Is there any one way in which we can explain music? If you asked a random selection of strangers, you’re guaranteed a different answer each time.
Firstly, one might consider this question from a scientific point of view which would explain that before we hear it, all music is just air. It’s a serious of vibrations that once repeated in rhythm connects to the neurons in our brain and then completely transforms. In Season 1, Episode 20 of the Netflix series ‘Explained’, researchers explain that hearing a song is not as simple as it sounds. Listening to music, especially making music, draws on all kinds of different faculties. While parts of our auditory system are very ancient and shared with a lot of animals, what makes us universally human is our brains ability to feel a beat. It’s very rare that animals can do this as feeling a beat requires a strong connection between parts of the brain. Although, some birds can mimic what they hear and move to beats and neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel’s research with a cockatoo suggested that beat responses may have originated as a vocal mimicry, also plays a role in social bonding.
Therefore, regardless of its evolutionary history, we can learn something important about what it means to be human from our understanding of music. So, you might respond to this question of music by explaining the influence music has on social cognition. Patel says, “moving in time with other people to a common beat blurs the line between self and others.” One of our greatest advantages is how we can socially cooperate in large groups beyond family and feel like we have mutual understanding, music often a catalyst to this. Through shared movement and shared experience, we can bond emotionally together in groups. It is this link between cognition and emotion, that makes music universally human: it’s deep connection to feeling. It has such a profound effect on the mind and can behave like a powerful drug and its incredible how little curiosity some may have about such a pervasive influence that says so much about a person’s personality. Have you ever wondered why you like a certain type of music? Or do you wonder why your favourite song sounds awful to someone else? It all lies in our personalities and studies say that if you like a certain musical genre, you’re probably going to have certain personality traits. Take a minute to think about your favourite song, why do you think that’s your favourite? What do you think that says about you?
Additionally, while it animates individuality, it encourages a global togetherness. So, one might say that music is a cultural universal. We don’t know about any known human culture that does not have music and with its multiple facets, it’s one of the most powerful forms of communication that makes us laugh, cry, think and question. The relationship between language is one of the most fascinating things in the world of psychology. I believe music demolishes a lot of language barriers so that people of any culture can come together with a mutual understanding over song.
Nevertheless, despite how you might have answered, if you don’t understand music, it just becomes noise. However, while I am an avid music enthusiast, I’m no scientist, so below I will link some of the videos and articles that inspired this article.
(Additional credits to the scientists and researchers in the Netflix series “Explained”)