6 Tips: How music makes us happier and improves our mental health!

by Elke Galvin October 07, 2022 • 4 minute read
Music can make an important contribution to improving your mental health and keeping your brain fit, a new study shows. Neuroscientist Dr. Marianna Kapsetaki knows when and how music "works" best and what to avoid.
Woman playing piano with headphones on
In this article, you will find new data to show how music is beneficial to mental health along with explanations of several aspects by a renowned expert as to why and how. Don't miss out on our additional 6 tips on how to make these findings work for you!
✨ Unlock Your Piano Power!
Subscribe to 'All Things Piano' by OKTAV.
You get a fascinating chord poster + exclusive content!
A woman listening to music

Music is me-time

Anyone who plays an instrument these days is most likely not aiming for a career as a professional musician but wants to treat themselves, relax, and feel good. This is the conclusion of our latest study, conducted in Germany and France. The results show that most people use music or play an instrument to relax (80.1 percent) or because it gives them personal pleasure (83.9 percent). Two out of three Germans (65.2 percent) find music helps them express themselves.

Music can help us deal with emotions

Dr. Marianna Kapsetaki, a physician and neuroscientist, has conducted research at University College London, and Imperial College London, among other places, (specializing in "performing arts medicine" during her MSc degree) and is an active concert pianist. She explains, "Studies have shown that while there are cultural differences, in general, suppressing emotions is associated with poor mental health. Musical improvisation is one way people can express their emotions."

Music boosts our "happy hormones"

Learning an instrument boosts dopamine release and cognitive skills. Our study shows that many people use music-making to calm down and stay focused. 74.5 percent of respondents see learning an instrument as a personal challenge that boosts self-confidence as well as self-esteem due to a sense of achievement.

Music can also have a positive effect on mild depressive moods. According to Kapsetaki, it is important to choose music that gives pleasure. She names factors: "Among other things: Does the person like music in principle? Do they like the particular piece? Do they associate it with positive past events, or are the lyrics in the song about a joyful situation?"

Music helps us bond and feel less lonely

Music connects - and that makes us feel good because we are inherently social creatures. Loneliness goes hand in hand with all kinds of psychological problems and stresses. Music can be a tool to remedy this. Music can help form and maintain bonds. Kapsetaki says, "Almost every mother sings to her baby." Shared ideological goals can also have a "bonding" effect, as evidenced by singing anthems, for example. Any soccer fan can attest to that.

Corona: Music can stabilize us during difficult times

During the lockdowns due to the Corona pandemic and the isolation that accompanied it, many people turned to music and playing an instrument. Our study shows was used by people to stabilize their moods during difficult times. Fifty-seven percent of the interviewees said they had turned to music more often since Corona than before the pandemic. Young people (16-29 years) in particular cited music as an important and supportive aspect of coping with difficult times.

Playing an instrument keeps our brains robust

From a mental-health perspective, actively playing an instrument seems to have an advantage over just listening to music when it comes to "cognitive reserve"- developing thinking skills over a lifetime to be ready for the aging process and any illnesses. Kapsetaki describes, "Compared to playing (an instrument), listening to music is more passive. There are preliminary results suggesting that cognitive reserve may be enhanced by being actively engaged in intellectually stimulating pursuits such as learning an instrument."

Fingers playing the piano

Try these 6 tips to boost your mental health with music

  1. Make time to listen to and/or play music regularly. Make sure it is music you really love and enjoy.
  2. Let your feelings loose every once in a while and improvise on your instrument. You don't have to play "well" for that - just go where your emotions take you!
  3. Listen to uplifting songs and/or create a playlist of songs that make you feel good about yourself and the world.
  4. Singing or making music together with other people can help you bond and feel less lonely.
  5. If times get rough, make room for music to help you through.
  6. Learn an instrument - at any age! - to strengthen your cognitive reserve.

The OKTAV study "Actively Making Music: The Musicality of Germans and French people," was a survey of 2,015 respondents, supervised and conducted by the market research institute Innofact in the period from July 15 to July 20, 2022, for Germany, and July 20 to July 25, 2022, for France.

Elke Galvin
Elke Galvin is a British-Austrian singer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer. She has worked both as a musician and journalist for over 25 years. Not only is she an acclaimed songwriter, she loves to write about music, too! Making music theory easy to understand is her passion, as is writing about music styles, music and the brain, and how to have fun learning and playing music.

Recommended content