We tapped into a rich vein of topics when we embarked on this tour of songwriting a few weeks ago. In case you haven’t been following us over the last several weeks, we’ve covered a whole range of songwriting subjects. We began this journey with 5 Skills to Improve Your Songwriting, and since the we have explored recording a demo, getting it heard, writing to accompany visual storytelling like theatre or film, some tips for writing at the piano and guitar, a few tips for aspiring songwriters who can’t play an instrument, and finally, last week, we discussed some modern songwriting tech to help you out. And we’re not done yet! This week we’re going to take a bit of a more existential approach while we discuss some of the benefits of songwriting!
What is it that draws someone to songwriting? Most people who dabble in songwriting aren’t doing it to make it big, or get famous. The vast majority of amateur songwriters aren’t out to make a lot of money, or to pen a #1 hit that lingers in people’s minds for decades. No, in fact, most people who write songs don’t really even consider themselves “professional songwriters,” even when they get paid to do it. So why bother to write songs if you have no interest in doing it professionally? Well, as it turns out, writing music has a number of health, emotional, social benefits.
People who practice songwriting enjoy a number of physical benefits to their health as a direct result. There have been countless studies looking into the supposed health benefits associated with songwriting, and the findings have been extremely consistent. Many studies continue to check on their participants long after the experiment has concluded, and most have found a lot of evidence of continued health benefits. Over all these studies, people have consistently reported similar health benefits, including:
- Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor’s office
- Improvement on a number of immune system functions
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved lung function
- Improved liver function
- Improved short-term memory
- Improved sport performance
- Fewer work days lost to illness
- Fewer days spent in the hospital overall
These are only a few of the many physical benefits that come from making songwriting a part of your life. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the health benefits songwriting offers is that the practice of writing music doesn’t actually affect health-related behaviours like exercise, diet, or drug and alcohol use, yet it improves your overall health anyway. The scientists who perform these experiments and studies will be the first to admit that they aren’t really sure why expressive songwriting has these kinds of effects on the human body, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.
For some reason, the science on the long-term, lasting emotional benefits isn’t as well known, or even as consistent as the physical health benefits. While some studies do account for emotional benefits, they just aren’t as consistent between people. This is probably because everyone approaches the emotional aspect of songwriting in their own, unique way. That being said, there are a few more common effects songwriters have reported to scientists:
- Improved mood/affect
- Better overall psychological well-being
- Less depressive/anxiety symptoms before exams
- Fewer post-traumatic intrusions
- Fewer avoidance symptoms.
The first three on that list are pretty self-explanatory, but the last two may require a little extrapolation. Some studies have shown that songwriting can be a useful tool when dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These studies have suggested that those who participate in songwriting and other expressive writing exercises report fewer stress or anxiety episodes related to their PTSD. Similarly, those who suffer from avoidance symptoms associated with several anxiety disorders report that songwriting helps them to suppress and experience fewer issues.
One kind of scientific study that is often performed is called a “meta-analysis.” This kind of study looks at all the data, information, and findings of the experiments that have come before it to find some common insights. Meta-analyses of studies dedicated to the emotional effects of songwriting have shown that, for many people, the effects of songwriting are significant and can be compared in magnitude to the effects of other, more involved, expensive, and time consuming psychological interventions.
In addition to your health and mental well-being, taking up the practice of songwriting has been shown to improve many aspects of social life as well. Unfortunately, this slice of the benefits of songwriting pie is even less studied than the emotional benefits, however, there are a few conclusions we can gleam:
- Quicker re-employment after job loss
- Higher grade point average for students
- Altered social and linguistic behaviour
Since these benefits are a bit more abstract that the previous lists, they require a little more explanation. The first comes from a study done way back in 1994. These researchers found that their participants who wrote music in their free time were able to find work again after leaving a previous job much more quickly than those who did not write. Unfortunately, their study wasn’t really equipped to look into why this was the case, leaving us to speculate. It could be because songwriting keeps your mind engaged and prevents you from falling into a depressive rut. It could be that writing music keeps your confidence high, which would be something you could carry into an interview. It could be that writing music is a sort of problem solving exercise for your brain, keeping it primed for the problem of finding a job. The fact is, we don’t know, but it works.
The second benefit on this list is a bit easier to pin down. Songwriting keeps a young brain engaged by forcing it to think mathematically when composing melodies and rhythms, but also creatively when searching for something that hasn’t been done before, or unique lyrics to fit the feeling you’re trying to convey. These help keep the brain active between school lessons, and indeed augment and improve upon the lessons learned.
Lastly, some studies have suggested that writing about emotionally charged topics change the very way songwriters interact with others. This could mean writing music might have a profound impact on the way writers use words and emotional themes when communicating with others. This is probably the least studied of all the benefits, but it implies those with a intimate relationship with music are better at relating with others on an emotional and conversational level.
How has songwriting helped you in your every day life? Let us know in the comments!