Dancers and choral singers are too. There’s just something about joining with others to make—or respond to—music.
By Tom Jacobs
(Photo: Rogerio Barbosa/AFP/Getty Images)
Even in an era of political discord, economic insecurity, and general discontent, there are certain people who are genuinely content with their lives. Once you recognize such an individual, feel free to ask them their secret, but be aware they may not have time to talk. For there’s a good chance they’re on their way to a concert. Or a dance studio. Or perhaps rehearsal for their choral group.
In a newstudy from Australia, people who regularly attend musical events and/or participate in dancing reported higher levels of well-being than those who did not. Singers felt similarly positive about their lives, so long as they were in some sort of ensemble.
The findings reflect “the important role of engaging with music in the company of others,” conclude Deakin University scholars Melissa Weinberg and Dawn Joseph. They report elevated levels of life satisfaction among Australians who take part in communal musical experiences — anything from ballroom dancing to hanging out at clubs to hear a band.
The study, published in the journal Psychology of Music, featured 1,000 Australians (with an average age of 56) who were interviewed by telephone in 2014. They were asked to rate, on a zero-to-10 scale, “How satisfied are you with your life right now?” That general question was then broken down into seven specifics, such as how happy they were with their health, relationships, security, and achievements in life.
In an era when we can hear virtually any song ever written by pressing a few buttons on our phones, we still gather together in clubs and concert halls.
They were also “asked a series of yes/no questions to establish their habitual modes of engagement with music. They reported whether or not they listened to music, played an instrument, sang, dance, created or composed music, and/or attended musical concerts.” Those who said they sang, dance, or played an instrument were also asked “whether they usually engaged in music in this way alone, or in the company of others.”
“Total wellbeing scores were significantly higher for people who reported that they danced or attended musical events,” the researchers report. Compared to people who did not participate in these activities, members of both groups gave themselves significantly higher ratings on several important scales, including life achievements, relationships, and community.
Concertgoers also reported greater levels of satisfaction with their standard of living, but this may simply reflect the fact tickets to such events tend to be costly, meaning wealthier people are more likely to attend.
It will come as no surprise to choral singers that the researchers found “people who sang with others had higher scores on almost all domains.” They ranked statistically higher than their non-singing peers on two in particular: Their standard of living, and sense of “community connectedness.”
“There were no significant differences in wellbeing for people who sang alone compared to those who do not sing,” Weinberg and Joseph add, “suggesting that any benefits to wellbeing associated with singing are restricted to those who sing in the company of others.”
Similarly, “those who reported that they danced with others had significantly higher scores than those who did not dance on the domains of satisfaction with health, achieving in life, and relationships,” they write. But this was not true of those who danced alone.
The study is correlational in nature, meaning it doesn’t prove making music increases well-being. It’s conceivable that happier people choose to get together with others to sing, dance, or go to concerts. Or perhaps the effect works both ways, with people who feel good about their lives choosing to actively engage with music, which increases their quality of life even more.
Either way, the results help explain why, in an era when we can hear virtually any song ever written by pressing a few buttons on our phones, we still gather together in clubs and concert halls. Music very likely began as a form of tribal bonding, and it still has its greatest positive impact when it is a communal experience.