Can music make you healthier?

Can music make you healthy? Find out how the sweet sound of music can improve your mental health.

Music is all around us and affects us in many different ways on a daily basis. When we’re feeling down, music can elevate our mood. When we’re at the gym, music can energise us. Music is a powerful thing and can even be used to benefit our mental health. Music therapist, Dr Stella Compton Dickinson, explores the ways in which music can improve your wellbeing.

Mood benefits

‘Music is an art form available to almost every human being. Anyone can explore safe and appropriate ways in which music can lift their mood,’ explains Dr Dickinson. ‘In public places, such as certain London Underground stations, classical music is played to enhance a calm mood across a busy, crowded environment where people might otherwise get stressed and then become more aggressive. Healthcare practitioners frequently use music to stimulate a better ambient mood, for example in a secure hospital unit. However the same piece of music will affect individuals in different ways.’

Anxiety

Music has the power to reduce your anxiety, whether you’re in need of some calm melodies or an energising, upbeat playlist to calm your mind. This is particularly effective when you listen to music during exercise. ‘Whether music is played on a hospital ward, in a Zumba class, a Pilates class, a religious ceremony, or a military cavalcade with men and horses – music underpins the movements and pace of events through the tempo, rhythms, mood and harmonies,’ says Dr Dickinson. ‘Running and exercise releases endorphins that are known as “happy” hormones. A playlist of suitable tracks can energise and then calm people, for example, during physical exercise classes followed by relaxation and meditative music to finish.’

Mental improvements

Learning how to play a musical instrument can be extremely beneficial for your everyday life, helping you to boost your cognitive skills and overall productivity. ‘Practising a musical instrument is associated with enhanced verbal ability, the ability to work things out and improved motor co-ordination. This is because a lot of components and hours of discipline are involved in becoming accomplished on an instrument,’ explains Dr Dickinson. ‘The degree of success depends on many factors including the teaching techniques, the levels of parental support for the child, or for an adult learner to have both a witness to his efforts as well as undisturbed practice time.’

Socialising

If you find it difficult connecting with others, playing a musical instrument or listening to music could help you gradually break down your barriers and boost your confidence. ‘Irvine (case study, not his real name), was an unusual child that had difficulties socialising,’ says Dr Dickinson. ‘He then found that he was needed in the school band, so he started to make new friends. This helped build his self-esteem. He had a new hobby and could play in the local amateur orchestra and go on tours with the youth orchestra. Music helped him to learn to bond with his peers in a shared activity and goal.’

Improvising

Being given the freedom to improvise music and express your creativity in a safe environment is a great way to expand your horizons and overcome your fears. ‘The greatest form of improvised music is Jazz, and we can learn a lot about the structure of improvised music from great musicians such as Miles Davis,’ says Dr Dickinson. ‘Music Therapy in the United Kingdom is a masters level training and jointly creating improvised music that fits the mood, time and place is central in this model. This is wonderful because all patients can have a go – even if they have never seen a real musical instrument. This experience can be exciting rather than frightening when it is offered sensitively and with respect.’