The Power of Music

Music is a universal human art, present in every culture around the world. It is used for many purposes, including recreation, communication and expression of emotions, teaching, and social interaction, and it has been shown to have beneficial effects on the human brain and body. For example, it has been found to help people concentrate and improve their memory and emotions, it can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, and even stimulate the birth of new neurons in the brain.

As a result, musicians have been using the power of sound to convey their thoughts, feelings and ideas for thousands of years. In fact, the oldest musical instruments date back as far as 42,000-43,000 years and were likely used for entertainment.

It is not always easy to define what is considered music, as it varies from one person to the next. However, most definitions include sounds that have a rhythm and a melody, which are usually expressed through instruments and voice. They also have a characteristic quality called timbre, which is the way the tone sounds, for example whether it is harsh or soothing, warm or cold.

One of the most fascinating aspects of music is its protean susceptibilities to serve disparate cultural worldviews and to arouse a range of emotions in people from all walks of life. For example, for humanist psychologists (such as Gordon Allport and Abraham Maslow) music is just another avenue toward self-fulfillment and integration; for aesthetic existentialists like the composers Schoenberg and Ernst Krenek, it transmits transcendent overtones; and for expressionisms such as Thelonious Monk and Alban Berg, it carries a set of austere moral imperatives.

Aside from its obvious aesthetic value, the emotional influence of music has been widely recognized and exploited throughout history. Often, it has been used as an accessory to words, as in the chanting of plainsong or biblical scripture, in order to illuminate the meaning of the text. In other cases, such as the Gregorian chants of medieval Europe or the improvisations of Jazz artists, melodies were used as vehicles for creative spontaneity.

In modern times, the power of music is increasingly being harnessed for therapeutic applications. The use of music to soothe dementia sufferers, for example, is being explored through the Catalyst project. Similarly, the “Singing for the Brain” programmes that have been running across a number of countries aim to restore speech and social skills to those with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s by encouraging them to sing familiar songs.

Whatever its many facets and effects, the central issue that music raises is a fundamental question about what it is for. For some, it is simply a form of entertainment and amusement. For others it possesses an almost magical ability to evoke specific emotions, inspire, educate and even heal. The most profound and complex, though, is the argument that it has a higher purpose: to give a voice to the soul. Its ultimate goal is to connect with the essence of humanity and bring out its best qualities.