Let me start by stating the obvious: the pandemic hit us all, and it did so in ways that we never imagined. But did you know that an estimated 1.5 billion learners (91.3%) experienced limited or no access to education, play, peer interaction and sports, which are essential for healthy development (UNESCO, 2021)? Did you know that most parents reported increased stress and workloads, and disruptions to family life in important ways (Adams et al., 2021, Kerr et al., 2021, Lee et al., 2021)? (I said I would state the obvious).
We do not yet know the long-term effects of the pandemic in education and social life. However, we do know that human beings are resilient and resourceful. People across the world found creative ways to cope. Music in all its forms seemed to be at the center of those coping strategies. We have all seen the social media videos were people “gathered” in their balconies to sing and celebrate frontline workers, to meet with friends and neighbors, or to lift their spirits.
We have relished in the creativity and ingenuity of people playing their instruments in impromptu scenarios in solidarity of affected nations.
One of the “positive effects” of the pandemic (if we can call them that) was to highlight the central role that the arts play in people’s lives. Amateur, student, and professional musicians developed all sorts of virtual performances that engaged us and supported us.
College students used and produced music for their own and others’ wellbeing.
In fact, college students, a group greatly affected by the pandemic because of online education, job losses and family stressors, listened to music often to cope with isolation, depression and anxiety (Finnerty et al., 2021; Krause et al., 2021). Older adults gathered in Zoom music sessions, led by music therapy students, to interact and move. And they were not alone: people around the globe (e.g., Brazil, Spain, Israel) used music to feel better, to participate in community activities, and to get through the lockdowns (Cabedo-Mas et al., 2021; Ribeiro et al., 2021; Vidas et al., 2021; Ziv & Hollander-Shabtai, 2022).
Parents also recurred to music to engage their children during the pandemic (e.g., Steinberg et al., 2021). Everybody probably used or saw a parent use music to keep their children occupied during those long hours of stay-at-home orders. Parents used musical play to teach, entertain, and motivate. Parents with increased challenges to meet their children’s need were able to use music to help their family during this time. For example, parents of autistic children learned to use music to support their child’s development through virtual music therapy sessions (e.g., Hernandez-Ruiz, 2022). Parents and babies in neonatal intensive care, who faced restricted access, were able to have meaningful interactions with the support of resourceful music therapists, who used Zoom meetings and their own musicality to facilitate sessions with babies, nurses, and parents (e.g., Negrete, 2020). Families benefited from better interactions, less parents’ stress, and better sleep quality for the children, among other positive results (e.g., Bompard et al., 2021).
But is there science to this? Or is this only our own belief that music “feels good”? Well, there is science! There is growing evidence that music, and more specifically, music therapy interventions, can help us deal with stress and anxiety (de Witte et al., 2020). The effects are both psychological and physiological: among other things, music decreases anxiety, worry and restlessness, and it decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and stress-related hormones. A large number of studies have shown that music of different types and in a wide variety of settings have these effects (de Witte et al., 2020). Sometimes as little as one session of music interventions can make a difference! Although we are still trying to figure out what exactly about the music helps us feel better, we already know that musical preference, moderate tempos (60 to 80 bpm), and preferred lyrics will amplify these effects. Even short, 5-minute music interventions can help ameliorate stress and anxiety (e.g., Fiore, 2018). It is important to note that, although music making or music listening is “good for everybody,” clearer effects are seen when the music intervention is created with knowledge and intention of the musical elements that promote these results.
The pandemic, as any large-scale crisis, has been a time of suffering, grief, and anguish. It has also been a time of opportunity, change, and growth. People around the world have demonstrated that the arts, and particularly music, are at the center of our humanness: it soothes us, it empowers us, and it unites us. Let’s keep the music going!
Special thanks to Eugenia Hernandez Ruiz, member of Save The Music Foundation’s Music Education Advisory Board.
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