How Can Playing Music Improve Your Mental Health?

Australia is a musical country, with a survey showing that around 35% of households have at least one person who plays a musical instrument. Of the 4.25 million people who do so, around one million take private lessons in an aim to improve their game.

Most people take up a musical instrument for specific reasons - including enjoyment, enhancement of learning, and to form part of a band. However, music also has surprising mental health benefits and is used as a therapy in everything from physical rehabilitation to anxiety. These are just a few ways it can boost your mental health.

Music & Depression

Music can motivate and lift moods as a whole, but it can also be targeted at specific mental health conditions such as depression. A study by researchers at Queen’s University in Belfast has shown that music therapy reduces depression in children and teens with behavioural and emotional challenges. The findings also showed that children who took part in musical therapy improved their communication and interactive skills compared to those who received standard treatments for depression. Ciara Reilly of the Northern Ireland Musical Therapy Trust stated that “The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option.”

Music vs Anxiety & Depression in Seniors

Playing and listening to music helps people of all ages, with a review published in Mental Health Practices showing that it has a positive influence on wellbeing in those aged over 65. Music can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but also improve memory, social interaction, and social inclusion. This review is interesting for one specific reason: it shows that you don’t need to play music at a high level to reap its benefits. Some people play simple instruments; others sing; still others benefit from simply listening to music they connect with. Moreover, you don’t need professional instruction. Currently, there are online resources for learning to play the acoustic guitar, as well as the electric guitar, piano, and indeed most any instrument you can think of. These allow you to learn at your own pace and to pick up skills in reading notes and chords, and they offer beginners an understanding of the components of a guitar that will ultimately improve their playing ability. Of course, if you can also have professional guidance, all the better, since a teacher can help you overcome specific stumbling blocks.

Music & the Arts

If you enjoy painting, sculpting, or any other form of artistic expression, know that these can be helpful in a similar way to music. Researchers at The Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that people who paint, dance, or play a musical instrument generally feel healthier and are less depressed than those who don’t. The findings are key because they were based on a survey of almost 50,000 people from all socio-economic backgrounds. “There is a positive relationship between cultural participation and self-perceived health for both women and men,” said researcher, Professor Jostein Holmen.

Music & Brain Development

If you have children and they are looking for a new hobby, music can help them in powerful ways, with a University of Vermont study (the largest investigation on the effect of music and brain development) finding that musical training can help kids diminish anxiety, focus attention, and control emotions. The researchers used MRI technology to find that music playing alters the motor areas of the brain, because this activity requires coordination and control. Playing music also influenced thickness in the part of the cortex related to working memory, attention control, planning for the future, and organisation.

Music is a pleasurable pursuit for millions of Australians. However, it does more than entertain: many studies have shown that it has a host of mental health benefits. These range from diminishing depression and anxiety to promoting healthy brain development in children. Music can wield its benefits at any level - even those who start playing their first chords or notes.

This article was kindly written and contributed by Cassie Steele.

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