Personal tools
You are here: Auditory Development Lab > Research > Wellness and Music

Wellness and Music

Music and managing stress levels in undergraduate students

Stress levels among undergraduate students appear to be rising, and the pandemic may have exacerbated that trend. We conducted a survey during exam period in April 2020 while the COVID-19 precautionary measures were in effect. The survey collected information about students’ music background, anxiety and extra-curricular activities. We were particularly interested in knowing if playing an instrument or listening to music contributed to overall well-being (feeling less stress or anxious), during a period of time perceived as stressful (exams and a global pandemic).

786 undergraduate students completed the survey.  Preliminary results indicate 65% of students were experiencing high anxiety, which is worrying.  We also found that listening to music was among the top extra-curricular activities that student reported engaging in to support their wellness. Other high rated activities were exercise and socializing with others through social media. When asked if they would be interested in engaging in online group music therapy, over half of students stated yes or maybe.

There are currently no music therapy programs for undergraduate students on Canadian university campuses that we are aware of. The results of this survey indicate that providing such programs could support student wellness in a proactive manner by intervening to manage stress before it reaches crisis levels. As a result, we are now conducting a study on how group music therapy affects physiological and self-report measures of stress. If you are an undergraduate student at McMaster who would like to participate, please contact us at

Online Community Music Therapy- a proactive tool for reducing stress and anxiety  

Verbal based therapies are the standard of care for mental health both on and off campus.  Mental health concerns continue to rise, and undergraduate students are particularly vulnerable to compromised wellbeing.  This research will explore the efficacy of community music therapy as a proactive approach to wellbeing.  Many supports offered on campus to undergraduate students are designed to meet students in crisis opposed to preventing crisis, and there are often long wait times associated with supports for students in crisis.  Additionally, reactive crisis support is offered as individual sessions (opposed to group sessions) which contributes to additional financial costs to the university in addition to the aforementioned wait times.

This research is designed to offer online group music therapy sessions, drawing upon the model of community music therapy.  Data will be collected from two different online group music therapy sessions (1.Active  music therapy interventions 2. Passive music therapy sessions) as well as the online Open Circle groups, which is a verbal based support group available to McMaster students.  In addition to the online community music therapy group, data will be collected from a control group (students who do not participate in either group) and a wait-listed group.  We will collect data about state anxiety, perceived stress, quality of life, heart rate variability and cortisol levels.

We predict that there will not be a significant difference between the verbal-based and music-based therapy groups, and if this is the case, online community music therapy should be considered as a standard of care.  Although beyond the scope of the experimental design of this research, it is predicted that students are more likely to proactively choose to engage in a therapy that is music based opposed to the often negatively stigmatized verbal based therapies as a result of the often positive connotations associated with music.