Music moves us. It reassures us and helps us to better express what words cannot. It inspires us and can even give us the very strength to carry on. In but a few words, music accompanies us. Perhaps this is what Nietzsche meant when he wrote:
without music, life would be a mistake.
Below are some of the advantages music has contributed to human existence, both from a scientific point of view and a deeply vital and philosophical perspective.
From an evolutionary standpoint, Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science, found that a taste for classical or instrumental music is a sign of people who’ll adapt better to varying and new circumstances. That’s to say, they’re better able to adjust to circumstances which might differ significantly from what was considered as ”normal” in preceeding generations.
Have you ever experienced goosebumps while listening to a song? Undoubtedly, this reaction is a predictable effect of music; but researchers have also found these “chills” are related to a very specific feature of the human brain, present only in some individuals. According to a study by Matthew Sachs at Harvard University, this peculiar effect of music on the body is related to a brain structure which, in certain people, connects the auditory cortex with a greater density to the areas of the brain in which emotions are processed. This allows communications to occur more efficiently between these two sets of skills—listening and feeling.
Music has one specific effect that can be easily tested without need for scientific measurements or devices. Simply remember the last time you felt a lively emotion while listening to a song. Joy, sadness, nostalgia, melancholy, love… The spectrum is as broad as the music itself. And we realize that this happens not only when music triggers an emotion, but also that it does so in such a way that it seems to express with total precision what we feel. We’re often not quite able to put that feeling into words. It’s as if music replaces the need and, in so doing, becomes the ideal vehicle for what we feel. In a sequence from The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, Slavoj Zizek explained that “with music, we cannot ever be sure. In so far as it externalizes our inner passion, music is potentially always a threat”. Music is connected to the interior and to a greater depth than we usually believe.
It happened to all of us: suddenly, out of nowhere, we simply can’t get a song out of our minds. We listen to it again and again, sometimes over many days, until a moment arrives when we can finally be free of it. This phenomenon has an eloquent name: “earworms.” These are, in their own turn, a great enigma for modern neuroscience. To date, it’s not well understand why they come about. It’s been suggested that this behavior may be an expression of the brain’s tendency to form patterns or some product of involuntary memory. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks, M.D., compared earworms to delusional hallucinations which the brain is capable of generating in people affected by madness.
This is probably one of the more widespread ideas about classical music and several recent scientific studies have contributed data toward it. Beyond the research, we need to consider that the enjoyment of classical music requires that some preconditions be met. When we can concentrate on listening, and when we’re curious to know more about a specific work (its musical structure, the circumstances of its composition, etc.), the experience of listening to classical music is usually more pleasant and more enriching. While this might be achieved with almost any genre, the genius that normally accompanies the creation of classical music means that the effort is undertaken, and rewarded, with correspondingly more generosity. Thus, listening to classical music isn’t easy, but at the same time, its very difficulty is that much more stimulating. Concentration, curiosity, and studiousness: these three qualities will nourish the intelligence of anyone.
Possibly. Though perhaps this is only true of “happy” music. According to research carried out by Simone M. Ritter and Sam Ferguson (at Radboud University, Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and the University of Technology, Sydney, respectively), cheerful music, like Vivaldi’s La primavera, provokes feelings of tranquility and joy in listeners. This, in turn, favors so-called “divergent thinking,” which allows one to solve problems by proposing unexpected and often novel solutions.