Saturday, March 30, 2013

Music: Meaning and Value

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By JccKeith

Music is a very crucial part of society and something many take for granted.  I typed ‘music’ into the yahoo search engine and was surprised to find no Wikipedia articles pop up on the first page.  I was looking for any articles on what music means or rather the effect or value it has. 

I was curious about the relationship between music and writing.  I had to type in more information to find anything other than websites for free music downloads.  I find the lack of abundant websites on the value of music disturbing.

Music, I would say, is just as powerful, if not more so, than the written word.  A great writer can motivate, inspire, sway opinion or create images in a mind.  A great musician can do the same and more.  Music is a means of communication, relaxation, incitation and a way to understand human nature.

Let’s start with the incitation, or for the purposes of this post, more specifically the altering of brain chemistry to produce a trance like state.  Rhythmic drumming, rhythmic prayer and rhythmic chanting are not done just for the sake of repeating some words or singing some words to others or to gods, spirits, whoever. 

Rhythmic music is undertaken or encouraged as a means to relax the mind.  The rhythmic nature generates calm, a distance from the chaos of life, a lull in conscious thought.  The idea is to create a state of the mind similar to those desired from meditation.  Why this state of mind is sought can vary but regardless of the reason, the mind is clearer, less cluttered during such states.  It is a result of the music.

In ancient times and throughout history, music has been used as a method for communication.  It can relate a story.  A great example of this are not ballads created from poems like The Highwayman rather songs such as The Misty Mountains.  This song is from the recent movie The Hobbit.  In the song, an event that happened in the past is retold.  The music chosen to accompany the story allows the listener to know immediately the story is one of sadness. 

The melody also serves to aid the listener in remembering the details.  The sadness is slightly overplayed in
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the music which makes it stand out in the mind.  Without music it would just be a tale of woe easily forgotten.

If you question the rationale that music is used to assist in remembering, think of all the songs on Sesame Street.  They are playful, happy and most have a catchy beat to them.  The brain in addition to noticing depressing melodies is also more likely to remember things with a catchy, repeating beat.  The idea is that not only is important information being conveyed but it is being permanently recorded in the brain.  Repetitive music ensures this occurs through, well, what else but repetition.

Besides relaxation and communication, music is also used as a tool to evoke emotion.  Some rap songs use ‘angry’ beats that are loud, booming and fast.  The lyrics speak of hatred, violence and wrongs done to the rapper or those the rapper knows.  Not all rap songs use this, some use lighter sounds and although the lyrics are spoken quickly, they are meant to be amusing.  They are not relaying important information they are merely offering entertainment.  An example of this would be Eminem’s song Without Me

Studies have been done to show that music can also trigger motivation, excitement, such as those used to encourage activity.  I know of very few, if any people who exercise while listening to the Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes song or even The Misty Mountains song.  Most people use something upbeat or even angry like Rob Tepper’s No Easy Way Out from Rocky or Rob Zombie music. 

The music gets the heart beating faster, the mind focused on accomplishment and on movement.  Rock songs are great for encouraging movement such as dancing.  Think about Richard Simmons and his exercise videos Rockin to the Oldies.  It is the rock music, not Richard Simmons grating voice that gets people moving.

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Finally, music is used in research to understand the human mind.  A 2007 article in Neuron detailed the results of one such experiment.  Subjects were given specific symphonies to listen to which had segmented parts each distinct from the others.  There were short pauses between the segments.  MRIs of the subjects brains while listening helped researchers conclude how the human mind understands the chaotic nature of life.

The activity in the brains showed that incoming information is separated into ‘meaningful chunks.’  They were able to show how the brain distinguishes between beginnings, endings and boundaries between these events.  They were able to do this by studying the areas of activity inbetween symphony segments, at the beginnings of new segments and the endings. 

They also noted that music stimulates the brain to immediately begin paying attention.  This may explain why many languages have a musical quality about them, a rhythm to the way words are used in sentences.

The English language has such a rhythm.  When spoken with appropriate grammar, there is a rhythm to sentences.  Vowels are almost always preceeded and followed by consonant sounds.  This is why words that begin with a vowel are preceeded by an and not a.  Even words that begin with a consonant such as H but the H is not pronounced, because they begin with a vowel sound are preceeded by an and not a. 

When vowels are found together in a word, both vowels are not pronounced individually.  Both vowels are pronounced as one.  The English language is meant to sound as vowel consonant vowel consonant vowel consonant…  This gives it a musical quality.  I have to wonder if this is due to some understanding early on that music was a way to get people to pay attention.

After considering the value and importance of music in society I have begun to wonder, as a writer, if books become more well liked if they are put on tape.  Currently the trend seems to be to only put books on tape when they are popular.  I wonder if putting a book on tape would make it popular given the musical quality of the spoken language.  Maybe I should just make a rap song about being a writer… or about cows. 


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