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How Music can Improve your daily life

Kathy Carter

Contributor

Albert Einstein once said, "I live my daydreams in music; I see my life in terms of music.” In these troubled times, this art form continues to be a source of comfort, learning, positivity and support. Like Einstein, many of us see our lives as a musical playlist - we recall what we were doing when we hear a certain song, and our personal timelines are filled with musical signposts that connect directly to our souls. So, how can we continue to utilise music in these uncertain times, and gain support and comfort from its sonic companionship?

The silence in between

Music, like language, is a complex communication system. It’s not just art – it’s a cultural activity. Also like language, music has a set of rules, such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics (e.g. loudness), and the timbre of the musical sound. The word derives from Greek ‘mousike’, or ‘art of the muses’.

A Stanford study shows that music engages areas of the brain that are involved with making predictions and updating events in our memory banks. Music also strengthens ‘neural timing precision’ in the brain, enhances brainstem response, and helps regulate emotions – it is effectively ‘brain training’.

One study found that people who actively (as opposed to passively) listened to upbeat classical compositions, with the aim of feeling happier, felt their moods lift – music can actually facilitate happiness. (The perfect tool in these troubling times.) Mozart described not just musical notes, but silence, too – the overall effect of a composition. 

A piece of music isn’t just affecting our emotions; music causes all sorts of bodily responses. A beat can even affect our heart rate. When people sing together, their breathing synchronises and positive emotions increase. Why is this? Because musical patterns affect the auditory brainstem and cortex, which are parts of the neural reward system – our brain sees music as a reward. 

(Interestingly, some individuals experience synaesthesia, when one sense automatically triggers another; for example, seeing a sonic colour palette and experiencing colours when hearing musical pieces and notes. Musicians including Lorde, Billy Eilish, Billy Joel, Thom York and Pharrell Williams have described this experience.)

Positive musical projects

There are many inspirational musical phenomena occurring currently, showing the positive benefits of this very special art form. In the UK, choir master and TV presenter Gareth Malone’s Great British Home Chorus project aims to unite individuals via an ‘at home’ digital choir, to boost the nation’s morale. “Not since the First World War have we been forced to stop coming together physically in order to share the gift of music,” noted Gareth. “We’re encouraging people to sing with others online.”

Some musical phenomena are extremely organic. In Italy, Maurizio Marchini recently sang from his balcony in Florence, posting it on social media, and gaining worldwide stardom. The tenor sang Puccini's impassioned aria 'Nessun Dorma', following days later with ‘Canto della Verbena’, serenading his countrymen and leading commentators to speak about the abiding power of music to bring people together in solidarity and comfort. 

In COVID-19-hit America, two young musicians aged six and nine donned their ‘concert clothes’ to put on an impromptu (socially distanced) show for their elderly neighbour. The spontaneous Ohio concert include everything from children’s tunes to Bach suites. “It was such a gift,” the neighbour reported.

Getting your musical fix

Access to music has never been as easy and cost-effective as it is now. Music fans the world over can for example develop and hone their musical knowledge by logging onto Radio Garden – a tool to explore live radio that simply involves rotating a globe on the project’s website to tune into 8k live streaming radio stations in faraway places.

Pop-up musical live streams on social media are picking up apace; the French act Christine and the Queens is for example trending on Instagram, thanks to their ad hoc performances; while American magazine Left Bank recently launched a virtual music festival via social media, with artists broadcasting from their bedrooms.

Meanwhile, Broadway HD has a very reasonable subscription service to stream all manner of musical productions such as Memphis and 42nd Street, and also offers a free trial.

Music to home-educate to

Stuck at home with the kids? There’s now a vast array of information available for families. The teachers’ resource Twinkl has an excellent, free resource for families called Learning Hub, that includes musical composition, information on musical instruments, and definitions of common terms like timbre, pulse, harmony and pitch.

You can even research popular film scores here, and then use your streaming service to listen to the most popular scores with the kids. There are plenty of ideas you can incorporate into home schooling - creating play-lists; learning and writing down lyrics from favourite songs, designing album covers for a 'mix tape'; even writing your own songs and sharing your projects with self-isolating family members. A-Z Home Schooling has a great list of resources, including home school music programmes.

International musical immersion

If you're content with your favourite playlists and much-loved songs that you know all the words to, is it time to push the boundaries and go on an international journey of music, while you can't physically travel to far-flung places?

You could choose a new country every couple of days, and research their musical output; from traditional folk songs and First Nation heritage, to modern day offerings. The Smithsonian’s website for example has some great resources about France’s folk-song heritage, such as Claveau and Altéry’s famous Frere Jaques.

This kind of research is useful to work out what makes a song native to its country; e.g. what instruments are favoured and beloved? Once on your international musical journey, why not go off the beaten track, and away from the obvious choices of artist - you may find a whole new genre to enjoy, or a new destination to visit, when your travels resume.

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