Music is a good way of knowing

Music is a good way of knowing

Music is an amazing thing. For me, it’s a constant unfolding of wonderful ideas, feelings, information, and so much more. I feel like I’m coming to much of this wonder late in life. Even though I’ve been enjoying music since I was a young boy, it was never anything more than a fancy when I was younger. You see, I come from very practical stock. While my mother is very musical, my father is not. Dad never had time for music–there was always work to do, and music isn’t work. From his perspective, making music is wasting time. Even listening to music is just distracting noise. While I never agreed with him, I realize now just how much of that attitude seeped into my soul.

Music written on chalk board
There’s a reason we use music to teach children at the youngest ages

Now, before you judge Dad too harshly, keep in mind that he just turned 91 years old yesterday. He was born in 1927 to dirt poor tenant farmers in central Wisconsin. If you do the math, that puts him square in the middle of the great depression as he was forming his opinions on the world as a five- or six-year old boy. As the oldest of 10 children, he had a lot of responsibility riding on his shoulders at a very early age. It’s easy to see how there wasn’t time for music in his world.

So I never grew to respect music as an honorable way to make a living until I was much older. Honestly, I still fight against the feeling that I should be doing something more productive (read: work) with the time I spend playing music. This has kept me from earlier coming to realize just how amazing and important music is. Music has so many facets, and it is so important to humans, that it’s really quite mind boggling. Virtually every culture from the beginning of time seems to have included music in its rituals, celebrations, feasts, and so on.

Among the many wonderful things that music has brought to humankind for all these years is knowledge and learning. Donald Hodges, in the Handbook of Music Psychology says,

Music is an important way of knowing. Think, for a moment, of all the things one can learn or know through nursery songs, religious music, popular and commercial music (including music used in advertising, movies, and television shows), folk music, and art music. On a superficial level, one can lean the alphabet through music. At a deeper level, one can learn about foreign cultures through music. Finally, at perhaps the deepest level, one can learn more about oneself and gain insights into the human condition through music.

The Handbook of Music Psychology
The Handbook of Music Psychology

It’s so true, isn’t it? I can’t imagine anyone in the U.S. having learned the English alphabet without learning the song that goes with it. Think about kids skipping rope. Do you ever remember skipping rope, or watching other kids skip rope without singing some little rhyming song to help you time each jump? You want to learn to skip rope? Well then you learn the rope-skipping songs that the neighbor kids all use. Some kids make an absolute art out of those songs. You know to stand when you hear the opening strains of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March at a wedding.

OK; now I suppose I’m just getting silly, but seriously, Music is an amazing vehicle for “knowing a thing.” Think about how many things you know–that is, remember–that are triggered by nothing more than hearing the song that was playing when that thing happened. Learning the alphabet through a song is a clear example, but it goes so much deeper than that. Hodges goes on to say,

Perhaps the most important thing human beings have learned through music is how to deal with feelings…one can learn to cope with grief, frustration, and anger or to express joy and love through musical experiences.

Whether you’re playing music or listening to it, there is no doubt that music is therapeutic. It has helped me through very rough times, and has accompanied me at the heights of joy. I’m sure everyone reading this can say the same thing. These are magical powers. That’s something that I’d like very much to explore more here in these pages.


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