The Positive Impact of Learning Music on Mental Health

Most people agree that the global pandemic was a challenging time. One of the good things to arise from it, though, was the increased awareness that mental health is an essential part of physical health. Not until a global shutdown had so many people been confronted with spending so much time alone. There was a severe loss of human connection, and so rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketed. Now, mental health and wellness are topics that are becoming ingrained in the narratives of societies all over the world. Of all the ways to improve mental health and human connection, one of the most effective is learning music. 

Countless studies have been done on the positive impact of art and music on mental health. The NYTimes has compiled a nice sample of them. The consensus is that playing or listening to music increases blood flow to regions of the brain that generate and control emotions. This region is called the limbic system, and it also controls memory (although they’re not mutually exclusive, which is why many people with dementia can still remember musical melodies).  

Music also has an incredible ability to distract the mind and create a state of mindfulness. Of course, if you’re practicing a challenging piece of music, you are focused on your task. But, even listening to yourself playing an instrument and feeling the resulting musical vibrations may lend an extra layer of distraction that some scientists believe is good for your body and can even reduce pain. Read more on that here. In fact, one study showed that people who performed music (as opposed to just listening) actually had a higher pain threshold by generating an endorphin high.  

Another fascinating study found that singing lowers anxiety in postpartum women and their babies. Singing activated the brain causing physical changes that were detectable in saliva samples, resulting in reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Not only does making music help an individual alone, it also helps individuals better connect with others, which also positively impacts mental health. Singing in a choir, playing in a band or orchestra, or even just listening to the same piece of music with another person creates a productive connection. Some researchers think that when one section of an orchestra all moves their bodies the same way, for example, this rhythmic coordination creates another layer of connection (on top of just playing the same notes), and has had a positive influence on groups working together over centuries. 

This article by Debra Shipman, PhD. sums it up. “Learning to play a musical instrument provides a peaceful retreat from the pressures of daily life. Therapeutic outcomes of playing music include better communication skills, improved emotional release, and decreased anxiety and agitation. Musical training promotes cognitive function, mental health, and a connection to others.”

As you can see, the science is there. There is no doubt that learning to play an instrument (and remember, your voice counts as an instrument) is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Even without all the research, though, it’s impossible to deny the feeling music can give you when you think of a song you love, or a concert that you attended where you felt like a part of something bigger. Achieving better mental health and human connection happens through learning music, and it is our mission at Forte to make music education accessible wherever you are, at whatever level of study you choose.