Creating Music Can Be a Therapeutic Outlet | WhisperRoom™

How Writing and Creating Music Can Be a Therapeutic Outlet

By: WhisperRoom™

February 9, 2023

A man is smiling with his eyes shut as he enjoys playing a "C" chord on a nylon stringed guitar.

Music is a wonderful outlet for creativity and catharsis. Listening to Miles Davis on the drive home from work can help you take that deep breath you’ve been holding onto all day and waking up to the new Taylor Swift album can put an extra pep in your step.

Writing and creating your own music can be equally therapeutic. Artists like Nina Simone are famous for using music to reflect their feelings, experiences, and ideas. Reflecting on the songwriting process, Simone stated that, while writing music “I have to constantly re-identify myself to myself [ . . .] my own convictions and why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

You don’t have to be an award-winning musician to benefit from writing and creating music. Just a few lines of verse written on the subway while on the way to work may be all you need to refocus your mind, gain greater resilience, or discover some important truth about yourself.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is a well-established sub-field of psychological therapy. Trained and licensed music therapists use the medium of music to guide you through sessions and explore your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There are different types of musical therapy, and you may write your own music, perform with your community, or simply discuss music and how it makes you feel.

It’s important to note that music therapy is different from writing for simple stress relief. However, common signs that you may benefit from therapy include:

  • Experiencing the symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Any thoughts of self-harm
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches

You don’t have to be at a crisis point to seek the aid of a therapist. Preventative music therapy can be great for your health and well-being, even if you have mild signs of stress or want to talk about previous trauma.

Music therapy can also be a great learning experience. You can learn to play new instruments or experiment with different forms of genres while attending music therapy.

A great video from Demystifying Medicine McMaster that explains music therapy.

Mental Health Benefits

Writing and creating music is wonderful for your mental health. Listening to calming music can help you focus, and learning to play reflective tunes may be what you need to clear your mind after a busy day to achieve your goals.

Playing music can also improve your self-esteem. It’s easy to feel at a loss if you don’t have any personal hobbies outside of work. Learning to play instruments like the piano can give you a clear objective and help you feel confident and proud of your achievements.

Setting down to an evening of riffing and writing can be particularly beneficial if you need to work through some challenges. Turning life’s challenges into artistic expressions can help you see them in a new light. Likewise, difficult memories can be safely explored through the comfort of your favorite guitar or while writing lyrics to accompany a piano piece you’ve been working on.

Music can improve your cognitive abilities, too. Your brain’s neuroplasticity improves when writing music, meaning you are more adaptable and resilient. Writing music also activates your hippocampus, meaning you can process new information quickly and with greater accuracy.

Felt Sense

Many first-time musicians put too much pressure on themselves when trying to write a new song or practice a few chords. It’s all too easy to compare yourself to the professional musicians you listen to and feel frustrated when your output doesn’t match theirs.

Instead of comparing yourself to others, try to reflect inwards and work from your own feelings. Feel your way toward a new verse and be kind to yourself if the words don’t flow naturally. Compositionist and rhetorician Sondra Pearl calls this reflective writing method Felt Sense:

  • Start by getting comfortable and settle into your chair.
  • Ask yourself simple and reflective questions like “what’s on my mind?”, “is there anything I’d like to write about?”
  • Jot down a list of ideas. You can even start with a single entry that says “nothing”.
  • Take a breath and start writing associations with your idea. Try to make associations between your ideas and the music you enjoy the most. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, how might a jazz band represent stress? What kind of forms and styles might they employ?
  • Try to turn these associations into music. Even if they don’t correlate exactly, the process of transforming ideas into music is therapeutic and can help you discover new insights.

When reflecting inwards, try not to assess your music or how it sounds; you can always revise your ballads and beats later. For now, simply focus on producing music that comes from your feelings and helps you reflect on life as it is for you right now.

This video from FocusingResources talks about the key concept of focusing: the felt sense.

Sharing and Performing

No one should ever force you to share your music with an outside audience. However, if you do want to perform for other people, consider arranging a venue and audience that will be overwhelmingly supportive of your contribution.

Look for local open mics in your area and attend them as an audience member before you register to perform. Note how the night is organized and take note of how well the bands and performers are supported by the hosts. Ideally, you should find a space where the audiences want to support folks who step out of their comfort zone – even if the performers are still honing their craft.

An image of a neon sign in a window that says "open mic night".


Writing music is a great way to escape from life’s challenges and tribulations. Even a 15-minute jam can help alleviate your stress and improve your cognitive abilities. If you’re still feeling stressed, consider reaching out to a professionally trained musical therapist who can help you through the medium of music.

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