I always wondered about the deep connection between humans and music. The origin of music is unknown or at least we only have a very vague idea as to how far its stretches back in time, mainly through the findings of rudimental bone-made musical instruments found in early cave dwellings.
It would also be interesting to know at which stage of the human evolutionary process the appreciation of music emerged. Although we know that other creatures such as higher mammals can respond positively to sounds and music, it is a distinctive mark in humans to really have an aesthetic affinity to it. This is mainly because of our higher and more complex cognitive makeup.
The brain being an intricate pattern-matching organ can recognize subtle sequences and variations in sound waves which are then consolidated and matched to a broader pattern or rhythm, eventually giving rise to that subjective feeling of aesthetic beauty, joy, elation or whatever emotion matches the musical style or our present mood.
Music and Consciousness
It is because music imparts these subjective and qualitative feelings or emotions that it is automatically linked to Consciousness. These qualitative experiences cannot be described objectively by the languages of Science but only recalled from a first-person point of view.
What Scientists can describe are only the physiological effects of it such as the detections of neuron activations during a brain scan or the release of endorphins (pleasure inducing chemicals) in the blood. Besides that the experience remains within the confines of the subjectivity black box in our heads.
Notwithstanding that it cannot be truly measured or described scientifically, our deep relationship with music is a universally shared perception which is known and celebrated across cultures since time immemorial.
The Music of the Spheres
The other side of the coin is that Music has an objective and universal existence.
The ancient mathematician Pythagoras believed that musical notes can be translated into mathematical equations. He and his followers believed in something call ‘the harmony of the spheres’, where the planets and stars moved according to mathematical equations which corresponded to musical notes in a grand symphony.
This point of view is another way of saying that the beauty of music is not only in the eye of the beholder but rather in the mathematical harmony inherent in itself and this harmony can resonate within our soul. The mathematical structure of music has a rhythm of its own (pun intended)
Music as a tool for Self-Development
Music has been used for different reasons throughout its history. Its main use was always for entertainment but other uses have been recognized as well such as spiritual practice, healing and therapy, meditation, political and commercial campaigning, celebration or protest, funding and world compassion, courtship and even learning.
Music can also be a very powerful tool for self-development and this aspect of music is rarely talked about in personal growth books or resources. Here are what I believe to be great uses for music along the path of inner-growth:
- Learning: When I was doing my thesis for the Masters programme, I used to listen to Bach a lot. Although I always enjoyed classical music, I never had an affinity with Bach before so I used to find it a bit curious why I used to unknowingly choose Bach for background music while I studied. The answer came a few years later when I was watching a video by famous hypnotist Paul McKenna about learning. He stated that listening to Baroque music such as Bach’s or Vivaldi’s while studying is extremely helpful since their music is based on 64 beats per minute. Bach’s music has a kind of ‘mathematical and rhythmic fluency’ in it which makes part of the brain ‘follow it’ and ‘lock on to it’ subconsciously while at the same time keeping itself from wandering off and therefore more concentrated on the task at hand. I had the same feedback from people who have listened to Bach while studying. I now appreciate his music more than just for study accompaniment.
- Meditation: No doubt that just as there is music which tunes-in your mind for studying there is music which help you out in doing meditation. There are many background music CDs out there for Meditation or Yoga. Although I believe that some of them are very good, I don’t use any of them. What I use for my meditation is a CD that I have been keeping close to my heart and spirit for many years till present. It is a CD called ‘Zen Garden’ by Kokin Gumi. It’s divine and every time I hear it I swear I have an instant shift in consciousness. Listening to it, one has to agree with Pythagoras that some music is in divine harmony.
- Mood Enhancer: This is a no-brainer. We all know that music can lift up the spirit in those moments when we’re feeling a bit down or depressed. I must say, however that this doesn’t always happen. One must be cautious because there are times when for example someone is heartbroken because of a relationship ending and he or she ends up listening to some love song which talks about heartbreak and the like. This is a very common thing. It’s so common that the whole music industry thrives and survives on it. There’s nothing wrong with those type of songs per se. What happens is that in those moments when someone is suffering a heartbreak, it strengthens and amplifies the feeling. It becomes the soundtrack of the moment which the person identifies with himself and his/her suffering. It becomes our soundtrack which wrongly reminds us how victimized, unlucky or sorry about ourselves we are. It is best to find more uplifting type of music in those situations. Music that can inspire you, encourage you or motivate you in getting back on your feet again.
- Creativity: Music, being a performing art, has always been related to creativity. We always presuppose that music has been composed and created out of an act of inspiration and a sublime creative process. I think this is a widely accepted notion. However I also think that music can also trigger off a creative process in the person listening to it. This has to do a lot with the left-right hemispheres of the brain. As you might know, the left side of the brain is more responsible for logic, linear thinking, linguistic processing and understanding things in detail. The right side of the brain is more responsible for holistic understanding or seeing the big picture, intuition and insight. Research has shown that exposure to background music promotes what is called interhemispheric activity which in simple words means there is more ‘talking’ between the two spheres. This greatly increases creativity, enhances the creative process and the other aspects related to it such as problem solving.