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Creative Arts, Music & Wellbeing

Can listening to music, playing an instrument and songwriting improve your wellbeing?

One of the primary reasons we listen to music is to enhance our emotional wellbeing. Whether it’s boosting our mood, increasing motivation, reducing stress, or helping us feel better, the psychological benefits of music are powerful. This ripples outwards into improved cognitive performance and memory, better sleep quality, and pain management.

Music is a core part of our lives, whether we listen, dance or play. What exactly is happening to our brain? We know that listening to music activates the brain, and it has been suggested that playing music itself can be compared to full body workout for the brain.

Learning To Play Music Grows Your Brain

Engagement in creative pursuits can positively influence our wellbeing. A study revealed that taking part in one creative activity each day leads to a positive state of mind. There is a growing body of evidence in Australia and internationally that illustrates the benefits of arts and culture. According to the Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity report, partaking in creative activities results in improved physical and mental health, and can lead to a happier and healthier aging.

Learning to play an instrument can significantly improve your brain. Although several studies on preschoolers found no increase in IQ, music lessons provided more valuable long-term benefits when it came to protection from cognitive decline, memory loss, and diminished ability to identify consonants and spoken words.

Harvard neurologist Schlaug (2013) found that adult professional musicians had more grey matter in the brain than non-­musicians, and after 15 months of music lessons in early childhood, there were structural differences in the brain associated with auditory and motor learning.

As a music teacher, I often hear concerns from people who dream about playing, but consider themselves as 'too old' to learn an instrument. The truth is, there are benefits to be gained, even in adulthood. A study into the impact of piano lessons on 60 to 80 year olds revealed improved memory, verbal fluency, information processing speed and ability to plan.

Moving Through Grief With Songwriting

During studies for my Bachelor in Music Industry, I experienced the loss of my grandfather who had been a father figure in my life. I used music to help me work through the grief and deep sadness I felt in his absence. I wrote an unreleased song called "When Leaves Fall" which was reminiscent of my childhood, where we would go for walks out in nature and spend quality time together.

A study encompassing adolescents who experienced the death of a loved one, suggested that using songwriting as a treatment helped to improve grief processing. Songwriting offered a safe way of addressing the death of a loved one, where both avenues of the writing process and song performance supported the group to grieve in a healthy and adaptive way. Participants were able to identify, express, and process grief through lyrics. Perhaps music therapy treatments inclusive of songwriting can support adolescents with the healing process, whilst simultaneously helping build resilience and wellbeing.

The Benefits Of Music For The Elderly

Music also has positive health benefits for the elderly. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music has been reported to alleviate symptoms of Alzheimers and dementia. You might be wondering, what style of music and delivery methods can be used to produce these outcomes? Music therapeutic activities can range from social activities such as attending a concert, engaging in physical activity with dance or simply playing music at home.

As a young girl, I recall listening to music with my grandparents when we would gather for family meals. This would bring joy to my grandfather who would use the opportunity to bust out some traditional Greek dance moves. The most common of these was the Sirtaki, also known as Zorba's Dance. I would attempt to join in, trying to kick my little legs as high up into the air as they would go. Perhaps music was a contributing factor to preventing dementia in my Grandfather.

The research reveals the benefits including increased social interaction which helps with cognition and speech, encourages self-expression, boosts self-esteem and lowers anxiety. In addition to this, music supports memory, assists in memory recall and good structural communication. A reduction in pain and recovery time, relaxation, better sleep and enhanced mood can also be experienced.

Final Note

As you can see, the benefits of music are widespread, whether you consider yourself a listener, learner, musician or songwriter. I recommend scheduling some time each day to creatively express yourself using music as an intervention for better wellbeing and building resilience to navigate challenging times. Perhaps you can mindfully listen, dance or sing along to music, learn a new instrument or write a song. In addition to reaping the benefits music entails, the acquisition of better mental wellbeing may also open up more freedom for creativity.

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