What Exactly are the Health Benefits of Playing Music as a Hobby?

Let’s be honest for a second; people get into music for the fame.

Ok maybe not everyone, but what kid hasn’t sat in front of a screen idolising their favourite artist wishing it was themselves stood in front of 50,000 adoring fans? Not many and I envy them for it. Let’s imagine that one of these kids, Little Timmy, then goes on to be the coolest kid in school known for tearing round a set of drums with hands faster than the speed of light thus securing his invite to every house party until the day his acne-ridden face finishes university and he goes on to be a sensible member of society rather than a professional musician. He has learned an invaluable set of mental, emotional and physical skills that will be extremely useful in everyday non-musical life. Boom. Easy, right? Makes you want to tickle those ivories again, I bet…

While most people do study music at an early age, a sizable chunk keep it as a hobby as they transition into the working world and find their time devoted to other pursuits; this is not uncommon. All of these budding maestros share the fact their brains have effectively been rewired through dedication to a discipline that activates important areas of the mind.
The beautiful thing about music is that it affects people on so many different biological levels; to a point where it’s almost taken for granted how deeply it gets into human minds and lives. Seeing as playing music has been a part of civilisation since before there even was civilisation, it’s no surprise to find out that people just love a good old jam session.

So it seems a bit of a no brainer to say that ‘Music is good for you’, we hear it all the time – ‘New research shows X’ or ‘a new study claims Y’ – it’s everywhere. But what is it that playing music is actually doing to you? It can be anything from simple hand-eye co-ordination or being able to process speech patterns more effectively, all the way through to simply building self-esteem and confidence. Come, intrigued reader, let us explore…

1. Mental Health

In a day and age where life moves so fast and trends bounce back and forth like a poorly caught rugby ball evading its owner, mental health has become a prominent issue in the forefront of public consciousness. More studies into how the brain functions have resulted in wider recognition of different health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, which in turn have resulted in even more studies on ways to treat said disorders.

Music has always been in the limelight for such research because of the way that people react to its predictability and familiarity. It is such a common part of everyday life that it almost feels like a warm, safe bed where you can open up and share in a more secure environment. In the words of MusicTherapy.org, ‘The aim of [music] therapy is to help people...develop relationships and address issues they may not be able to address using words alone.’ While this may not exactly be a ‘hobby’ for diagnosed patients, more widespread issues such as depression can be treated with the same principles.

Simply, playing and creating music is a total mood booster. Feeling down in the dumps? Pick up that guitar. Don’t really fancy going out? Grab that trumpet and blow your heart out. Please, whatever you do, do not pick up a bass. That’s not good for anyone’s mental stability (JOKING, BASSISTS...)

But in all seriousness, creating music activates areas all around your brain. As Daniel J. Levitin explains in his book This is Your Brain on Music, it starts down at subcortical areas (literally: below the cortex) like the cerebellum, then shoots on up to the auditory cortices on either side. If you play an instrument, then the cerebellum plays a bigger role as this is where human’s motor functions are processed, so this is the part you can blame for when your hands don’t quite do what you want them to. Listening to music activates the memory centres in the brain such as the hippocampus which is not a particularly outdoorsy Hippopotamus unfortunately but where long and short-term memory is processed, as well as spatial memory for when you can’t see due to inebriation and somehow manage to find your way home. When lyrics are involved then the frontal and temporal lobes have little language centres that are activated alongside the fan favourite Hippocampus, just so you remember what words are coming up and you don’t shout out your favourite expletive instead. So the whole mind gets lit up when you start playing music which has the same effect as tucking into a big chocolate bar or going for a run. That’s Dopamine. Precious, precious Dopamine.

This helps boost your mood, otherwise known as ‘mood management’ (funnily enough) and strangely, this is thought to be most effective when listening to sad music. Counterintuitive, right? Well, possibly not.

According to a study by Kawakami et al. (2013), when a group of candidates were given sad music to listen to, they found it to be perceived as ‘tragic’ in lyrical content and mood, but the emotions actually felt were those more of romance or less tragic, creating a melting pot of all sorts of feelings. Essentially, we see the music as sad, feel it that way, but not strongly enough to break our hearts or make us curl up with a bucket of ice cream.

Why could this be though? It may well be that as sadness and heartbreak are often uncomfortable topics of discussion; music gives a comforting and relatable outlet for these emotions to be discussed without the threat of actual sadness happening. Progressive rock legend Steven Wilson was interviewed on his melancholic songwriting saying

There’s a lot of beauty to be found in sadness and melancholia... When you hear something that really reminds you that you’re not alone in feeling sad, depressed, melancholic, angry – I think that can actually be a very cathartic experience.”

He summed up his feelings rather poignantly at a live show in Los Angeles: “I have a confession to make. Miserable music makes me happy and, conversely, happy music makes me f**king miserable”. Steve doesn’t mince his words, does he?

Not only does playing an instrument help your mood, but also your mental sharpness as well. We currently live in a golden age of super juices and spin classes, with everyone and their Grans trying to live to an unnatural age. But have you ever stopped and thought that perhaps it might be simpler than you think? For example, playing an instrument?

While physical fitness may not benefit too much from practising scales, research shows that taking up music has many positive effects on your brain both in the immediate future and more in the long run. A study from the University of Kansas Medical Facility in 2001 took 70 healthy older adults and put them through their paces with cognitive testing, and the results showed that those who had been involved with playing music for 10 years or more had retained better non verbal memory skills and executive processes in advanced age relative to non musicians. While this is most effective when taking an instrument up as a young whippersnapper, all the old geezers out there have no fear – you can still gain from taking up an instrument in later life!

What is also interesting is the use of music particularly with those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia even when the disease is quite advanced. You may have seen those tear jerking videos doing the rounds on Facebook of a young lad or lady playing a wartime song and seeing their elderly loved one suddenly become themselves again as they start to recite the lyrics together which are very heart-warming, but also very clear evidence that music is a powerful tool in the world of mental rehabilitation.

As music activates most areas of the brain and often are related to a particular event or memory in one’s life, Alzheimer’s patients can tap into these emotions and briefly become themselves again meaning they are more able to converse, socialize and generally just ‘be present’ again. According to Linda McGuire, a lead author in neuroscience study, musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients. This makes music the perfect way to reach beyond the disease and find the person they once used to be.

As well as this, music has been linked to lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress and a lower heart rate according to Suzanne Hanser of the Music Therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, who continues on to say “There is also increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses”.

And then there’s the dark art of song writing. It’s fair to say that most musicians would agree that writing songs gives them a freedom to express themselves in a way they perhaps can’t do normally, either through melodies or lyrics therefore it would make sense then that it would also be used in music therapy, as we discussed earlier. As Professor Felicity Baker, co-director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s National Music Therapy Research Unit explains:

Therapeutic songwriting is the process of creating, notating and/or recording lyrics and music by a client or group of clients and therapist within a therapeutic relationship to address psychosocial, emotional, cognitive and communication needs of the client or clients”.

Essentially song writing can bring someone out of their emotional shell, making it easier for professionals to pinpoint any problems and help that person. Professor Baker continues:

For example, it is more socially acceptable to share your story of abuse in a song than in a conversation, and [therefore] maybe easier for the person to share the story in that form, and for the audience to receive it.”

The more famous example of this is the legendary, nay, mythic and romantic idea of the "tortured genius”; musicians that we see become widely respected and loved, e.g. Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse who have either a mental illness or an addictive trait that that is seen to fuel the creative side of their persona.

Is it really that rewarding in the arts to have serious struggles with mental fragility or alcohol and drugs? You get the old rock stars of the 70s and 80s saying how without drugs they wouldn’t have done so-and-so or couldn’t have written a particular song (Jimmy Page said about his Heroin and Cocaine abuse “I don't regret it at all because when I needed to be really focused, I was really focused.”) or you hear of song writers, not unlike Mr Cobain, who suffer from psychological issues and are helped by creating music or lyrics, often with the fingerprints of their struggles all over it. But are they really being helped?

No doubt their creations are helping thousands of listeners who perhaps struggle with the same issues and finally can relate to someone, or something, that openly expresses how they feel and helps them to cope. The popularity of said artist rises and they are seen as a visionary and a master of what they do. But the fact they are helping others doesn’t necessarily mean they are helping themselves, as Alanna McArdle, formerly of Joanna Gruesome said in a Guardian article:

I went out with a guy who told me that I shouldn’t be so resentful of my mental illness because it’s allowed me to create some amazing art. But I think that’s bullshit, and I also think it’s a very offensive stance to take. I would much rather never write another song if the trade-off was to not have my illness.”

On the other hand, McArdle said that while she finds it hard to do the most basic of tasks when in deep depression, she finds herself most creative when coming out of that phase and is able to ‘write’ the depression away, so perhaps this is the case with most of the tortured genius’ we look up to? The best of their work comes as a result of a dark period, not during it.

Putting all research and talk of mentality and physicality aside for one second – playing music is simply a wonderful boost to your self esteem.
There is no greater feeling on the planet than turning up an amp to 11 and rocking out with your best friends. You’ve gained the freedom to play whatever you want, do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be and no one can stop you.

Once you take it to a stage (a hugely daunting first step for anybody) and present your musical works to friends, family and strangers then very often you’ll notice confidence in yourself AND your creations sky rocket. This will no doubt bleed into other aspects of life, making you a more outgoing, confident and happy human being.

There you have it; Music is not only mentally good for you, but physically too! But that doesn’t mean you should go bouncing around a stage just after a hip operation and do yourself a mischief.

2. Social

The social element of music is, arguably, the most important reason we make music at all.

Way back when humanity was just a small kindling of an idea in history, it is generally thought that early peoples would use their voices to imitate sounds heard in nature with whistling, shouting and singing. This was likely accompanied by beating on various surfaces for rhythms and sound variations until the first instruments such as animal skin drums and bone flutes started to be made. Then we were really cooking on melodic gas...

But the question is WHY did our predecessors decide to start banging out hits for ‘NOW 10,000 BC’?

Many folk believe it was a way to woo the opposite sex – much like a majestic peacock’s feather display or possibly like one of those small screaming frogs you see online, it all depends on how much alcohol is involved.
This would make a lot of sense though; it’s pretty common throughout nature that the one with the biggest, brightest display of visual and audible flirting is the one to ensure the future of the species. The human with the prettiest voice is seen as above others and they get their pick of the bunch. Not unlike modern times really. Some songs have even been slated for taking the sexual theme too far, such as ‘Blurred Lines’ which has not been shy of controversy in its lyrical themes and its sexually charged music video.

However, it has also been put forward that music was created as a form of ‘social glue’ to bring communities together and share in a particular experience. Chris Loersch , a senior research associate in psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, did a bit of research along with Nathan Arbuckle from the Department of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and found that subjects who responded more strongly to music were found to have a “higher need to belong” when asked if they identify with an in-group.

When interviewed by National Geographic about his findings, Loersch said about concerts “People are bonding on a large scale, treating everybody that's camping around them as family members. I think that's what concerts are about, really becoming a group with those people around you.” He went on to use the example of artists waving their hands in the air left then right, and the crowd following. “You can see on their faces that music is having the most intense positive effect. Forty thousand people are completely bound up in being a group member.” While Loersch admits this isn’t exactly definitive proof of anything, it does support the fact that music “evolved in service of group living.”

But what does this have to do with us, nowadays, playing music just for fun? Well, quite a lot. Haven’t you been paying attention?

A lot of people meet via music, whether that is a shared interest in music or actually playing music. I certainly can vouch for the effectiveness of music as a social catalyst. 98% of my social life is because I studied and currently work in the music industry, but even prior to that when I was in school still, I would generally talk to those who listened to the same music I liked, which meant I could go to the same concerts as them and nerd out in the corner about the latest single and speculate about the latest album, etc, I think you get the idea but it’s a story most can relate to.

This doesn’t have to be exclusively a youth related affair either. For example an old rocker who loves his AC/DC and has a few friends in the same boat; they get together and jam a few classic rock tunes and decide to bring it to a pub one evening for the entertainment of themselves and others. They whack out ‘Thunderstruck’ to finish the night and the whole pub is chanting along with the opening ‘aaaah’ and clapping. Music has brought together a whole group of strangers with a shared love of music and the fact that a small number of people who decided to pick up guitar/bass/drums on the weekend can have that power over others like that is pretty extraordinary.

Plus – researchers tend to agree that power is attractive to others, bringing the idea of wooing a mate back into the equation, and at the same time everybody’s mood is boosted in unison and they leave feeling happier (and tipsier) than they were at the start of the night. The huge amount of potential that music can hold for both the player and the listener is, arguably, unrivalled in a social context and all the ideas of social and mental health that we have discussed thus far can be all connected by the simple and unequivocally marvellous thing that is playing, listening to and loving music.

3. Problems About Hobbys - Debunked

There are a great many people who would say they don’t have a hobby. That’s probably not true but if you ask them why not, there will be a plethora of excuses. Almost as many as the amount of possible hobbies in the world, I bet.

There are always ways around such obstacles though, and most hobbies – including music – are easily accessible for anyone in any situation in life.

For example, I would put money on the fact that a lot of people don’t take up their desired hobby as they find it too costly. Totally understandable as there’s rent or mortgages to worry about on top of bills, food, weekend all nighters with the lads (crucial) and other expenses to take into consideration.

But it doesn’t have to be this way at all, no sir. Admittedly, if you Google the prices of musical instruments then you might say I’m straight up lying but even sizable objects like drum kits can start at around the £200 mark, which is cracking bang for not a lot of buck. Sure, it’s not going to be a world class bunch of shells that you can tour extensively on, but that doesn’t matter when you’re just starting out because it sounds and feels like a drum kit...because it is one!

Once you have that in the house then upkeep of an instrument is generally inexpensive. Most require the changing of strings or heads but that doesn’t cost much at all and only needs to be done every so often, so I don’t want to hear any whining or moaning from ANYBODY. That’s a warning, you hear?!

Then you have to take into account the cost of getting regular lessons. Or DO you? Since the birth of the internet every single bit of possible information has been uploaded to the web in some shape or form, meaning that music lessons for total beginners all the way up to full professionals are available from many great teachers. Seeing as access to the internet is now technically a human right then you can start at the very bottom and advance incredibly quickly using only YouTube and a little determination.

I will give you this advice though – there is no substitution for a good teacher in person. I cannot stress this enough. Even if cost is a problem but you can afford to see someone once a month or even once every two months, then absolutely do it! If you want to see good results then having that outside critical analysis is invaluable and just an hour of a teacher’s time won’t break the bank. OK, nagging over...for now.

Another issue commonly found in the dark art of practising an instrument is the volume problems. We’ve all been there – the bang on the wall from the snarky neighbour who’s sick of hearing the same 4 bars for the millionth time that day. It’s totally understandable, but hugely unreasonable, how dare they stifle your talent, the selfish so and so.
What you do not do is turn up to 11. There are many ways of dealing with this and companies have spent years (and will continue to do so) finding ways around this problem.
It’s not so bad for electric instruments like guitar and bass as very little volume is given off anyway, but percussion and acoustic instruments such as violins or horns can cause a great deal of grief.

Well, first off – electronic drum makers such as Roland and Yamaha are some of the most popular instrument makers in the world for precisely the reason that the noise levels are dramatically reduced plus you get the added bonus of having any conceivable sound at your disposal. You can hear it? You can play it, either by flicking through the predetermined sounds on the kit or by uploading your own, super easy like – hand claps, bass drops and cat farts in C Major, it’s all there and ready to go.

When it comes to horns and strings, then things get a bit trickier but not impossible! Stringed instrument mutes are little rubber blocks or metal bars that sit over the bridge and dampen the sound, which means the instrument doesn’t resonate through the body so much. Alternatively you can even go full on 30th century and get hold of an electric version which is even quieter as there’s no body to the instrument at all which equals no resonance except for the strings. Clever, eh?!
The amazing thing about these as well as that they act like an electric guitar in that you can pop them through effects pedals and amps to get amazing sounds. If you can dominate the violin with distortion and wah, you’ll never have an issue with affording a pint ever again.

With horns, you can buy all sorts of mutes and bits that you can shove in your bell (stop it) to bring down the decibels, but what’s bizarre/awesome now is that MIDI horn instruments are being manufactured. For example, the Yamaha EZ-TP is a crazy new bit of kit where you have the realistic trumpet sounds built into a MIDI processor that can add all sorts of effects and layers to the sounds you produce; perfect for those avant garde aficionados amongst you into all your crazy modern jazz that all the kids are listening to.

So next time you wander past the music store and see that beautiful Stratocaster staring at you with his big “ON SALE NOW” puppy dog eyes and you think ‘I’d love to, but...’ then just stop and size up that ‘but’ and see how plausible it actually might be to buy that guitar and fill a lifelong ambition.

This one is a bit of a funny one but surprisingly common – self doubt. I personally know a lot of people who feel they could never start something as they wouldn’t be good enough or would ‘fail’ in some way. This is far too widespread in music especially, perhaps as it is a very social hobby and requires you to perform in front of peers and strangers and so that idea of embarrassment and humiliation becomes a very real possibility. Well the cold hard truth is that yes you are going to fail, and fail hard too. Fail so spectacularly there is a chance you might actually, physically implode. But what’s important to realise is that every single person has crashed and burned at some point in their life, it’s just how you choose to deal with it. You could laugh about it, take the banter and crack on with your existence or you could go full Justin Bieber and cry in the foetal position while your mummy calls up your management to cancel your world tour.

This point sort of goes hand in hand with the discussion of self-confidence, and it can very quickly turn into a never ending spiral of negativity where you don’t feel you can do it, but you want to so that gets you down, but because you’re down you don’t feel you can, and so on. A very simple but effective trick to this is – JUST DO IT! What have you possibly got to lose? You’re going to be absolutely abysmal at the start, and probably for the first few years too but everyone is! And then one day you’ll be smashing through a Nirvana track with your two best friends, you’ll look at each other and you will just know that you are rock stars and it doesn’t matter what other people say about your playing because they are just jealous of how awesome you are.

Still think you have an excuse not to pick up that trombone or ukulele? I think the previous few rants have shown that you don’t! So go on, give it and yourself a chance and...Oh, you have already? But you don’t know what to do from here? Ok, well...

4. Where Do You Start?!

Sometimes it can be quite overwhelming when looking to get into a hobby, especially music – we’ve already touched on some of the practical issues such as finance and a place to practise. But say you’ve taken that plunge into the deep end, scraped everything together and you’re ready for your new life in Peru!

Not that? Oh, playing music, that’s right.

First things first, you want to pick the right instrument for you, specifically the model rather than the overall general instrument. For example, what’s the difference between a Telecaster and a Stratocaster? Should you go for a 4 piece or 5 piece drum kit? Why does it even matter to a beginner?

The best way to answer these questions is to just ask someone! Go to your nearest trusty music shop and explain your needs, wants and deepest darkest desires so they can point you in the right direction, as what you start off with can be a huge factor in shaping your sound later down the line. If you are interested in taking your graded exams then there may be certain requirements you need from an instrument to get through the books with it making a little bit of sense. Or perhaps you want to be the next Neil Peart copycat for that classic rock covers band in which case I weep for your wallet, but then you should investigate getting as many drums in one room as you possibly can. The point being, at first, it is highly recommended you get what you need rather than what you want, otherwise you can fall down a never ending rabbit hole of constantly buying and craving new gear. But who am I kidding? You wouldn’t be a true musician if pay day came around and you didn’t instantly pull up the always-open music shop tab on your laptop and start clicking away furiously until you eventually start seriously considering whether or not you need a set of Kazoos in C Major mounted around your neck at all times as they just happen to be on sale.

So now you have all the gear, but still no idea? Well that’s where a teacher comes in. Again, this was discussed earlier on but a good teacher can be absolutely imperative to a successful musician, hobbyist or not.

You don’t want that old coffin dodger who towers over you stopping you every 2 beats because you don’t play it like you were born out of a vat of pure talent, and if you ask to learn any song recorded after 1930 then he’s going to spit on the floor in disgust and lecture you on how crap “modern music” is. That is not fun for anyone and can kill passion quicker than your mum walking in on you and the Missus.

On the other hand, there can be too much of a good thing. I think we all know this feeling around Christmas time when staring at the empty plates over your newly formed belly...

But I mean the teacher who just has no care except for the money and just teaches you whatever without actually teaching you anything. Sure, learning your favourite tunes without any guidance may seem like fun and exactly why you got into playing an instrument, but slowly it starts to drag and your lessons become dull as you’re not actually getting anywhere and then eventually you lose all meaning in your life and you become a hermit in Dorset somewhere. It’s a very real possibility and so you need that in between factor in a teacher.

Someone who is passionate about what they do and teach but don’t overbear on your progress so you can become the player that you are, rather than who they want you to be. Rather fantastically, these teachers are pretty common too so you just have to do a bit of trial and error and you’ll find them and then you’re off and nobody but the council’s noise police can stop you.

 Now this next piece of advice may not be for everyone (once again, as discussed previously) and how long it takes to ease into this will absolutely vary from person to person, but it’s a good idea to get performing as quickly as possible. Most musicians will agree that the real practise takes place on stage in a live setting. Sitting at home or in a studio is great for getting that muscle memory down but you don’t know how these things are going to transpire unless you’re there in the moment, so it’s a real test of how well you’ve learned your exercises and whether or not they are going to sound any good!

Most people’s mentalities change under the pressure of playing to an audience, and they react in different ways to situations they may believe they are used to. This means that the fill you pulled off like a champ in rehearsal may not go so well for you down the club, so the best way to get better at playing live is – you guessed it, Sherlock – playing live! Perhaps easier said than done if you get nervous before and during sets, and if you’re new to an instrument then that’s not going to help at all, but it’s safe to say that it’s definitely the most fun and effective way to improve your playing and hell isn’t it the reason we got into playing music in the first place?!

5. It's Going Well - What Now?

So it’s been a few years or so and you’re still practising away every day and still loving it. First of all that is a massive victory in itself, you’ve made it further than most. Perhaps you’ve done your first few graded exams and passed with flying colours, started up your first band and given the local pub so many rocking nights they’ve had to get the contractors in to check out the building’s foundations. You, my friend, have a successful hobby.

Of course you can continue on with your graded exams – usually all the way up to grade 8. This is arguably the most structured way to improve your playing as it’s all laid out for you in a digestible fashion by the music nerds at which ever institution you decide to learn with (I call them nerds but I’m actually just jealous). It’s also a good way of improving equal parts of your playing side by side; technical and musical.

You could explore your own creativity and start writing your own music. I warn you, however, never before has there been an activity of such monumental stress and sleepless nights than song writing. As incredibly rewarding as it can be, the process of writing music can make golf look like a fun little afternoon jaunt in a field, and that’s coming from a man who once walked off a course mid round due to high amounts of anxiety levels in a friendly “furthest from the hole buys the first round at the bar” competition. But while it is stressful, it’s not real stress if you actually look at it, quite the opposite. There’s no real consequence in our lives if we don’t complete a certain song apart from the fact we have an incomplete song.

You will love it, hate it, rewrite it, hate it, hate it, hate it, love it, hate it, rewrite it and then love it all in one day before you are happy, but much like the instrument you are learning song writing takes time and patience to improve. The reason some of the best song writers are where they are is because they never stop, constantly throwing out ideas and moulding them into the finished product. I bet for every song recorded there is at least 10 that never reached completion and caused many millions of tears, but crafts were honed and hits were produced. And with all of this, just like any aspect of music, it should just be plain old fun.

Creativity could also mean spontaneous creation of music – most commonly known in the form of ‘soloing’ and if you thought you knew terror, you don’t.

Picture the scene. You’ve been giving the audience the best night of music they will ever see, the 2nd chorus is ending and there’s a deliberate lull in the music. You’ve brought the volume down and the singer steps up to the microphone with a swagger only seen in a human who knows they’re about to inflict the worst pressure on you and they are going to enjoy it. He addresses the audience with a smug tone and a gentle demeanour, like a cat playing with the dying mouse. They look around the band, back to the audience and that is when it hits you; you’re going to have to solo. Your palms start to sweat and your face turns white like a ghost – you won’t even get a choice! At least some singers have the good grace to turn around and mouth “solo?” at you but not tonight, the crowd wants it and they are going to get a thing that may or may not represent a solo. The names are called and your colleagues entertain the crowd with ease and get the glory in return. And then the inevitable tolling of the bell comes and you’re on the firing line. You planned nothing – you regret ever taking music lessons and starting a band. You take one look into the abyss and...

It goes pretty well. Nice. Crisis averted. You could even say you actually enjoyed it! There is certainly a particular thrill when it comes to complete improvisation but how do you practise such a thing?

Well one could argue that no solo is truly improvisation, more just a spontaneous recalling of all the exercises and techniques you have spent time practising at home or in a studio, the art is what you recall and how tastefully you do it. In that case, you simply have to put the time in exploring the instrument by learning technical passages and applying them musically so you can whack them out at any particular point in time. Miles Davis, on the other hand, was famously quoted as saying “play what you hear, not what you know” – favouring ‘in the moment’ improvisations as to previously learned phrases, so because most musical situations are fairly unique in terms of atmosphere, location, mood on that day and so on, then in fact most solos are totally made up on the spot. Research has found that when a player is improvising certain areas of the brain shut down, the same areas that shut down during dreaming and meditation while the areas that are activated include those controlling language and sensorimotor skills.

A great way to improve at soloing is by listening to and writing out solos that you really enjoy. Transcribing in general is fantastic practise for both reading and playing so why not kill two very large albatross’ with one stone by writing out a section of a solo and then practising it. Take some concepts out of it and make it your own, adapt them and see what comes out of you. That in itself is practising being creative so the more tools you can throw into your technical toolbox the more proficient your ability to solo will become as you’ll have more to say in your musical sentences. Solos shouldn’t be something you fear as they are both a progress report as far as you can see where you are in terms of your improvisation and how it sounds (if possible then record any gigs and listen back to solos. In fact just record everything you play ever) and a practise tool for your creative side under pressure.

So now we’ve spoken about things you can do to continue your musical adventures...could there be a way to possibly make a bit of cash from it? Of course! You don’t want to go full on pro but hey, an extra bit of paper can’t hurt?

This is the golden question really – How do I make money doing what I love? Well if you’re already gigging then you are well on your way – most pubs and clubs will pay for good covers bands to come in and get the place dancing which is good for you as a band and player – it can be summed up using a simple equation that I’m pretty sure Einstein first came up with and no amount of fact checking can prove otherwise:

Essentially, the more drinks are bought then the more money the bar makes, the more gigs the band gets and the more money in your pocket. Easy, right?

Alright, fine it’s not a real equation if you hadn’t guessed already but the point still stands. If you play well, give everyone a good time then the pub will more than likely book you again as you get the punters in and rocking, which means you get paid more often. You can maximise profits by even playing more than one gig a month – I know, what kind of madness is this?! Just make sure one venue doesn’t find out you have another mistress venue or things might get messy.

It’s a slow process but building good rapport with multiple venues can be a fantastic way to get your name out there as a band and get that dollar rolling in. The more you play the more likely people are going to see you and offer you other shows as well such as weddings, birthdays and the like. What is crucial to this though is how good you are as a band; you got to have that special thing that makes people pay attention.

Now before you go digging around for your finest spandex suit that is several sizes too unforgiving for you these days, it doesn’t have to be a complex stage show that burns out the eyes of everyone within a mile because you bought industrial strobe lights. Little things like a well thought out and tightly played set list that has all the old classics with a fresh twist of the new that gets everyone singing along is all you need to catch people’s ears and eyes and soon the offers will come flooding in – and that’s where you can make the big bucks.

6. Conclusion

So here we find ourselves. We have delved deep into the psyche of musicians and discovered how your body can react to music and what benefits it can bring – and I think we can agree it’s a hell of a lot. From the very simple effect of boosting your mood to preventing long term mental deterioration. From making a few friends to giving yourself that self esteem boost to continue making friends and great music. A hobby like playing an instrument doesn’t have to be a busy one, a dedicated one or an expensive one but you can guarantee that it will be a highly rewarding one for yourself and others around you (except your neighbours, but as discussed there are solutions. Or you’re just a sadist who loves torturing those around you. Either works).

The most amazing thing about doing music as a hobby is that it can work around any schedule you want, whether it be work or private as even if you’re at home then there are ways of making volume problems go away, if they were ever problems in the first place. Let’s be fair though, it is a problem. It always has been and if heaven exists I have no doubt it would be fully soundproofed, it’s just not possible to play an instrument in a domestic building and it not be a problem. But once volume is no longer an issue then it’s just so easy to plug in and play, or pull out the latest book you’re working on and put in 30 minutes of work. And it’s not even really work is it, it’s just fun and, as I’ll say for the final time (promise), hugely rewarding for all aspects of your health.

So if you’ve made it to the end of my ramblings then well done you! If you haven’t then I suspect it’s because you became hugely inspired earlier on and ran to your nearest instrument, whether it belongs to you or not, and starting riffing like a musical god. If not, then why are you still here?

 

 

 

References/Further Reading

Letivin, D. (2008) This is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession, London: Atlantic Book

 

Musictherpay.org (no date), Music Therapy in Mental Health— Evidence-Based Practice Support. Available at: http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/bib_psychopathology.pdf (Accessed: April 21st 2017)

 

Kawakami, A. Furukawa, K. Katahira, K. Okanoya, K. (2013) Sad Music Induces Pleasant Emotion. Available at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00311/full#B16 (Accessed: April 10th 2017)

 

Hanna-Pladdy, B. MacKay, A. (2011) The Relationship Between Instrumental Musical Activity and Cognitive Aging. Available at: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/neu-25-3-378.pdf (Accessed: April 10th 2017)

 

Cicetti, F. (2013) Is Playing a Musical Instrument Good for Your Health? Available at: http://www.livescience.com/40597-playing-musical-instrument-good-health.html (Accessed: 15th April 2017)

 

Withnall, A. (2013) Singing boosts brain activity in Alzheimer’s Patients, scientists say. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/singing-boosts-brain-activity-in-alzheimer-s-patients-scientists-say-8933021.html (Accessed: April 10th 2017)

 

Baker, F. (2015) Therapeutic Songwriting: Developments in Theory, Methods and Practise. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

 

Davidson, E. (2015) Music-making and the myth of tortured genius. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2015/nov/06/music-making-myth-of-the-tortured-genius-mental-health-depression (Accessed: April 10th 2017)

 

Silver, M. (2013) Why Did Humans Invent Music? Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130824-invention-music-phish-stevie-wonder-blurred-lines-robin-thicke/ (Accessed: April 14th 2017)

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