by James Stewart of vpr.org
In an earlier episode we spent a great deal of time debunking the “Mozart Effect,” the idea that passively listening to music can increase the IQ or cognitive functions of an infant or an individual. We repeated over and over again that music should not exist just for the benefits it brings to other disciplines. Music has intrinsic value on its own. I want to make that perfectly clear; the beauty of music itself is enough reason to continue the practice.
With all that said, the act of making music, actively participating in the creation of organized sound, does have beneficial side effects, emotionally, socially and physically. In 2016, the University College of London conducted a scientific study of mental health and music. They wanted to see the effect group drumming could have on depression, anxiety and the immune system. There were two groups of adults, one that participated in 90 minute weekly drumming session for 10 weeks and the other was a control group that didn’t participate at all. After the 10 weeks, the participants reported an almost 40 percent drop in depression, a significant improvement in their social resilience and anxiety as well as a marked, measureable increase in their immunity profile when compared to the control group. In other words, banging on a drum together made these people feel happier, connect with others and improved their ability to fight off infection and sickness. The researchers checked back in with the participants after three months and discovered that these benefits were maintained.
The British Journal of Psychiatry published an article in 2015 making a case for community choirs created specifically for individuals over the age of 60. They observed five different choirs over the course of six months. Like the drumming study, they noted marked improvements in mental health and the quality of life among the over 250 individuals that participated.
The study found that singing together is “a useful intervention to maintain and enhance the mental health of older people.” Not only that, but it’s actually less expensive and more effective than other programs with a similar mission.
Actively participating in making music, actually making the sounds either by yourself or with a group, has been found to boost executive brain function, strengthen speech processing, improve memory and promote empathy. Making music can slow the process of dementia and Alzheimer’s, increase the immune response and improve basic motor functions. So, don’t just consume music, make it. Pick up an instrument, sing a song, join a choir, dust off the piano in the parlor, participate and get involved. Your heart, your brain, your body, your family and your friends will thank you for it.
We’d love to hear your stories. What has the benefit of music making been to your life or in the lives of those you know and love? Let us know by commenting below.
Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music.