How music benefits the brain, general health, and well-being is becoming widely known. Music as therapy is often written about—but how about music as a barometer of the state of your health?
A barometer is an instrument used to measure air pressure in weather forecasting. If you take music classes or lessons, your day-to-day performance in these lessons or in your personal practice is your barometer that measures how much life pressure you’re under, and consequently how well you are doing physically, mentally, and even emotionally, thus giving you direct and immediate feedback for often-overlooked clues to your state of well-being.
In our fast-paced, stressful world, where one can become overburdened for months or years at a time, it is easy to lose perspective of our optimal state of being. We get, in a way, used to chronic stress, lack of sleep, overwork, and lack of down time or health-replenishing activities. We cease to recognize what a normal state is, and that we are not in one.
We lose balance in our lives, and, after a while, forget what it feels like to function at our optimum. In addition to chronic factors, we may also not feel daily shifts in wellness–or lack thereof–because we’re consumed by life’s demands, or simply by exhaustion.
But your performance in music doesn’t lie.
Your performance in music is a sensitive meter. Long before you become aware of your condition, your performance on your musical instrument will show you.
Producing music consists of many variables, such as complicated sheet music, timing, fingering (especially string instruments), or mouth position (woodwinds, brass). The execution of the correct sound(s) at the right time requires that the brain, nervous system, and muscles coordinate knowledge, concentration, body parts, timing, and adjustment. It is demanding, with many skills tapped at the same time.
Thus, if your brain or body are overloaded and in a state of fatigue or shutdown (which means your judgement about your condition may also be impaired), these activities become difficult or impossible to perform well, and that is your alert.
Symptoms to watch for
- You have trouble following your sheet music, repeatedly lose your place, or zone out.
- You can’t seem to take in new material or learn new songs (brain block, signalling overload).
- You lack coordination.
- You get easily frustrated or more emotional than usual when confronted with a new piece or when polishing a difficult piece.
- Stuff doesn’t stick. You forget what you’d learned the day before, sometimes hours before.
- You can’t progress beyond your current level, even though you believe you have a higher capacity.
- Practising feels like work rather than joy, stress relief, or me time.
- You avoid or think about avoiding practice or lessons, you feel like quitting but know you don’t really want to, or you feel negative emotions or are stressed by the thought of picking up your instrument or going to your lesson.
The above symptoms indicate you are overloaded, no matter what the cause. They are particularly telling when you think you’re okay, or believe you’re coping.
A helpful article: 7 Signs of Mental Fatigue.
Even allergies, allergic and stress edemas, and other physical health symptoms affect performance.
It is important to remain in touch with ourselves, to maintain balance, or the consequences can be dire, leading to disease, lack of performance at work, relationship issues, and more.
Some people use yoga, meditation, massage, hobbies, travel, family time, exercise, music listening—the list is endless—to balance themselves and restore their health. However, an increasing number of people find themselves on a metaphorical treadmill due to financial and economic factors, caregiver roles, or personal and/or work responsibilities, thus subjecting themselves to long periods without proper vacation or respite. They either get used to the load and think they’re okay, they “got” this, or they resent it but can’t lessen their burden.
This is exactly when they need their own personal barometer to tell them the truth, be it music or some other activity that provides similar feedback because it employs focus, coordination, learning, and retention, and gives them direct feedback on their performance through some tangible or measurable means.
The ability to see and acknowledge that something is wrong–and unsustainable–is the first step toward making positive changes.
Added February 19, 2017
As this video shows, the entire brain is involved in creating music. It is easy to understand how mental, emotional, and physical fatigue can create problems with learning new music and music execution. Conversely, problems with the steps involved in playing music alert us to the fact that the brain is overloaded.
If you have concerns about your health, see your doctor or health practitioner. This article is not intended as a substitute for care and diagnosis by a medical professional.