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The Miracle of Music

Playing an instrument can reduce stress, improve driving and increase brain function. Musicians are sought after for many reasons, so we ask: what can music bring to your life?

Rustic burger joints feel like home to 24-year-old Abigail Feldman who perches comfortably on a stool with an acoustic guitar. The smells of fried shrimp, roasted pork and grilled swordfish permeate the air at this Midwestern eatery. Hailing from the US city of Des Moines, Abigail is a welcome guest at the Grumpy Goat tavern. The tantalising aromas infused with her authentic musical talent make for a delectable atmosphere.

She gets ready to play a number of rock songs by bands like Radiohead, Fleetwood Mac, and The Cranberries. The audience, who are animatedly grateful for her riveting performance, surround Abigail with praise and compliments after she finishes.

Abigail (pictured) has played the piano, guitar and ukulele for a combined total of 21 years.

A versatile multi-instrumentalist, she explains that music brings people from different backgrounds together.

“Music is a universal language. I remember sitting in a school hallway with my ukulele, surrounded by 50 Italian kids who don’t speak English, all singing along with me to Hallelujah.”

Research shows that music can bring people many physical and emotional benefits.

Playing an instrument has been proven to help people cope with mental illnesses such as depression.

“My guitars have saved me from many dark times. If I didn’t have guitar to channel my emotion, I don’t know where I would have put that energy,”  says Mike Wright, a business owner who divides his time between running a consultancy firm, acting as an ambassador for the Canadian society for Leukaemia and Lymphoma, and playing the bass guitar in his band, called “Royal Stripes.”

“To this day, when I’m feeling low, I always look forward to quietly playing some guitar alone in my room to soothe my soul,” he adds.

Scientific evidence also suggests that a person who listens to music on the radio is more likely to drive safely on roads, leading to fewer accidents, which kill over 1000 people yearly in the UK.  Music has also been shown to reduce pain and stress, which can be useful for people with busy schedules or living with a chronic illness.

Employers often look for skills commonly found in musicians.

Mike (pictured in foreground) says that being in a band has developed his organisational skills.

“Running a band is a lot like running a business. You manage finances, human resources, marketing and operations. You develop strong presentation skills because you’re used to crowds. You become great at networking and talking to strangers and may feel more confident because you might have a supportive fan base,” says Mike.

Abigail, who thinks that creative freedom is one the most rewarding aspect of her musical journey, also feels that her confidence has improved: “You also dexterity, flexibility and adaptability.”

Laura James, 24, is a clarinettist, saxophonist and flutist based in Georgetown, on the east coast of the United States.

For Laura, playing in a band has helped her expand her social circle and make friends.

“Music has been a way for me to meet new people,” she says.

“I like to joke that I did not have friends until I joined my high school’s marching band. Last year I met my boyfriend. He recognised me from the band, and that gave us something to talk about.”

Mike’s band has become a network, on which he can rely upon for support and companionship.

“[My band] is like a second family to me. We travel and go out together. Music has impacted my life in a social way. It’s always easy to make friends because people want to hang out and party with a band,” he says.

Some of his greatest life achievements are experiences he had with his band.

“I swell up with pride whenever I look back on my projects with [my band mates]. My favourite accomplishment was that [our music] was played on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio station. We were featured on their show”

Laura (bottom right) says that being in a band has led to significant performance opportunities.

“I’ve played music Vienna, and at the stadium where the superbowl was held in 2014.  I was once singing with the university choir before a basketball game. Little did we know…the former vice president, Joe Biden, was there. He later complimented us on our performance,” says Laura.

Scientists have investigated the effects of music on exercise and discovered that upbeat rhythms and improve athletic performance in endurance sports, such as cycling and sprinting. This is, in part because remaining focused, disciplined and organised are attributes that are essential for a musician to be successful.

Many instrumentalists feel proud after a performing for an audience, which can be an exhilarating experience for people like 22-year-old guitarist, Franklin Murray, who says: “I have a sense of pride when people listen to and enjoy my music. The satisfaction is unrivalled.”

“The energy I feel coming from the crowd while I’m on stage is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” he adds.

Many people learn to play an instrument at their own pace, and this can be done comfortably at home.

“I taught myself to play the guitar, ukulele and piano. The guitar was accessible to me due to family members being regular players and I had one bought for me on my 15th birthday. My mum bought a piano for the house when I was around 18 years old. I had to try and play it, because it sounds beautiful,” says Franklin.

People can learn to play musical instruments in their own time.

There are shops which sell books that help people learn how to understand musical notation, and many of these manuals come with CDs and tutorials to assist beginners. The Internet is a useful resource for people who want to watch tutorials and use visual demonstrations to them master techniques used to play their chosen instrument.

Mike thinks that teaching himself guitar helped him learn the skill at his own pace.

“I took lessons for two weeks when I first started playing way back. I hated them and later quit playing the guitar for two years. Eventually I decided to teach myself, enjoyed it a lot more and stuck with it ever since.”

On the other hand, Laura feels that getting support from a music teacher made her motivated to practice regularly, so she could move onto learning new songs.

“I took private clarinet lessons for 10 years and I was taught how to play the saxophone at a summer camp. I wish I had stuck with my trombone lessons because it’s such a fun instrument to play,” says Laura.

Becoming a musician isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, as Mike explains: “Equipment gets expensive. A lot of popular artists have other sources of income and I don’t think many young musicians know that.”

Mike (far right) says that being a musician is not without its challenges.

“You never know where you will be in 1, 3 or 5 years, so the degree to which you combine music with your life is really up to the individual.”

“I know some people who fully committed to making music a part of their life and they couldn’t be happier, but there is no set path or one right way. It may not be wise to put all your eggs into the music basket.”

Mike is still happy to have opportunities where he can play in a band part-time, but feels that striking the right balance is important.

There are some music stores that sell second-hand instruments which are cheaper than newer models. Some shops offer customers a set number of free lessons with their new instrument, which can be helpful for someone who is just getting started.

But Mike isn’t letting go of his guitar strings any time soon.

“Music has moulded me into who I am today. It’s great for my soul. I have yet to find anything that brings me as much joy as music does.”

Dan Waggon, 21, is a guitarist in an alternative rock band based in Cardiff. Click here for some of the helpful tips he has for people learning to play a new instrument.

If you’re interested in becoming a musician, take a look at this poster of four of the easiest instruments to start learning.

Some of the most accessible instruments for beginners.

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