Learning to make music in older adulthood: a mixed-methods exploration of impacts on wellbeing

Perkins, R. and Williamon, A. (2014) Learning to make music in older adulthood: a mixed-methods exploration of impacts on wellbeing. Psychology of Music, 42 (4). pp. 550-567. ISSN 0305-7356 (print) 1741-3087 (online)


Building on burgeoning research in the field of arts and health, this article explores the role that learning music plays in enhancing wellbeing in older adulthood. Despite an increasing focus on the role of learning in supporting mental wellbeing, there is strikingly little research that examines this in relation to music, or that explores wellbeing as a subjective phenomenon captured through mixed-methods enquiry. This research addresses this gap through two interrelated studies. Study 1 adopts questionnaire measures of wellbeing with 98 music-learning and comparison participants, concluding that learning in older adulthood offers significant wellbeing benefits, with music particularly enhancing some health-promoting behaviours. To explore in more detail what learning music means to older adults, Study 2 adopts qualitative methods with a sub-group of 21 music-learning participants, concluding that learning music can enhance subjective wellbeing through six mechanisms: (i) subjective experiences of pleasure; (ii) enhanced social interactions; (iii) musically-nuanced engagement in day-to-day life; (iv) fulfilment of musical ambition; (v) ability to make music; and (vi) self-satisfaction through musical progress. Drawing the two studies together, the paper concludes by arguing for further research to contribute to the growing body of evidence placing music learning at the centre of healthy ageing agendas.

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