Focusing on even the simplest exercise like a C major scale can be a powerful stress reliever
- | 2 Reviews
- | 03 Apr 2022
We are now at a moment in history when our access to information is 24/7. Although I don't think this is always a good thing. Our culture doesn't often reward behavior that focuses on slowing things down, though I think this is exactly what needs to happen to lower stress levels. Whether you are singing into a microphone, plucking the strings of a guitar with your fingers, or stomping on a bass drum pedal with your foot, you will see the difference in your stress levels once you start playing a musical instrument.
According to Science of People “...casual music-making can short-circuit the stress response system and keep it from recurring or becoming chronic.” Beyond the physical aspects of playing an instrument, there are also the mental aspects to consider. I had a friend who was a psychologist whose job was incredibly stressful. She worked at a practice that was understaffed, increasing the demands on her time, and often leading to multiple double shifts per week. Looking for ways to reduce stress I suggested she take piano lessons. Like most people she initially felt she didn't have the time. I told her that everybody has the time to improve the quality of their life!
From my experience deep breathing was only one way to lower stress. If you have ever been to the gym you will know what I'm talking about. It is easy to feel the difference in your stress levels after a rigorous physical workout. Playing the drums uses muscles in your legs, arms, hands, wrists, back, and shoulders. It is literally hitting wood (drumsticks) against synthetic plastic (drum skins) and metal (cymbals). This is a tremendous way to relieve stress!
Initially, I was doing these exercises to become a better singer. In a short amount of time, I realized how this was positively affecting my mental health. From then on I began my daily practice session with this breathing exercise to calm my mind.
Something happened that was unintentionally life-changing on my first singing lesson. The singing teacher said “I want you to take a very large breath in and fill your lungs with air. Then gradually let the air out through your mouth making an 's' sound similar to a snake.” As soon as I did this everything slowed down. I realized many of us go through the whole day without doing any real deep breathing. Instantly I felt calm and less stressed out.
I was determined to learn how to sing backing vocals to increase my value as a musician. Although I felt I had a decent voice, I had a previous negative experience that derailed my confidence. When I was a teenager I was singing in my bedroom. My older brother who was also a musician gently knocked on my door. He said “Was that you singing?” I said “Yes!” eagerly awaiting a compliment. Then he said “Oh, I thought someone was drowning a cat in here.” Needless to say, I was a little self-conscious of my voice after that.
The drums and my self-esteem both took a good beating at those auditions. Instead of wondering why I wasn't getting those bookings, I simply asked the bandleader. He quite casually told me it was because the other drummer sings backing vocals. He then explained that when a band goes on tour, it would save the record company money if they hire musicians who could sing. This meant they wouldn't have to hire separate backing singers. Using this system, a lot of money was saved on fees, plane tickets, and hotel rooms.
When I was just starting my career as a musician, I remember auditioning for a lot of bands. I would learn the drum parts meticulously so they would sound exactly like the tape (I'm an old guy, we didn't have MP3s back in the day). There was a period where I saw another drummer at every audition I attended. I would listen to him play outside in the waiting room. Although stylistically we sounded very similar, nine times out of ten he got the gig.
Within weeks of learning the piano, she told me she could see the difference in her stress levels. Having to focus on even the simplest exercise like a C major scale, allowed her to be fully present in that moment in time. When this practice occurs it is virtually impossible to be overwhelmed by your problems because your focus is on what music you are making. According to The American Psychological Association "...hormones that create stress are reduced by playing music."