Music For Wellbeing


Whatever your music genre of choice, we all know that music can be deeply affecting.  It can invoke memories, change or deepen our mood, make us dance or relax, the list is almost endless.  

However, as a therapist who uses music in a clinical setting, it is clear that music can be used to have a profound effect on wellbeing, in many ways.

Music Listening: 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. 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. 

Music to reduce Anxiety: 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. Running and exercise releases endorphins that are known as ‘happy’ hormones. A play list of suitable tracks can energise and then calm people, for example during physical exercise classes followed by relaxation and meditative music to finish.

I always encourage my clients to develop a varied exercise routine because using our bodies can calm our minds, improve co-ordination and balance and reduce the symptoms of anxiety. Without physical activity one’s thoughts and worried feelings may get caught up and these can start to fester inside us. These experiences need an appropriate outlet or otherwise they can make one feel sick or wobbly. 

Music Therapy is used to help people who suffer with Parkinson Disease. Try singing a gentle tune if you need to help a person with Parkinson’s to walk. The chances are that their shuffling gait may extend towards becoming proper steps if you find a suitable mood, tempo and tune.  

Music for Memory: Pre-recorded music has associations to times and places in our lives. If we hear a song from a different time in our life it can bring back all those old feelings. It may be very romantic, sad, happy or funny. Music can make us feel nostalgic and it can therefore make us laugh or cry, feel warm and loving or uncomfortable and full of regret. 

When we work therapeutically with recorded music it is important to understand the client’s taste and let him choose music that has significant meaning to him, rather than imposing a personal choice. 

When working with elderly people, if they hear a favourite old song this can bring back happier times and they can then often recall the lyrics which may not have been thought about in ages – then the individual can enjoy sharing their memories. 

Music for Mental health: 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. Music Therapy in the United Kingdom is a masters level training and central in this model is jointly creating improvised music that fits the mood, time and place. The music therapist is a skilled musician but she does not show off, she is there to help the natural creative abilities of any individual start to come through. 

Music Therapy is particularly effective for people who live with schizophrenia; it helps with mental organization because music alone can cross the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain, thereby integrating emotional responses and cognitive thinking processing. Once a person has expressed their inner feelings non-verbally through jointly-creating music within a trusting therapeutic relationship –then they may be able to more easily recognize what they are feeling and start to find the right words to be able to talk about their problems and thereby receive help from others.   

Music to help Learning: 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.  I have taught my instrument, the oboe, all my adult life and I apply some neuro-scientific therapeutic principles to this teaching. 

Let me tell you about Irvine (not his real name). Irvine was eleven and had just scraped into the school where I taught. He had tried the drums at primary school and this had done nothing for him. A child needs to find the right quality of tone in choosing his instrument. Irvine was an unusual and sensitive child, he didn’t seem to have a sense of rhythm, and so I worked to instil a steady pace demonstrating firstly so that he could copy me. Even when he had learnt only two notes we could play a duet together as I created harmony around his two long notes. So, he learnt to read music whilst feeling safe and supported, at the same time as blowing and moving his fingers. By the end of his first year he had moved academically from the bottom of the lowest set of kids in his year into the top set. Individual instrumental lessons gave him the confidence he needed to be better co-ordinated physically, with improved attention span and greater ability of mental processing.

Music to improve Sociability: Irvine was an unusual child that had difficulties socialising but then he found that he was needed in the school band, so he started to make new friends and 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. Irvine used to struggle with his academic work but he got into a good university to train in an unrelated subject and instead of being the odd one out, he became the admired super-star when playing his English Horn (Tenor Oboe) in the University Orchestra. 

So next time you’re listening to your favourite tune, just think how it could be benefitting your wellbeing in ways you may not even have considered.

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