In my previous articles I explored whether musicians do hold certain traits and characteristics that could make them more vulnerable to mental health struggles.
If this is the case and we are slightly more sensitive, then how does music help us? In this weeks’ blog I will begin to look at how musicking can help us emotionally whether that be through listening, playing or other creative endeavours.
We know music and emotion are intrinsically linked but there is a lack of any research that explores how musician’s themselves use music. When I looked into this area, most of the research involving music and emotions was based within music therapy settings or the experiences of non-musicians in a community music environment which overlooked the important community of working musicians.
From a popular musician perspective, some researchers and writers have suggested how musicking and creativity can be used as an emotional buffer for mental health struggle and can also help us regulate ourselves emotionally. Additionally, studies of rock musicians suggest that music may serve as a cathartic or even therapeutic process where musicians are able to purge negative emotions or be used as a defence against anxiety.
To begin exploring this wide and varied area I’ll first take a look at listening to music and how this can help us manage our emotions. I have undoubtedly relied upon music listening to help me through times of stress and also to enhance more positive feelings. As a caveat, we also know that listening to certain music at certain times can be slightly in terms of prompting overwhelming memories or throwing us into potentially traumatic memories, this was something Tom Hingley discussed during his interview on ‘Tonic Music’.
Although studies exploring links between music and the risk to mental health are rare there is an abundance of evidence suggesting that mental health, emotional and psychological processes are impacted positively through music listening.
Music listening is known to influence emotions, moods and psychological states through various factors such as emotional regulation and reducing stress.
This was particularly important for me during the COVID epidemic, at the time I was thrown into a difficult time of fear, perplexity and the unknown like all of us. It was especially difficult being a performing musician and having all of my work frozen and potentially lost. It was the cultivation of music playlists and putting my attention into different periods of my life or varied genres that proved to be an immensely helpful resource during this difficult time. I wrote about it here. In a nutshell, I had re-discovered the power and emotional soothing of music listening, something I had forgotten about as my career had developed.
Overall This complex music and emotion process is a personal one and can fluctuate depending on many factors such as genre musical characteristics, or our nostalgic ties to important times and places in our lives. Paradoxically, music listening can also be used as an unhealthy coping strategy contributing to an overly sentimental, nostalgic relationship to memories or prompting rumination, undesirable behaviour, or at times, can even be weaponised to suppress or split society! All these factors, of course, could have a significant impact on mental health within the wide range of personal music listening.
As mentioned earlier, within academic circles, there is a surprisingly limited amount of research on musicians and music listening, given their innate sensitivity towards musically evoked emotions. This is one area that, as a musician, I find incredibly interesting and from my own research, interviews and personal experience I want to develop further away from the media focus on the occupational environment. In the next blog I will explore this link between musicians and how they use music listening to help or hinder their own emotions.
In the meantime, if you want to test out your own emotional connection to music listening, there is the Tonic Music radio show from last week.
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.