top of page

How playing music impacts musicians.

The previous blogs focused on music listening and how musicians themselves may even be more sensitive to these emotional experiences. This piece follows on from last week and looks at the research surrounding playing or making music, mental health and my personal experience of this.

One large piece of research conducted with 14,265 mixed genre Danish musicians revealed how men and women who engaged in active daily musicking activities were more likely to experience good health, with a subsequent positive impact on anxiety and depression. In the study, gender differences were also found, with women’s daily musicking correlating with a higher likelihood of good physical and mental health, and less perceived stress.

Paradoxically (no surprise) the findings also reported that musically active men were more likely to experience high risk behaviours. Although the individual professions of the musicians were not mentioned , the study did highlight some interesting insight into the impact of playing instruments on mental health.

Interestingly, in a follow-up study, despite the previous reporting of good levels of mental health, the active professional musicians also disclosed the lowest levels of unhealthy behaviours. This was illustrated by excessive smoking, drinking, and cannabis use. The study showed how self-defined good mental health derived from professional playing does not necessarily correlate positively with a reduction in behavioural problems, or mental health struggles.

Perhaps this also points to our human fallibility and difficulty in acknowledging our destructive behaviours despite thinking that we are feeling better or that our music making helps. I know from personal experience that there were many areas where I lacked objective clarity when I was at the height of my career. One particular example involved the way I viewed the industry itself. It wasn’t until I had experienced my own therapeutic journey that I could clearly see how I had contributed to my own struggles in relationships with both band members and management etc. This is something Tom Hingley also mentioned in his interview back in September on the Tonic Radio show on Totally Wired Radio. As Tom says, being at the wheel of our own ship with growing self-awareness has a lot to answer for!

This objective clarity is also muddied when we have our own mental health struggles in a notoriously difficult environment. Some of us even enter this precarious industry with a formal mental health diagnosis. All of these elements combine and interact in their own nuanced ways.

On another note, and developing this awareness of mental health and the music industry, TONIC have partnered up with Portsmouth University for a series of research projects. In fact, you could help other musicians by giving us 5 minutes of your time for this survey here. This kind of research is vital in helping other musicians get more funding and develop the understanding within this area. Please help us to help you!


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.


bottom of page