Music and Wellbeing

Thursday, 28 Jul 2022

A wonderful article written by Donna Lu from The Guardian (24 March) is certainly one to share. As most parents would be aware, we value music highly in the College and for good reasons. However, what we do not always appreciate, is how good music is for our wellbeing. 

Music improves wellbeing and quality of life, research suggests. A review of 26 studies finds benefits of music on mental health are similar to those of exercise and weight loss. Music lovers may have always known it but now scientists have confirmed empirically that music is good for our mental health. 

“Music,” wrote the late neurologist Oliver Sacks, “has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.”

A new analysis has empirically confirmed something that rings true for many music lovers – that singing, playing or listening to music can improve wellbeing and quality of life. A review of 26 studies conducted across several countries including Australia, the UK and the US has found that music may provide a clinically significant boost to mental health.

Seven of the studies involved music therapy, 10 looked at the effect of listening to music, eight examined singing and one studied the effect of gospel music. The analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, confirmed “music interventions are linked to meaningful improvements in wellbeing”, as measured quantitatively via standardised quality-of-life survey data.

The effects were similar whether participants sang, played or listened to music. The authors of the meta-analysis suggest that the benefit of music to mental quality of life was close in effect to improvements in mental health due to exercise and weight loss.

“Future research is needed to clarify optimal music interventions and doses for use in specific clinical and public health scenarios,” the authors said, emphasising that there was “substantial individual variation in responses to music interventions” across the studies analysed.

“Many of us know from personal experience how profound a music intervention can be at times that include surgery, ill-health or mental health episodes,” said Kim Cunio, an associate professor and convener of musicology at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the research.

“This study makes the connection between our personal experiences and a growing body of data of peer-reviewed research that makes the case for music as a frontline intervention in our health system. All of us are experts in music because we’ve spent thousands of hours listening to music, codifying it in our brain and responding to it. Is it any wonder that when we listen to music, something remarkable happens?

“When I’m feeling that things are a little bit hard, I turn to music like we all do. Sometimes that music is a deliberate echo of how I’m feeling … sombre and sad. But sometimes I need music of a completely different feeling that can snap me out of that space.

“This is the true wonder of music – that there is no rule as to what is best to listen to. We have to follow the heart.”

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