The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Making music is healthy for you, researchers say. It can lower blood pressure and increase a sense of well-being. You can even start music lessons as an older adult. | March 23, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about art therapy!

A close friend has often told me how the German army in World War I gave double rations to the piano players because they used so much energy doing their job of entertaining the troops.

I have never been able to prove the story. But it makes a lot of sense to this amateur pianist. I know the physicality of playing, and it takes stamina as well as finesse. And it involves both body and mind. (Below in a photo of University of Wisconsin pianist Christopher Taylor, whose playing is particularly physical and energetic, as you know well if you saw his recent astonishing recital of Franz Liszt‘s extremely virtuoso transcriptions of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and Fifth Symphony.)


Contemporary researchers have taken an interest in studying how music affects one’s physical and mental health as well as social well-being, especially now that researchers can track changes through MRI and CAT scans.

Here is more good news: The suggestion, or even proof, by Dutch researchers that playing music lowers stress and lowers blood pressure. (Other studies show that listening to music also has benefits. But the one I am discussing dealt specific with actual music-making.)

Here is a link to the study:

Singing opera

And that story has a link to another study, done in Britain, that talks about the heightened sense of well-being one gets from making music – playing the piano or some other instrument or singing. And we know that conducting is particularly aerobic and healthy. Little wonder that conductors generally live along and healthy life.

The Bottom Line? Music is good and good for you.

So I say to my fellow Baby Boomers and retirees who wanted to better their health: Music lessons, anyone?

Trust me, it’s never too late.

Just look at the YouTube video below that has had more than 9 MILLION hits:


  1. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who has
    been doing a little research on this. And he in fact ordered
    me lunch due to the fact that I found it for him… lol.
    So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!
    ! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this issue here on your web site.

    Comment by Immigration Lawyer Kent — March 25, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

  2. Jake, thanks for your kind words. I found your Gould comment regarding the E Major Prelude and Fugue somewhat amusing, because I never cared much for his rendition of this Fugue, which I found too severe for my taste.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — March 25, 2013 @ 8:31 am

    • Hi Tim,
      Well, Gould used a dry, detache harpsichord (no pedal) aesthetic at the keyboard and he was a contrarian who loved being different or unexpected
      In some preludes and fugues he was sublime; in others, severe, austere or even just goofy.
      But it does come to to taste and how you like your Bach.
      I liked, but I would inevitably do it different because I am me and you are you and Gould is Gould.
      I say: Do it Your Way.
      Let Gould be Gould and Adrianson be Adrianson.
      But I do think Gould was essentially right about the quality of the E Major Prelude and Fugue, though “the best” is a relative judgment — at best!

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 25, 2013 @ 8:45 am

  3. That the tradition of shape note singing is unbroken from from the time of it origins in 18th century New England offers further evidence that music-making promotes good health. The practice of assigning different note shapes to syllables of the scale (fa=triangle, sol=oval, etc.) would now be called multi-sensory learning – visual cues reinforcing ear training. Beating time with one hand while singing adds the kinesthetic dimension. The social dimension (men, women and children of varying ages and backgrounds) is rich and rewarding and “dinner on the grounds” (the noon potluck) provides enjoyable fuel for a day-long singing convention.
    For a sample of this music, go hear Tim Eriksen at Folklore Village Farm on April 5 or visit on the web. To try it yourself, join the Southern Wisconsin Shape Note Singers at 3:00 p.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month at the Grace Episcopal Church Guildhall.

    Comment by Johanna Fabke — March 23, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  4. This is a DYNAMITE topic! Hey, Chris Taylor looks a little like Glenn Gould there, in that photo!
    Anyway, I KNOW that I feel WAY better after playing/practising for two hours straight through without a break. I take medicines for anxiety, and I never feel as in need of them after playing a LOT on any given day, If I am away from the keyboard, say, on vacation, I have to be walking around a lot to substitute for the digital/mental aerobics I am used to getting.
    If one is not moving considerably at one’s instrument, or with it, or while singing, one is trying to avoid the basic gesture of music-making, which is conducting oneself, just like the conductor leads the entire ensemble. It is NOT phony expressiveness, or mugging for the audience or camera, it is moving with the physical act of realizing sounds with the body. The only music that is not made this way is via computers and synthesizers.
    As for adults learning to make music, alas, I am not hopeful. Perhaps it is a flaw in my teaching, but I have yet to see any beginning, or relatively inexperienced adult learn to make music at anything but the most rudimentary level. I believe that it has more to do with the business of family life, and the dabbler’s approach to music than anything cognitive or developmental.
    Adult learning of an instrument requires them to be as vigilant as they require their children to be at learning, as well as having the tabula rasa mindset of the beginner. Both concepts are REALLY hard for the developed ego of most healthy adults. Sorry, but this has been my experience.
    I often tell people that I hear two main issues about music at adult social gatherings. The first one is ” I wish I had kept up with my ____ lessons when I was a kid. My parents let me quit.” The second one is” I made my kids keep up with their _____ lessons all through high school, and now they want to be MUSICIANS! Yikes!”
    Well, you can’t get the benefits of the one without risking the other, so keep your kids at it, if you dare, and find something else aerobic and absorbing to do if you don’t already play. and it’s not playing cards, I hope!

    Comment by Michael BB — March 23, 2013 @ 8:33 am

  5. Jake, regarding the Christopher Taylor concert — did anybody even write a review of that extraordinary event? For me, it was one of the most spectacular solo piano recitals I’ve ever heard. And, you could hear it for free! Madison certainly has an embarrassment of riches in Classical Music events.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — March 23, 2013 @ 8:27 am

    • Hi Tim,
      Sorry, but I don’t think a full review of Christopher Taylor’s recital ever appeared anywhere, including here, though I idd mention it very positively.
      It was just such a busy, even hectic, week for live music, coming just before Spring Break.
      It was an astonishing display of virtuoso piano-playing.
      But given the repertoire, I think it was more a display of piano playing than musicianship. Liszt just loved those double octaves, interlocking octave, double thirds and all sorts of other technical difficulties and tricks he himself could just toss off.
      I also wanted to mention how much I enjoyed hearing your own playing on Thursday morning — which was Bach’s 328th birthday — on Rich Samuels’ show “Anything Goes” on WORT 89.9 FM. You did J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Major (not E minor, as announced, I believe) from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2. You did a fine job,and also had insightful things to say in your introduction.
      It is a great piece. I think Glenn Gould called it the best prelude and fugue in both books.
      Keep playing, as well as reading and replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 23, 2013 @ 10:59 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,259 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,316,790 hits
%d bloggers like this: