“All men are brothers through their music.” -- Paul Robeson
Music is a part of all of our lives, and we all have our favourites and preferences, from Brahms to Black Metal, from Julie Andrews to Dubstep. The music we listen to can also serve a variety of different purposes in our lives. But how often do we stop and think specifically about all of its many benefits?
First, music has the benefit of its vital role in human expression. This can be the simple expression of feelings, stories and ideas, or something more involved.
In its most urgent form, music expresses important social and political conditions, such as the music of protest songs, the Blues, etc. Music also provides the benefit of giving marginalized or oppressed groups an outlet for their thoughts and feelings, to help them to survive psychologically in the incredibly harsh conditions they had to endure. They also used music to pass on knowledge about their lives and circumstances.
Probably the most familiar benefit of music is how it can affect our moods, whether it’s enhancing a good mood or trying to improve a bad one. Many negative moods or feelings can be lifted by listening to the right kind of music. If you’re feeling sad, just try ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams or most of Doris Day’s songs. And who hasn’t tried to overcome a lack of confidence by listening to, say, Ride of the Valkyries, or perhaps even the Theme from the Magnificent Seven? And on the other side of the scale, there’s plenty of music for relaxation.
Music can also provide a much needed catharsis for our moods and feelings. If there’s an issue you’re dealing with, or a persistent mood that you haven’t been able to access in other ways, music can bring up those feelings and help you to understand and resolve them. Anyone who’s heard the brilliant vocal performance of Janis Joplin in her cover of the song “Little Girl Blue” has experienced this.
Another benefit of music is how it can help us while we accomplish our daily chores. Most of us have a favourite song or genre of music to listen to while we're cleaning, cooking or any other mundane task that needs to be made more exciting with the addition of the right music to focus on. And there's always our favourite song that gets us hyped up for exercise!
A task like studying is usually helped by an unobtrusive type of music, for example Classical or even a movie soundtrack. In meditation, the music played in the background is usually something very simple, like singing bowls, which helps prepare a person for meditation by calming and focusing the mind.
From the powerful, elemental songs of Nina Simone to the eclectic, experimental soundtrack of the early anime “Akira”, or even the uplifting elegance of Western Classical music, another benefit of music is its profound demonstration of other cultures and lands.
Music also has the benefit of educating us about different periods in history, from all the different social issues of an era, to the universal themes that connect all human cultures, such as love, death, the passing of time, fortune and so on.
The final, and perhaps most popular benefit of music is its ability to bring people together. Music sets the tone for many important ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals and church services. Music also provides the reason for other kinds of social gatherings, from Classical music concerts to techno music raves.
We also tend to feel more comfortable with other people who enjoy a similar type of music, both as fans and as audience members. Just as musicians connect with their listeners through music, fellow fans also benefit from connecting with each other, and everyone shares the concert or performance as a bonding experience.
Music provides many benefits to us both as individuals and as a society (in fact, far too many to completely explore in a short article) but I hope this piece has provided a starting point for your own thinking on this important and enjoyable topic. How many other benefits of music can you see in your own life?
Secret Language of the Blues: What the Lyrics Really Mean by Robert Cremer, Pulp Hero Press, 2020