brain
As part of the expert music group convened in 2020 by the Global Council for Brain Health, Prof. Goodwin concluded that, in terms of actual hard neuroscience, music “gives the brain a total workout”.
Just a few short months ago, in March 2022, the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open published results of its review of 26 different studies, from different countries3. They found that “music interventions were associated with statistically and clinically significant changes in mental HRQOL”4. More research is needed to determine exactly which musical interventions produced which beneficial results, mind, but it’s a good start and in ‘The effects of playing music on mental health outcomes’, of August 2019(5), the authors found that “The majority of reviews conclude that music interventions have a positive effect on pain, mood, and anxious or depressive symptoms in both children and adults in clinical settings.”
As a musician, a part-time sound engineer, an occasional promoter, a publisher of a local music zine, and someone who has been to a couple of gigs and one band practice pretty much every week for the last 35 years, I for one, am very glad to hear it!
2. Professor James Goodwin is Director of Science and Research Impact at the Brain Health Network and Visiting Professor in the Environmental and Ergonomic Research Centre at Loughborough University
3. HRQOL. Health-related quality of life, a broad concept capturing “an individual’s or group’s perceived physical and mental health over time.” frequently used interchangeably with well-being. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health-related quality of life (HRQOL). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Reviewed June 16, 2021. Accessed December 2, 2021. [www.cdc.gov/hrqol/index.htm]