Playing in a Brass Band Associated With Improved Mental, Respiratory Health, Study Finds

Playing an instrument in a brass band is associated with improved overall well-being—including mental, social and respiratory health, according to a study conducted by professors at England's University of Sheffield.

The research study was based on survey responses and published in a journal, Frontiers in Psychology: Performance Science, and conducted by faculty of the university's Music Department.

Researchers collaborated with Brass Bands England, a coalition of brass bands in the country, to obtain respondents for the study. In the end, they had 346 adult respondents. Among the 295 participants who recorded their age, the average age was 45.

The researchers wrote that the range of instruments the respondents played "reflected the levels of instrumentation found within a typical brass band." The cornet, which is similar to the trumpet, was the most frequently played, followed by the alto horn, the trombone and the tuba. One of the reasons the study was worthwhile, according to researchers, was that most previous studies of the health benefits of being part of a musical group were on choirs.

The main survey question that researchers asked respondents was "How does brass banding affect your life?" It was an open question, and respondents were given space to provide positive or negative responses that corresponded to five categories: emotional health, physical health, psychological health, social health and spiritual health. To avoid giving respondents the impression that they should offer opinions on their health for the survey, researchers wrote that there was a clear option for them to state that playing in a brass band had "no effect."

Using an applied thematic qualitative analysis protocol, researchers analyzed the survey responses to determine what they said about the respondents' health according to the five categories. A total of 1,658 individual quotes were coded, according to the study.

The analysis found that the overwhelming majority of the responses for each category were positive. For example, of the 206 survey comments that related to respiration—part of the "physical health category—203 were positive and only three were negative.

"I'm asthmatic and it has helped me gain a great deal of control over my breathing (despite being incredibly unfit and overweight I come out as 'elite sportsman' when I have my breathing monitored by my doctor)," one respondent wrote.

There were 544 responses classified as belonging to the social category. Of those, 525 reported positive impacts on social health, while 18 were negative and one was "mixed." Survey respondents wrote that being in a band allowed them to interact with people whom they might otherwise never talk to, as well as forming close friendships with people who share a similar interest in music.

Responses about the other health categories—psychological, emotional and spiritual—were also mostly positive, according to the research.

Dr. Michael Bonshor, one of the study's authors, said in a statement that the study's results demonstrated the benefits of being in a brass band on a person's overall health.

"Our survey respondents particularly valued the opportunities for community building, reporting a sense of social bonding and belonging, not only within the brass band world but also through their band's musical role in a range of public events and fundraising activities for the wider community," Bonshor said.

"We are hoping that these findings will encourage people to participate in this sociable way of contributing to our physical and mental health," he said.

2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
The Roots of Music Marching Band performs during the 2015 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 30 in New Orleans. Douglas Mason/Getty