Can playing guitar improve your sense of well-being?

Do you remember learning the recorder in primary school? Or perhaps the guitar in high school? Many of us have fun memories of music, but these musical experiences might not have transformed our lives or made us want to play music outside the classroom.

According to the latest Mental Health Australia report, almost half the Australian population experiences mental ill-health in some period in their life. Research shows, however, that playing the guitar may help improve your general sense of mental well-being.

Your mental health is crucial

The Mental Health Australia report also found that mental ill-health was Australia’s third highest burden of disease in 2011. We all need to find ways to promote positive mental health. In our day-to-day, we have already incorporated music listening as a method of improving many parts of our every day – it makes shopping centres less awkward, daily jogs more tolerable, and nights worth dancing away.

Yet sometimes, we can still find ourselves struggling with the black dog. It may be worth considering how a return to playing music, such as the guitar, may help your mental health as a form of self-expression and self-confidence boost, as well as a platform for increasing social connections.

Build your self-confidence

We all know how to shred the air-guitar, but how cool would it be to shred a real guitar? The ability to master an instrument is a rewarding experience because it proves just what you can achieve if you  work at something you put your mind to. This concept is known as self-efficacy and is one of many reasons playing music is linked to positive mental health.

One of the most encouraging things about learning to play the guitar is just how easy it is to get started. Often, within a few minutes of picking up a guitar, children and adults alike are capable of playing one of the most well-known guitar riffs – Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”.

This sense of achievement has been proven to make us feel good and excites us to continue to learn. Playing guitar allows us to set goals, and, achieving these goals boosts our motivation. This process of continually setting and achieving learning goals is part of a process described as self-regulated learning. Giving ourselves consecutive, achievable goals helps set up a positive reinforcement cycle. As we continue to recognise improvements in our ability to play a musical instrument over time, we are likely to also see improvements in self-confidence.

Read more: Goal setting for musicians

Express yourself

Once you have managed to string a few chords together (pun intended), you can start to play music of your preference, which has been shown to be a great method of self-expression. You may find that many of your favourite songs are relatively easy to play – a lot of popular music features simple, repetitive chord sequences.

Axis of Awesome show you that with the same four chords you can play “Forever Young” (Alphaville), “I’m Yours” (Jason Mraz) and “Save Tonight” (Eagle Eye Cherry) along with 35 other songs.

These songs are great beginner songs on the guitar, and as there are so many different genres of music in which these four chords feature, there’s a song for almost every taste. Find a song that connects with you and start making it your own.

Playing your favourite song is a simple way to explore your feelings and bring the music to life. Playing music with friends allows us a chance to express ourselves and seek support and affirmation from those around us. Expressing yourself is an important part of maintaining our mental well-being.

Read more: Music is what feelings sound like

Make it social

I recommend learning a new musical instrument from a tutor if you can find room for it in the budget. Learning guitar from a tutor can build a new group of friends with whom you interact on a regular basis: many tuition schools invite students to collaborate and practice/perform together, giving you an opportunity to become part of both large and small groups with a common interest in music. Forming a band with newfound friends can also help you develop stronger relationships and create an inner-circle of friends in whom you can confide.

Of course, there are many popular free resources online as well. If you think these may suit you best, try finding another way to make learning music more social. Invite a friend to learn the guitar with you to compare notes and bounce ideas off each other about new songs to play. Playing music is a great way to strengthen social bonds, which is beneficial  for mental well-being. Our music-based interactions have been shown to boost emotional responsiveness and social skills.

If you feel confident enough down the track, serenade loved ones with your newfound talent. Have a sing-along by a campfire with your extensive repertoire of four chord songs!

Read more: Music enhances social skills

Get creative!

This one’s more intimidating for some but can prove the most rewarding. Try writing your own songs– once you know how to play a few chords, who says you can’t start composing the next hit song? If you fancy yourself as the singer, pencil down a few lines of lyrics and play a few of your favourite chords. It’s amazing just how in-built making music is, you may just find yourself a natural singer/songwriter!

Engaging your creative side through playing the guitar has been shown to develop further skills of self-expression and stress management. Exploring your ability to improvise through music is linked to benefits such as reductions in stress and anxiety, improved communication, the non-verbal social and creative interaction experienced, and the capacity for expressing difficult or repressed emotions without having to articulate these verbally.

Read more: What are the health benefits of being creative?
Mankind has been making music for a million years now, so it’s well and truly part of who we are. It makes sense then, that your mental health may benefit from making music a part of who you are.     

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