Rhythm for Life

Music Making and Wellbeing Enhancement for Older Adults

Rhythm for Life was supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (2010-12) and aimed to enhance wellbeing among older adults through making music. The project facilitated creative music opportunities for over 100 older adults in west London, all of which were delivered by current or past RCM students.

The effects of participation were monitored throughout to inform how learning music can support mental wellbeing. Drawing on standardised questionnaires completed by both music learners and a comparison group, the project demonstrated that learning in older adulthood offers significant wellbeing benefits, with learning music particularly enhancing health-promoting behaviours. In-depth interviews with a subset of participants from the music group indicated that learning music in older adulthood can enhance wellbeing through six mechanisms: subjective experiences of pleasure, enhanced social interactions, musically-nuanced engagement in day-to-day life, fulfilment of musical ambition, ability to make music, and self-satisfaction through musical progress.

Recognising that little is known of what musicians themselves learn when they teach older adults, questionnaires, diaries, and video-stimulated recall interviews ascertained that student-teachers involved in the project reformulated the ways in which they thought about and taught older adult learners, and they developed skills and knowledge relevant to a wide range of educational contexts.

Rhythm for Life provided the groundwork for much of the CPS’s research into Music, Health and Wellbeing, and further investigation of the effects of musical participation on the health of older adults has continued with the Art for Ages project.

Project team

Aaron Williamon, RCM (PI)
Rosie Perkins, RCM


University of the Third Age

Supported by

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Learn more

Burt-Perkins R & Williamon A (2011), ‘I kind of get lost in it’: experiences of learning to perform music in older adulthood, in A Williamon, D Edwards, and L Bartel (eds.), Proceedings of the International Symposium on Performance Science 2011 (pp. 305-310), European Association of Conservatoires (AEC).

Perkins R, Aufegger L, & Williamon A (2015), Learning through teaching: exploring what conservatoire students learn from teaching beginner older adults, International Journal of Music Education, 33, 80-90 [DOI].

Perkins R & Williamon A (2014), Learning to make music in older adulthood: a mixed-methods exploration of impacts on wellbeing, Psychology of Music, 42, 550-567 [DOI] [VIDEO].

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