How Playing Instruments Could Make You Happier! a blog about positive effects of playing instruments.


This is a story about music. I have no idea if the ideas in the article would have worked for someone else. And it makes no claims to be either scientific or conclusive on the subject of whether playing instruments could make you happier. But I think it’s an interesting and important question, one that might be worth thinking about.

Instrument playing seems to be a fundamental human activity, one that persists throughout history and across cultures. It is so fundamental that when people don’t play an instrument they can’t do most of the things we take for granted—they can’t read, they can’t do basic math, they can’t write or speak a language, even though they are capable of doing all of these things mentally.

We know that some people who play musical instruments do seem happier than others: jazz musicians tend to be more relaxed and optimistic than classical musicians; young violinists rank higher on tests of mental health than older ones; people who play an instrument for many years tend to live longer; musicians show greater reductions in heart attacks and strokes than non-musicians.

We are always told playing music is great for your health, but we don’t hear so much about the benefits of playing instruments. If you play an instrument you can use it to improve your mood, sharpen your brain and strengthen your immunity while also relieving stress and boosting your creativity.

Now it’s true that being a musician can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to find a musical outlet that provides satisfaction and pleasure for you, whether you are a professional musician or just starting out on the path to becoming one. Music can help make you feel better by giving you the opportunity to express yourself through music or simply having fun and making friends with other musicians. Music can also be a powerful antidepressant and has been shown in studies to improve mood and reduce anxiety, thus relieving stress.

Playing an instrument is good for you. This is what professional musicians have been telling us for decades, and indeed decades of scientific studies have confirmed it.

But we are a skeptical species, and like every other profession, music has its snake-oil salesmen: people who tell us our instruments will make us play better or give us superpowers or be the hit in a multimillion-dollar movie. They are very persuasive: many of them do get movie roles–and even become famous.

So we should listen to them. And we should take their advice with a grain of salt: it’s easy to say that playing an instrument is good for you, but it’s hard to prove it scientifically. That’s why there are so few studies on this topic. But this one is a big exception. It’s from the University of California, Berkeley, and it was conducted by two psychologists, David Deming and Todd Kwaito.

Deming and Kwaito surveyed nearly 1,000 professional musicians across five genres–acoustic guitarists, classical pianists, pop vocalists, jazz vocalists and instrumental rock players–asking them how they felt before they started playing their instruments as well as how they felt afterward. The survey asked questions about whether their instruments had

Playing an instrument is good for your mental health. People who play an instrument have a lower risk of developing depression than people who don’t. Perhaps this is because playing the right instrument can lift people’s mood and make them feel better in small, unimportant ways.

If you want to be a musician, this is a good place to start:

https://psychology.uwo.ca/blog/post/amazing-street-performers-music

I have been using this while I’m writing and it’s definitely making me happier and more productive. I don’t have music equipment other than the keyboard that I use, so I can’t comment on whether the music you play with will make you happy—but it helps to have a keyboard anyway.

This post is not about the value of music: To understand that we need to understand what happiness actually consists in.

So why should we be interested in this? Well, music is one of the few things that has been shown to make people happier, although there are lots of different kinds of music which can produce different effects (see for example here ).

Playing the violin is a very good way of making yourself happy. But it’s not the only way, because there are lots of other ways. The difference between playing the violin and not-playing-the-violin is that you still have a choice. You can choose to be happy, or you can choose not to be.

In science we tend to take for granted that we’re in control of our own minds and bodies. In everyday life, though, we’re often in the grip of forces outside our control: gravity, force of habit, hunger or thirst, or just plain old bad luck. And those forces are what keep many people from being happy.

If you play the violin, you can choose how to deal with those external pressures. You can choose to let them push you around; or you can choose to push back against them. You can refuse to give in and become depressed; or you can refuse to give in and become cheerful.

Playing the violin is a lot like that.

We are not interested in the music, or the musicians, or even their instruments. We are interested in their brains.

When you play an instrument, you do something that triggers a response in your brain. This is because playing an instrument activates regions of your brain that are dedicated to musical perception, emotional processing and motor control. The result is a surge of activity in these areas: it’s like being drunk with respect to music, but sober with respect to everything else.


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