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Music, wellbeing, development, and 7 months in Sheffield

Wellbeing in music development and learning, and vice versa – by Larissa Padula Ribeiro da Fonseca

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The relationship between music, wellbeing and health is a fascinating research topic. Studies in fields, including Neuroscience and Psychology of Music, provide strong evidence that early music experience impacts on brain development, with long-term effects on wellbeing, including physical and mental health, learning and behaviour.

Multiple research centres have been investigating the power of music for wellbeing from varying perspectives. There has been a recent increase in innovative, qualitative and quantitative research that explores the process and outcomes of music interactions, demonstrating the extraordinary benefits of active engagement with music throughout the lifespan (Ramond MacDonald, Susan Hallam, and Stephen Clift).

This multidisciplinary academic scene has uncovered a wide range of knowledge, theories and applications that can assist teachers, learners, practioners and researchers to better understand the important relationship between musical practice and wellbeing in musical development.

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As a young Brazilian musician, teacher and researcher, I always had a precious relationship with music.

I started music lessons in my childhood, comfortable at home with my pianist mother (both asking and helping her to back the groove). I had formal and informal music education in my adolescence,  playing in music groups at school, choir and orchestra, and also in rock & samba bands all night long. I then pursued my Music Degree, Masters, and now, ongoing PhD in Music Education.

To be with music, especially playing an instrument, always was and is my first happy choice. Wellness for me is to be with music. In short, “to sing makes me happy, be happy makes me sing! “. All my love for music is expressed by Caetano Veloso in his song Tigresa (Tigress), “como é bom poder tocar um instrumento”, “how good is can play an instrument / how good is to be able to play an instrument” [1].

The potential benefits that come from playing an instrument or engaging in musical interactions is a widespread theme in scientific research. But learning and playing an instrument can be also stressful and bring sadness, even pain, when you must confront and deal with environmental and individual/collective differences and limits.

How can we better understand the everyday practices and pressures on young musicians, with a view to optimizing their wellbeing?

How can studies in Music and Wellbeing contribute to fostering methodologies for a successful music education?

These and related questions surround my ideas. Good experiences are crucial for the many factors that influence music development and learning, especially motivation and interest in music making. These factors strongly determine whether an individual will sustain a musical career or even a positive musical interaction in the life.

Wellbeing is essential to engagement, motivation and satisfaction in a musical experience. For example, strong and positive musical performing experiences provide memories, which learners can draw on to sustain their motivation to keep practising and playing an instrument (Alex Lamont).

Recent research and my own experience, suggests a considerable level of health and wellbeing problems among music students, therefore health and wellbeing promoting behaviors in musical practice are needed.

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Since I was a child musician I felt a lot of pressure in my studies, with my challenges and skills, to be confident with my self-concept and musical understanding and identity. There were also pressures surrounding whether I was comfortable or not, prepared or not, to share or not, my musical experience with others, including fellows players or an audience.

Exhaustive, non-organized, or “too good that I could not stop to play” practice impacted negatively on my wellbeing, and I experienced pain, fatigue and sadness. On other hand, many components in my musical life, such as family support and excellent teachers, books and albums, amazing musical equipment, great stages and theatres, audiences and students plenty of smiles and bright eyes, provided me with good influences, in a such way that I never gave up on life with music.

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To live music, or even to be music, at least, while it lasts (T.S. Eliot). As Dr. Victoria Williamson reveals in her precious and inspirational book (sorry about the spoilers , ooops), “music will be your lifelong friend and personal companion, your reflection and your shadow. You really are the musicacheter viagra pharmacie france.

All my good music experiences motivated me and made me well, coming like a rainbow in my memory and inspiring me to continue my development. Considering recent research and components from my music memory, wellbeing in musical practice, and vice-versa, provides a valuable contribution to music development and learning. Indeed, musical memory appears as a precious tool that allows us to carry and access ourselves throughout life.

To be at a University has always allowed me to nourish my musical relationship. In my ongoing PhD research at the Federal University of Bahia Brazil, I’m investigating the relationship between memory ability and the organization of instrumental musical practice of children members of The Experimental Pedagogical Orchestra, from NEOJIBA, Salvador.

After I was awarded a scholarship from CAPES Foundation, an agency under the Ministry of Education in Brazil, I conducted part of my doctoral research as a Visiting Scholar at University of Sheffield, supervised by Dr. Victoria Williamson, from March until September 2015.

Dr Vicky Williamson

Dr Vicky Williamson

What a great experience! Again, a wonderful memory that illustrates wellbeing in my own musical development and learning, and vice versa. Vicky has been a great role model as researcher and has taught with excellence, generosity, care and kindness, valuable lessons that I will take with happiness in my memory and in my practice routine.

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It was a great experience because I learned many things that I didn’t know before and I was happy. I felt welcomed at The University and in the city of Sheffield, like at home. It’s an extraordinary place with an extraordinary people. I’m sure that this excellent environment and neighborhood provide me a valuable framework for my developing and learning.

I felt really good to be in the Department of Music and in the Libraries (Western Bank Library with that wonderful Weston Park at her feet is my passion), in the same way, cycling for hours in Endcliffe park listening to my favorite songs and thinking about my research ideas combined leisure and work.

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Working and learning with Vicky in Music and Wellbeing lab at The University of Sheffield sparked in me an interest to pursue different and new skills to improve my knowledge to be able to carry out more studies in the field of Psychology of Music and Music Education. I could see and feel that all the great factors of this experience motivated me to improve.

It is wonderful seeing people getting involved with research in their community and contributing in different ways to help society with music. Vicky’s ideas, writings and works about music and memory, music and wellbeing, her ideas about how music reveals what means to be human make me feel happy and even more proud and honor to be a musician, a music teacher and researcher. During and after this experience, I feel that my research has improved. I’m feeling blessed, inspired.

My PhD describes and analyses the musical practice of pupils. Following Sheffield I’m re-analysing my data with a special emphasis on both the internal and external factors involved in children’s musical practice routines, which contribute to musical practice and wellbeing. My aim is to develop applications that contribute to musical development and learning.

  1. Which factors and components in music practice context are potential predictors for wellbeing?
  2. How can music educators and learners explore these predictors in their own development and learning process?
  3. Which factors and components of wellbeing could be useful for enhancing musical development and learning?
  4. How can music educators and learners explore these factors in their own development and learning process?

These question inspire me in my analysis and, hopefully, will help me develop efficient methodological tools and ideas to enhance the quality of music education relationships in Brazil.

For now, I would like to close this blog by sharing my most recent flowchart that I hope inspires questions and theories about how internal and external related factors of musical practice and wellbeing might contribute to musical development and learning, a topic that is being studied in my project Music and Development, as part of the Music and Wellbeing research unit.

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One last suggestion from my learning experience in the UK: what about a cycle ride in the park with your favourite songs or a long swim while you practice your favourite piece of music in your mind? I always feel very well after it, you should try!

[1] Caetano Veloso, great Brazilian song-writer and musician. In Tigresa,