New research from the United Kingdom suggests that people who play in a brass band experience a wide array of mental and physical health benefits — partly from playing an instrument, and, in part, thanks to the feeling of inclusion in a group.
A large number of recent studies have shown that listening to music can help improve a person’s cognitive and physical health, as well as increase their resilience to stress.
According to research Medical News Today has covered of late, this passive endeavor may protect cardiovascular health from daily stressors and reduce anxiety before a surgical procedure. It may also boost the effectiveness of pain medication and even help people with Alzheimer’s manage their symptoms.
But what about making music? Does this have any effect on a person’s health and well-being, and if so, then what is it?
According to a new study from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, individuals who play in a brass band, at least, can reap a lot of benefits from their musical activity.
The research — whose findings appear in Frontiers in Psychology: Performance Science — comes from self-reports that 346 adults who played in brass bands submitted via detailed surveys.
In the surveys, the investigators asked participants to answer questions on how they perceived their own physical and psychological health, as well as their social, emotional, and spiritual well-being since they had joined a brass band.
To analyze the responses, the team used a specialized statistical approach in combination with a qualitative method called “applied thematic analysis.”
Reports of better breath control
The research team found that many of the respondents — 203 — had noticed positive changes in their respiratory health since taking up a brass instrument.
Playing in a brass band, these respondents reported, had improved their breath control, expanded their lung capacity, and, in some cases, may even have improved the symptoms of respiratory conditions for which some individuals had already received a diagnosis.
For instance, one person with asthma, who had been in a brass band for more than 20 years, said that playing in the band had helped him better manage his condition.
“I’m asthmatic, and it has helped me gain a great deal of control over my breathing (despite being incredibly unfit and overweight, I come out as ‘elite sportsman’ when I have my breathing monitored by my doctor),” this respondent wrote.
A large number of the people who filled in the surveys also reported that participating in a brass band had had a positive impact on their level of fitness or physical activity.
“Exercise is not limited to breathing and playing music […] Arranging chairs, shifting instruments into venues, etc. also contribute to keeping me fit and active,” one respondent noted.
Important opportunity for social bonding
But playing in a brass band also seems to bring a lot of mental and emotional benefits. Many respondents reported experiencing lower stress levels or having increased resilience to stressful events, as well as better overall mental health.
Some people found that playing an instrument provided a welcome distraction from daily worries and unpleasant events, and one person compared the experience of focusing on the conductor with that of meditation.
“I find playing music, having to concentrate, and follow a conductor, a wonderfully cleansing psychological experience,” this person said. “Focusing 100% of your concentration on one thing can be like a meditation at times and feels very healthy and beneficial,” he added.
Another aspect that brass band players found important in boosting their sense of well-being was the social side of being in a brass band — making friends and having a sense of belonging to a group.
“If you are prepared to spend the time and effort to master a brass instrument, you will never be lonely or bored again,” one respondent emphasized. To this, he added, lightheartedly: “This, in turn, will lead to great social interaction with people of similar musical interests (not to mention the social pint after practice—well, why waste a good thirst!!)”
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“Our research has clearly shown that playing in brass bands can be beneficial for individual physical, psychological, and social well-being. Players report perceived improvements in respiratory and cardiovascular health, general fitness, cognitive skills, mental well-being, and social engagement,” notes study co-author Michael Bonshor, Ph.D.
That is why, the researcher argues, more people may want to consider, if possible, learning an instrument and joining a band, just for fun.
“Our survey respondents particularly valued the opportunities for community building, reporting a sense of social bonding and belonging, not only within the brass band world but also through their band’s musical role in a range of public events and fundraising activities for the wider community. We are hoping that these findings will encourage people to participate in this sociable way of contributing to our physical and mental health.”
Michael Bonshor, Ph.D.