Wednesday 12 December 2018

Can playing a musical instrument improve your mental health?

One of the joys of playing lead guitar for The False Dots is that after rehearsals, we always have a chat. In years gone by, we'd adjourn to the pub, but these days, we usually just put down our instruments and chat. No subject is out of bounds and often we touch on subjects that I would never dream of blogging about. Last night, the subject of mental health came up as we were packing away our equipment. For one member of the band, this has been a lifelong issue. This is not the time or place to go into those issues, however one of the questions I asked was whether playing with the band has in any way helped.

The answer I got was rather interesting. The answer wasn't  yes or no. I guess if you had to choose a word, this would be 'sometimes'. When things are OK, it certainly makes a difference is probably the best way to describe it. The physical and mental exertion and commitment required to play in a band is quite unique. Although there are many team sports that require players to work together and be creative, these are very in the moment. In a band, a moment of brilliance can be captured and built upon. When one of the Dot's does something brilliant, we are keen to ensure that this is not simply a passing fancy, it is added to the performance. In many ways this is why our songs are better now than when we first wrote them, some 34 years ago.

But the flipside of that is that sometimes, the monumental effort to actually turn up and give your all is in itself a stress. This can be made a million times worse if you play with people who are not very nice. This can actually make things much, much worse. But playing in a band is not the only aspect of playing an instrument.

Playing an instrument at home, is an altogether different proposition. One of the saddest things I hear is parents at our studio laugning about how listening to their children practice musical instruments "drives them mad". To me this should be celebrated from the rafters. It is funny that so many parents want children to succeed at musical instrument exams, but are so scathing of the work required to get there. Many don't seem to want the children to enjoy the instruments. As someone who has played guitar for 40 years, I guarantee that it is a great way to reduce stress. Often I listen to tracks and work out guitar riffs etc. It requires 100% focus and is a very calming activity. It is also almost impossible to do with ther family members around. Sometimes I can be in a very produuctive songwriting or song learning session and th children will come home and destroy the ambience of the mood, which is actually quite stressful.

Why do I mention this? Because I believe that we all need quiet time to do relaxational activities such as playing guitar. I passionately believe that one of the reasons we have a mental health crisis is because soceity has removed the possibilities for quiet, reflective time, especially for young people. We are always on a timeline. Playing a musical instrument gives our mind time to relax and recuperate.

Can playing a musical instrument improve your mental health? I can only speak for myself. I started learning guitar aged 14, at the time I was suffering from mild depression. For me, music gave me an outlet and built my self esteem. So for me, the answer is yes, but if you join a band, make sure that the people in it are supportive! And if someone is playing an instrument at home, please be considerate. They may really need the space.
Here's a little example of what the False Dots do. I hope you enjoy it

---- Don't forget to make a date in your diary for The Barnet Eye Xmas party and Community awards at Mill Hill Rugby Club on Fri 14th December at Mill Hill Rugby Club at 8pm. We really hope you can come down and say Hi. Admission is Free. You can see the False Dots play live at this amazing party

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