Following on from the previous writing on musicians and their mental health, (AKA are we weirdos?) In this weeks’ blog I look at the research surrounding the personality traits and characteristics of the musician community. Nurture, nature, genes or environment, it’s a complex interaction!
From a personal perspective, the musician’s I have met and worked with musically and clinically can be a funny bunch at times (I include myself in this group). Would any ‘normal’ person spend hours, days, months learning to physically control a source of sound? It takes a special sort of person! But... whether this is down to internal traits or as a result of the interaction with the environment or industry, the jury is still very much out.
One big name in the field of musicians and personality traits (although slightly dated and situated in the classical world) is the researcher Anthony Kemp, he suggested how musicians share a common core of traits including imagination, intelligence, introversion and sensitivity. His book - The Musical Temperament: Psychology and Personality of Musicians - is also well worth a read! And, of course, these traits probably have an impact on mental health through a greater propensity towards isolation and heightened emotional experiences or the intense, arduous and solitary practice routines of musicking.
When it comes down to other types of musicians the existing research is minimal. This lack of research may be due to the ambiguous nature of the broad range of genres that fall under the umbrella of this diverse group of ‘non classical’ musicians or to the relatively recent history of the popular or electronic musician. The lack of research is surprising, considering the high number of musicians falling into this group, something which motivated my own work into researching my community.
Regarding this non-classical community, some researchers have suggested that popular musicians are emotionally unstable and also show a tendency to be somewhat introverted and anxious similar to their classical counterparts. Additionally, these other researchers, see - Pressure Sensitive: Popular Musicians Under Stress - suggest that these musicians show some evidence of psychological disturbance a disregard for conventional rules and are suspicious by nature (Wills & Cooper). This has been further attributed to the adaptive personality traits needed to navigate musicians’ difficult and precarious working environments.
Although this research does give us an insight into the potential traits of both classical and popular musicians it still doesn’t give a definitive picture of the exact traits and personalities of musicians, but then again, all psychological research is a little ambiguous! In regard to the above, my own experience of being a popular musician and my personality traits of disregarding certain rules and regulations, undoubtedly attracted me to the environment, and in a way enabled me to foster some resilience, I’ve spoken more about this in previous blogs - Resilience: Zooming Out. In next week’s blog I will continue this exploration of quirks and traits of us popular musicians.
Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.