How Playing and Listening to Music Reduces Stress and Improves Health

  • Kate Johnston
  • Published: September 24, 2022
  • Last updated: Oct 26, 2023
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We all experience stress. Personal hardships, pressure from school or work, or even just the usual hustle and bustle of our daily lives can increase racing thoughts, tension in our body, or disruptions to normal eating, sleeping, and mood patterns. In a healthy situation, stress is temporary. However, chronic stress means the pressure stays on, leading to feelings of anger, burnout, or depression. These conditions are all-too-common in our fast-paced, high-stress world.

In 2022, an American Psychological Association study revealed that 57% of Americans feel “paralyzed by stress,” which led the association to declare a “national mental health crisis.” Like any other disease, we must find ways to keep stress at bay—or at the very least, learn to reduce and manage it.

Many of us handle stress by binge-watching TV shows or relaxing with a glass of wine. But what about other entertaining, healthier options? One of the most underrated ways to combat stress is singing, playing, and listening to music.

Music reduces stress by switching off the chronic stress response in our bodies and minds and can improve our mental and physical health in short sessions.

At Tunelark, we love to see people benefit from the relaxing and connective power of engaging in music. Read on to find out how singing, playing, and listening to music can holistically boost your well-being. 

Playing Music Assists in Mental Health

Stress begins in the brain in response to a challenging situation or thought, causing physical responses in the body. Chronic stress can cause damage to the immune, cardiovascular, and digestive systems and lead to premature death. It’s important to manage stress early.

The good news is that studies have proven that singing, playing, and listening to music reduce stress and positively impact mental health and immunity in both children and adults. One study conducted by researchers at Stanford University found that listening to music can alter the way the brain functions just as much as medication. 

Music with a slower tempo of around 60 beats per minute can cause the brain to synchronize with the beat. This produces alpha brain waves, which are present when we are relaxed and conscious. These alpha waves also contribute to enhancing our ability to learn new information. Listening to upbeat music, on the other hand, has been shown to increase feelings of optimism.

Playing an instrument reduces stress and develops mindfulness by keeping us in the present moment. When we play, we tend to focus on the here and now instead of letting our minds wander aimlessly, which often leads to overthinking. Studies have found that music reduces stress effectively by playing for one hour every week for six weeks.

Another mental health benefit that we can get from playing and listening to music is treating mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. In various studies, music interventions have proven to be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of these mental health issues while also helping improve mood and social interactions. 

In a peer-reviewed study published by BMC Psychology journal on postnatal depression, mothers participated in 10 weeks of music and singing classes with their babies. Researchers concluded that singing and playing music improved moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms significantly faster than groups who only participated in creative play time with other mothers and babies.

Playing Music Improves Physical Health

Chronic stress increases the risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Listening to calming or joyful music is an antidote—reducing heart and palpitation rates, and lowering the oxygen demand of the heart.

Music also helps with pain management. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, intentionally listening to music changes physiological arousal for up to 12 hours. Patients who were experiencing pain reported reduced levels of distress and increased relaxation compared to those who did not listen to music. 

Similarly, another study published in the American Journal of Managed Care shows that one to two sessions of listening to music per day in a three-month period assisted in relieving discomfort associated with migraines.

Here are a few more health benefits of playing music:

  • Deep breathing – Whether you’re singing or playing a wind instrument, you get to practice deep breathing from your diaphragm. This strengthens the lungs and the rest of the respiratory system. Playing the harmonica can also help with pulmonary disease.
  • Posture – Depending on the instrument you play, training can help improve your posture. You become more conscious of sitting up straight and having proper alignment even when you’re not playing. Say goodbye to neck and back pain!
  • Fine hearing – It goes without saying that learning music refines your hearing. You master the art and science of isolating sounds as you hear them. Studies show that, because of their training, musicians can pick out voices and sounds amidst noise, a growing challenge with age and hearing loss.

Playing Music Reduces Stress by Synchronizing the Brain & Body

When you’re stressed, does your mind feel like it’s whirring, focusing on too many things, or feeling consumed by negative thoughts and worries? Stress takes us out of the present moment and into a place of worry about the past or future. 

One key way to step outside of a stressful moment is to focus on one thing. When we are listening to a melody, memorizing a set of chords, singing along to music, or playing an instrument, we are directing our attention and focus to that activity alone.

You might have noticed an abundance of playlists online that claim to help with focus. That’s because music can help calm the noise of stress and center your attention. 

Using our fingers to strum the guitar strings, our feet to hit the drum pedals, our voice to sing, or anything that follows a rhythm not only improves our coordination but also brings us into our bodies.

If you play the drums or dance while listening to music, it’s a stress-relieving bonus. Physical exercise reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.

Patients who have been diagnosed with movement disorders have shown improvements in their mobility after going through music therapy. Rhythm-based activities have been shown to help with gait impairment and other motor symptoms in people with Parkinson’s. Rhythmic and auditory stimulation can help reduce falls and improve walking speed, cadence, and stride length.

Stress affects us all, but suffering from it long-term can cause severe physical and mental health issues, often leading to even more stress. We have a powerful and accessible tool at our disposal to make sure it doesn’t come to that—music. 

While music isn’t a magical cure for stress, it can be a free, effective component of self-care. 

At Tunelark, we believe that playing music should be fun, and that play and joy are the best ways to beat stress. Want to get started incorporating music play in your life today? Sign up for music lessons with Tunelark. Tell us about your music needs, and we’ll handpick an instructor that’s right for you, satisfaction guaranteed.

About Tunelark

Tunelark is a community of inspiring, professional music instructors. Our shared vision is to help our students connect with their intrinsic love of music and follow their curiosity to grow as musicians and people. 

Lessons take place over video chat so that students can learn from the comfort and convenience of their own home. 

Browse our community of expert teachers and pick the one who resonates most with your goals and learning style. As always, we guarantee a great match or your money back. 

If you’re ready to get started with 1-on-1 online music lessons, book your first lesson with a Tunelark instructor today. Your first lesson is 50% off!