There is one language everyone knows, to some degree, no matter what age, country, intelligence level, background, etc.
It’s not English, or Chinese, or Spanish (the top three frequently-used languages in the world)
Music is a language?
Yes, if you define “language” as “a method of human communication.”
Music, of all the arts, communicates universal truths and unspeakable ideas that are unspeakable mostly because words cannot do them justice.
We intrinsically know music already, all of us. We all have preferences, we all can tell whether a piece of music communicates happiness, or sadness, anger, or frenetic energy.
Everyone knows what music to play for a dance party or a black-tie affair. We select particular soundtracks when we want to celebrate, or when we need to cry. We do it instinctively, the way we speak and take in other languages.
Why learn music?
In some sense, music does not need to be taught. We all have an instinctive grasp of it, to some degree or another.
However, there are still aspects of music that are passed on from culture to culture, person to person, and studying the history and evolution of music, or the way music is constructed, can be highly beneficial for everyone.
And, the more you learn about music, the more you can enjoy it and benefit from it.
Music can change the world
Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher once said:
Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.
What he meant, of course, is that it’s far more effective to influence people’s hearts through music than to try to control their outward behavior through laws.
Plato added to that:
Musical innovation is full of danger to the State, for when modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them.
And there is more than something to that.
Playing classical music has been known to reduce crime rates in public places.
And the Beatles were the fuel of the culture of the 60s just as Gregorian chant laid the foundation for the Middle Ages.
In Influential Beats: The Cultural Impact of Music, writer Selwyn Duke noted that “ changes in music hew closely to changes in society’s consensus worldview. This explains why musical tastes change so quickly today: With no dominant cultural stabilizer…society is prone to continual arbitrary change.”
In the words of the great Beethoven:
Music can change the world.
…and it has.
So if you want to change the world, you had better learn how the powerful medium of music works.
Even if you don’t necessarily want to change the world, knowing what kind of impact music has on you and your world and life is more than a good idea.
Music is not neutral — what you listen to will affect your life and thoughts and behaviors. Be wary of what music you take in, even the wordless forms — all of it is communicating something, at the subconscious level, and that’s what makes it so powerful.
Music can reach the unreachable
Boston Phil conductor Benjamin Zander once described in a TED talk the effect that piano music had on street kids who were learning conflict resolution.
After listening to Chopin, one gang-hardened young man told Zander after his performance that he was able to mourn the death of his brother for the first time thanks to the music.
And according to the 2014 documentary, Alive Inside, music has the potential to reach even people suffering from severe dementia. Seniors who no longer recognized family members nor reacted to human voices were found to look up and even start singing and dancing when their favorite music was played for them.
Music has the magical ability to touch even hardened hearts and linger on in even minds ravaged by dementia. Is there anything else that can do this?
So if you are going through unspeakable experiences, listening to (or better,producing your own) music can help you express the inexpressible.
And if you know someone who is difficult to connect to, learning about music, how it works, and what type the other person likes, can give you much insight into other people’s character and perspective, and help you to reach out more effectively.
Music can help you learn faster
Whether it’s the multiplication table, the list of American presidents, or a foreign language, music has been used to teach and remember facts, figures, and other academic subjects for years.
History has long been passed on in the form of odes and singable poetry, to make it easier for people to remember. And even today, many Jewish children learn to chant the Torah.
Moreover, the positive effects of music learning has shown to be transferrable to language, emotion, speech, and general auditory processing. Music helps expand the working memory load, which helps increase one’s thinking ability, making you smarter than you would be without musical training.
And last but not least…
Music can help you make a lot of new friends
What should you learn about music?
You don’t have to have perfect pitch, or earn a PhD in musicology, but a good place to start would be learning how to read music. A basic understanding of rhythms and harmony helps as well.
The best way to learn music, of course, would be to pick up an instrument.
Piano is great because it is so versatile and complex and learning to use two hands (for a more intense version of this, try the organ).
Guitar is helpful for learning rhythm and harmonies work. String instruments like the violin can help people refine their pitch accuracy and dexterity, and wind instruments have the added benefit of helping practitioners develop their lung capacity.
And, of course, everyone ought to learn to sing — ideally to the best of their ability.
Not only will it help you express your emotions productively (what is loud singing but a better-sounding form of screaming? And lullabies really work),but singing also has several side benefits, including improving your posture, helping you exercise, and being a highly social activity you can do with friends and family.
Learning music can help you to increase your sensitivity: auditory, social, and otherwise. It can increase the quickness of your mind and reveal the secrets of a whole new world that has been right under your nose all this time.
(Kind of like quantum physics. But that’s a story for another time).
And, last but not least, music can change the world — the outside world that you share with billions of others, as well as the inner world that you create.
This post was originally published on Medium.