Music Supports Mental Health: NAMI Mental Health Awareness Month

As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, we examine the benefits of musical study to supporting mental health. The relationship between health and music has been studied for centuries. As early as 1918, James Frederick Rogers stated in Music as Medicine that “the means employed in this art always have been of two kinds: first, those appealing to the senses, and, through these doorways of the nervous system, by accompanying changes of consciousness […which] usually goes by the name of mental treatment.” (Rogers, 365) He discusses the benefits of music on physical health as well, but our focus will remain with psychological benefits this month. He notes that art has an impact on consciousness because it appeals to our senses and therefore shapes the way we experience the world. When experiencing music as an audience, our response is shaped primarily by what we see and hear. When practicing music performance, however, we also affect our tactile sensations. Grounding techniques used to treat responses like panic rely heavily on sensation, and learning to focus on what you feel as you use your instrument can help to quiet responses to other stimuli.

Of course, statements like those from Rogers have supported the development of Music Therapy as a current treatment method, and music therapists around the world work to help patients recover from significant events and assist with hospice.

Gary Ansdell and Tia DeNora performed a study on musical pathways, and one of their study participants shared her thoughts on her experience with music:

Sophie: “Music and music therapy has been the support and driving force of my treatment and continuing recovery. The continuity, unconscious nurturing and support to my confidence and mental health has been a key to where I am now. It has bridged and supported every step to enable me to progress—in a way that no other therapy has managed in such an all-inclusive way.” (MacDonald, Kreutz, Mitchell, 101)

Research is an excellent support for any idea, but personal testimony allows us to connect with a real application of research and to see how an individual like us has been able to improve her life through the presence of music. Sophie’s observations reflect the holistic way music can aid mental health maintenance and progress. While she experienced these benefits through music therapy as a patient, there are other ways to gain the same holistic wellness through music without a prescription. For those of us simply studying music as part of an educational program or extracurricular activity, there are benefits to every day wellness in each lesson and practice session.

Singers, brass players, and wind players all learn early in their training that breath is the foundation of technique and performance. All musicians are aware of breath as it relates to the time signature of a piece, and conductors of ensembles frequently use it to indicate entrances. Have you ever been anxious or upset and been reminded to take a deep breath? Nancy Zi introduces Chi Yi breathing techniques in The Art of Breathing with the reminder that “In the process of disciplining and controlling breathing, you direct your mental attention inward, thus minimizing or even eliminating external distractions.” (Zi, 25) Music students learn to control their breath and focus when tacking performance anxiety and redirection of nervous energy to musical engagement, which helps to alleviate emotional distress and anxiety as much as the tactile sensations of playing instruments can. Adults often hear “leave it at the door” in reference to outside stressors in the workplace. We all know the “why.” We want to be focused on our work to maximize our productivity and impact. Additionally, workplace and classroom stressors can interfere with success, and we must find ways to combat all of these stressors. Musical study offers us a “how” that equally applies to the workplace and the classroom.

Our mental health is impacted by pressures to succeed, and perfection as a goal can have a detrimental effect on wellness. David Bayles and Ted Orland discuss how art forms like music positively impact our relationship with perfectionism in Art and Fear. We know that concentration on the sensations of music making provides grounding. Bayles and Orland add that “For you, the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.” (Bayles&Orland, 31) Music and other arts allow participants to embrace process and imperfection, alleviating societal and personal pressures through shifting focus to the ever important “how” in another way. Through learning to acquire and refine musical skills, we learn that giving our attention to the methods and process through which we produce our work is the key to producing a quality result while alleviating the pressures of result oriented environments.

If you’re the employee who frequently brings work home or the parent of a student struggling to cope with school stress, assigning some of that “worry time” to music lessons and practice could help you to regain and maintain wellness. This month, devote that time and energy to self care, and your mental health will thank you.


– MacDonald, Kreutz, and Mitchell. Music, Health, and Wellbeing. Oxford, 2012.

– Rogers, James Frederick. “Music as Medicine”. The Musical Quarterly. Vol 4. No. 3. Pg. 365-375. Oxford,1918.

– Zi, Nancy. The Art of Breathing. Vivi, 1994.

– Bayles and Orland. Art and Fear. Image Continuum Press, 2001.


Bringing Music to Our Schools: AMI Mini Campus for Public/Private Schools

By Kaitlin Fron, AMI Voice Teacher & Program Coordinator

With the start of Music In Our Schools Month, educators and legislators are once again discussing the importance of having a music program as part of traditional education. In most schools, music is seen as an elective rather than a part of core academic curriculum if it is even offered at all. Some schools no longer have music teachers or programs, as music and other electives have been first on the chopping block when budget cuts require downsizing. Neryl Jeanneret notes that “It is interesting that even where there are specialist music teachers in primary schools, other concerns surface. For example, the specialist only sees a group of children, perhaps, once a week, for a short period and music is seen as isolated from the general curriculum as the generalist teacher frequently passes total responsibility for music to the specialist (Askew, 1993)” (Jeanneret, 93). It is strange that music should have such a lack of emphasis in educational settings, especially given the tremendous amount of research which supports the positive influence of musical study on students’ abilities to excel in “core” subjects like mathematics and language arts. In a country where educational resources are limited, what can we do?

At American Music Institute, we want music to be a part of every child’s education. That’s why we have our Mini Campus Program. AMI Mini Campus enables our faculty to work with area schools to create or supplement music programs, according to the needs of the school. We can teach it all- from the basics like Music Appreciation, Orchestra, Choir, and Band to more specialized courses like Genre studies (Jazz, Classical, Broadway), Music Theory, Music History, or Private Lessons on campus. For schools with existing music programs, we can create clinics and workshops to give students a chance to work with our professional faculty members. This program is tailored to each school community and can offer courses during school hours or as part of an After School Care program. Our Mini Campus Program is important to us because it provides an opportunity for communities to come together to support arts education and to enhance the educational opportunities of area students regardless of what cuts the school systems have to make.

Music in schools means that students have an opportunity to practice learning in a way that engages all learning styles and requires physical and mental coordination. When your child studies music regularly, he or she will experience benefits in many other subjects.

Music and Math: It may seem strange to compare performance art to mathematics, but music is very mathematical! Musical compositions are divided into measures by number of beats, so students learn to count and group beats from the onset of their musical education. Kathryn Vaughn asserts that since music improves spatial-temporal reasoning, it also improves student comprehension of mathematical processes which require the same type of reasoning (Vaughn, 149). Her evaluation of many studies and experiments on the correlation between music education and mathematical performance found that the best improvements came from the addition of musical education to a mathematical education built on similar spatial-temporal reasoning concepts (Vaughn, 158). This means that ideally, math and music teachers can work together to create lesson plans that will enable the best student success.

Music and Language Arts (and Foreign Language): The correlation between music and language arts is more readily seen since both subjects fall under the broader category of “Humanities” or “Arts.” While the structure of music is inherently mathematical, it also mirrors language in the use of larger forms and phrases. Janet D. Harris states that “The cause of some reading problems may be due to a deficiency which affects not only the child’s reading, but his other work as well. There are many areas in which activities used in music and reading can prove invaluable to both” (Harris, 29). She discusses the benefits of Ear Training (pitch matching and phrase memory) in improving a child’s ability to learn language patterns and sounds and notes that learning music requires the development of reasoning skills which improve the ability to comprehend and evaluate language when reading (Harris, 30). Learning to read and understand musical phrases facilitates learning to read and the ability to comprehend grammatical phrases.

Musical study also carries benefits to historical and scientific education built on the benefits already discussed, making it a critical part of regular education. With so many extracurricular activity choices, it helps to have music as a part of standard curriculum, whether during or after school hours. AMI is proud to help make this opportunity accessible to as many schools as possible. How can you guarantee consistent music education at your school?

The best way to make your voice heard at your school is to be active in attending PTA meetings and to talk with your teachers. Introduce your PTA organization, music teacher, and principal to the AMI Mini Campus Program and encourage your school’s participation. Invite your AMI teacher to your music class with your school music teacher’s permission. Talk to your friends and family about how music education has improved your child’s learning experience. Help your child to create his or her own experiment or study on the benefits of learning music for their next science fair. We make a difference when we speak up and celebrate successes!

We wish you a wonderful and eventful Music In Our Schools Month.

To have AMI create a program for your school and for more information, please visit the AMI Mini Campus Program page and/or contact AMI at ami@amimusic.org / 630-850-8505.

Jeanneret, Neryl. The National Review of Music in Schools and the Endless Debate about Music in Primary Schools [online]. Australian Journal of Music Education, No. 1, 2006: 93-97. Availability: ISSN: 0004-9484. [cited 06 Mar 17].

Music and Mathematics: Modest Support for the Oft-Claimed Relationship
Kathryn Vaughn The Journal of Aesthetic Education Vol. 34, No. 3/4, Special Issue: The Arts and Academic Achievement: What the Evidence Shows (Autumn – Winter, 2000), pp. 149-166

Music and Language Reading
Janet D. Harris Music Educators Journal
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Nov. – Dec., 1947), pp. 29-30


Benefits of Music for Adults

By Kaitlin Fron, AMI Voice Teacher & Program Coordinator

We spend a lot of time evaluating the positive effects of musical study on children’s abilities to succeed in other academic subjects, but the benefits of making music a priority continue regardless of the age of the participant. We know that music aids with brain development, so it follows that continuous study or exposure would continue to support brain activity. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America states that “[w]hen used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.” These benefits are significant and make a strong case for participating in musical activity even in adulthood.

Because musical activity engages multiple areas of the brain at once instead of one specific area, studying music trains the brain to improve connections between those areas. Brain involvement with music also changes with education, and a study from Bakin, Edline, and Weinberger demonstrates the importance of musical learning to brain response to specific tones and melodic contours. The study reveals that with more musical study and training, greater brain response is developed. Of course, this benefit comes regardless of age, and while early musical study is beneficial to brain development, continued or later musical study still results in increased brain activity.

Musical participation is a psychomotor skill, which also means that the coordination between complex thought and fine motor skills is developed by learning to make music whether with the voice or an instrument. Other physical benefits to musical study also include the ability to lower blood pressure through learning controlled breathing, a skill which is necessary to singing or playing brass and wind instruments. The concentration required to study music also provides a healthy outlet from the stress of a work or other obligations.

As the brain ages, many find themselves struggling with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and music therapists have found that sufferers benefit from musical activity. Researcher Linda Maguire notes that “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.” By engaging in musical activity, sufferers continue to stimulate multiple areas of the brain while gaining confidence through ability. Dr. Aniruddh Patel explains the connection between musical study and the confidence that results from pattern recognition. This feeling of empowerment may significantly improve the outlook of a person struggling with Dementia who may otherwise feel powerless amidst all the changes which come with age. Because music elicits emotional response, familiar songs may even help patients to recall associated memories.

Though we generally consider education to be completed following either high school or university, choosing to study music as an adult carries significant benefits. For the aging adult, musical participation is a healthy way to stimulate the brain while maintaining an emotional connection to memory which may even help Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to improve.