Of course, I think that musicians are more emotionally sensitive to music listening but perhaps that’s just my own bias! But how or why do we use it?
Again, most of the research surrounding this greater sensitivity to music is situated within the classical musician demographic. For example, one study suggested professional classical musicians experience a greater level of emotional arousal than amateur musicians or people in general. The neurological study revealed that these musicians reported greater intensity of emotional experiences surrounding their music listening when compared to amateur musicians.
These correlations were also found in studies comparing classical musicians and non-musicians illustrating how musicians, in general, are significantly more affected by emotions, such as sadness and fear when listening to music. As a caveat, these heightened emotional experiences were also reported to be influenced by different personality types within both sets of people. The results highlight the potential impact of the formal musical training and how this can enhance the association between music and the processing of negative emotions. Although this link between musical training and emotions seems strong, how does this work in regard to self-taught popular musicians or the more electronic side of musicking? The process is even more complex.
Stretching this perspective further (and into the generalised musician area), another study involving musicians found that there was a strong correlation between years of musicianship experience and ‘better mental health as a result of good emotional regulation’. This does give us a different perspective on the struggling, tortured artist/musician narrative but we have to also hold in mind that this is based in classical land and was conducted only using questionnaires with musicians that weren’t all professional! Despite this, the study did find that the more years a person has been playing music, the better they can regulate their own emotions. Of course, as is usual with research, other studies have claimed to disprove this hypothesis and suggest no distinct or definitive correlation between musical expertise, length of time playing and the influence of music on emotions.
In all, it’s another tricky area to try to offer a defined yes or no but personally I feel that musicians do have a greater capacity for using music listening or playing to help or soothe their emotions, even if it just acts as a resource or scaffold when things get tough. Being able to self soothe through music listening or picking up an instrument is invaluable. This has been common in most of the interviews I have conducted formally through my doctoral research or the Tonic Music radio shows, so go and have a listen.
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.