“We listen to music with our muscles” – Nietzsche once said.
We listen to music with our muscles” – Nietzsche once said.
Music is something we engage with holistically, as a whole-body experience. It can be felt physically, yet you can also engage with it emotionally. It’s audible, yet it has the capacity to elicit mental imagery. As human beings we’re all created to feel and experience music with all of our senses, making us ALL musical people.
Anecdotal evidence of the fact that music is ‘felt’ is of course already documented widely with examples of Deaf or hearing-impaired people enjoying a gig as much as the next person by standing close to the speakers. In fact one such hearing impaired person was of course none other than Beethoven who, back in the late 18th century, made the pragmatic decision to saw off the legs on his grand piano so that the sound-waves would translate through the floor more effectively, thereby allowing him to ‘hear’ the music more easily. He literally needed to ‘feel’ the music.
However, even for those of us who enjoy good hearing, it is interesting to note that our bodies react to music sub-consciously even before we ‘tune in’ with our more cerebral nature. Think about a time that you noticed your foot moving in a rhythmic fashion to the music while you were checking emails sitting in a coffee shop, or your pen was drumming on the desk along to the music while you were thinking of something entirely different; not even fully aware of the music. This is not unlike our rather mechanical way of driving a well-known route in the car while day-dreaming and not really focusing on the road. Our body does many things for us without us actively having to prompt it.
What I find interesting is that the same person who says s/he can’t hold a tune, or says they are ‘tone-deaf’ (medically known as Amusia – which is a rare brain condition known only to affect about 4% of the population) can probably dance in time to music and follow her Zumba class or Aerobics teacher’s instructions effortlessly. Therefore demonstrating that the whole body has no problem whatsoever tuning into music per se.
The aspect that people struggle with – or think that they struggle with – comes from their views around musicality and their perceived lack of training. But musicality is not a mystic art. In fact, any neurologically normal person is born musical. An infant can distinguish tonal pitches as well as an adult and can identify, and relate to with their body, a regular pulse. Again, the anecdotal evidence that babies can dance is out there as these hilarious clips prove!
So what. I still can’t make music.
I’m not saying that we are all musicians, all I want to get across is that music is a language that we can all understand equally well. When a 12 week old baby hears a plaintive melody on a woodwind instrument s/he turns down his or her bottom lip in a universal sign of sadness. It literally doesn’t get more unambiguous than that. I asked a three year old recently what he thought of when I played him a soundtrack from a Hollywood film (the Gladiator as it happens) and he replied: “That’s a chasing dragons kind of music”. This is a child who has never seen anything on TV more dramatic than DipDap and yet he somehow conflated the music he heard with the emotions he already has a vocabulary for from his storybooks of dragons and knightly quests. No wonder a Soundtrack to a Movie literally tells us what to feel and supports visual narratives so well (check out Filmstro’s royalty free music library).