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LEARN: Review of 'Psychological Effects of Musical Experiences'

Updated: Apr 2

Theorell, T. (2014). Psychological Effects of Musical Experiences: Theories, Studies and Reflections in Music Health Science. New York: Springer.

Book Review written by Dr Michael Bonshor (University of Sheffield) Summary

The author of this book (Tores Theorell) is a researching physician, who specialises in studying and treating the physiological and psychological effects of stress. He discusses a range of the research-based evidence of the effects of musical participation upon health, including some of his own studies. Theorell’s career as a medical doctor means that he writes with particular clarity and insight regarding the cardiovascular, endocrinological and immunological effects of listening to and performing music. What are the key topics covered? The key topics include the physiological effects of musical participation, the impact of music upon stress levels, and music’s contribution to social cohesion. The benefits of singing are given particular attention in two detailed chapters. Other topics include the influence of music during childhood, the role of music in religion and therapeutic uses of music. This discussion of the myriad benefits of music during human development, and its contribution to our holistic wellbeing and social integration, provides a wealth of evidence which may be useful in several practical contexts, including lobbying for government support for music-related projects, advocacy for musicians and music education, and funding applications for further research and community projects. A slightly unusual feature is the chapter on the relationship between music and wellbeing in the lives of professional musicians. Although the wellbeing effects of musical engagement are increasingly well-documented in the popular media and academic press, there has been comparatively little published research on how a musical career can affect the physical, psychological and social wellbeing of performers. The chapter on this subject provides a realistic assessment of some of the negative effects of a professional life in music, as a counterbalance to the widely-publicized benefits of musical participation. Performance anxiety is the most obvious hazard of a performing career, which is examined here, along with other lifestyle factors which can have an adverse impact upon the wellbeing of career musicians. Again, the discussion of this subject provides a useful starting point for encouraging further research in this area, and for exploring ways of providing more support for professional musicians who find that some aspects of their career are jeopardising their own wellbeing. Which art forms are discussed? Musical engagement, whether viewed as active or passive (i.e. performing or listening) is discussed in a variety contexts, including education, religion, therapeutic settings, and in everyday life across the wider community. What disciplines are involved? The content of this book is interdisciplinary, with material relating to music history, musicology, child development, education, music therapy, wellbeing research and practice, and medicine. Who is it aimed at? This book is a useful resource for anyone with an interest in music and wellbeing. It provides an accessible but detailed guide to some of the physiological aspects of musical engagement, alongside a consideration of music’s role in community development. It is also a useful introduction to several significant studies by Scandinavian researchers (e.g. Sjöwall; Hyyppä ; Nilsson, Rawal and Uneståhl; Sandgren and Borg; Üvnas-Moberg; Bengtsson; Ullén) , as well as some of the research that may already be more familiar to readers in the UK (e.g. Clift and Hancox; Mithen). It will be of interest to an international audience of musicians and researchers; the ubiquity of music and its wide-ranging effects upon wellbeing make this publication relevant to us all. Thanks so much to Michael for writing such an informative review. If you are interested in reviewing a book for the AHECRN blog please feel free to get in touch.

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