Thursday, September 30, 2010

Music is Everywhere

Music is everywhere. Everywhere people are, music follows. It is one thing that leaps from culture to culture, continent to continent, transcending any barrier that stands between people. Cultures everywhere have unique, indigenous music forms that celebrate the diversity of specific groups of people.

Why is this?

Music, because of its global influence, is considered a universal motivator. According to Brown (1991), music is a characteristic of the category "Aesthetics", a universal motivator. Once again, these universal motivators are facets of life that exist in and drive every culture throughout the world. Because of its universal status, music is just as integral to people's lives as is their sense of self or their emotions.

Our response to music is implicit. No parent ever has to teach their child to dance, feel a rhythm, hum a melody or clap their hands just as no parent has to teach their child to yell or scream if they are angry. From an evolutionary perspective, music's innateness may have developed out of necessity. Music may have uplifted tribes when food is scarce and morale is low. Music has, after all, been a part of human culture for at least 30,000 years. There are countless rituals amongst groups from all over the world that have spiritual celebrations centered around music. From ancient rituals to any party anywhere today, music is at the center. Being at the center of celebrations and parties for tens of thousands of years, it is not surprising that music also promotes group bonding and stimulates social activity. Even through the online social networking revolution of the past few years, music is still dominant. MySpace music accounts are extremely popular, Facebook pages of musicians have thousands of fans, and eight of the top-ten all-time most-viewed YouTube videos are music related. By the way, as of the time I posted this blog, the top six music-related videos on YouTube totaled to over 1.1 billion views. According to Darwin, musicians had a higher rate of being selected as a sexual partner as well, which is probably why so many people try to play guitar...

Studying infants seems to show that at least the appreciation, if not the understanding, for music comes early in life. Infants have been observed and studies have shown that infants are calmer when mothers sing to their children, rather than speak to them. Infants do indeed show preference for types of music, preferring harmony over dissonance. One study also showed that by the end of their first year, infants were able not only to memorize simple melodies, but were able to recognize them when they were played in a different key (Trehub 2001).

It is clear that music is not just a fad, a phase, or annoying noise. Through studying infants, psychologists have learned that infants, even before two months of age, have musical preference. From that point on, music is integral in every culture and everyone is exposed to music (often) in their lives. I feel that even though research shows music to be innate, which I take to mean that I would be able to understand music to a certain degree no matter what, I don't believe this to be the most important reason that people love music so much. Through music, a skilled musician is able to express any emotion through their instrument. Unlike a painting or a sculpture, which is permanent when completed, pieces of music are never played just once and never altered. Music can be recorded, but to the artist who performed the piece, every note is an expression of the soul. I play several instruments, and I know this to be the case for me: to become "one" with an instrument and explain any story through sound and not words is an incredible feeling, and being able to play with others or in front of others enhances the experience many times. Music is a pure form of expression, which is why it is universally celebrated.

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