Quite some time ago I had a conversation with a philosopher who asked me,
“How does it feel to do something that contributes nothing to society? Music doesn’t feed anyone, save lives or contribute to the survival of man.”
He was trying to spark a lively debate I’m sure, but it still felt pretty insulting. It was obvious through further conversation that he really did see music as frivolous. Music had always been the most important thing in my life. This experience made me determined to answer the question: “What is the purpose of music?” Why was it so important to me that my entire life centered around it? Since and even before that conversation, I have become aware of so many ways in which music has purpose in my life and that of my students. Parents seek practical reasons why music lessons are important as they are trying to make good decisions for their children with only so much time and money available. I find myself with so much to say on the subject that I sometimes don’t know where to start.
Healthy Emotional Outlet
Music is healthy way to be able express all emotions. People can vent emotions through the outlet of music that may otherwise come out in unhealthy actions that cause consequences or harm. Music is naturally therapeutic.
Music allows a level of communication that is deeper than words. The power to communicate with others meets a basic need to feel a connection with other and be understood.
In order to benefit from the interaction with others you need to learn not only to listen but also how to convey your ideas so that someone else understands what you’re saying. Having the ability to communicate your ideas and feelings to others is a valuable skill that can be applied throughout your life. In music we learn to do this by learning to speak through the language of music.
When you play with other people you learn to work together. There is a global sense of how integral everything is to each other and being a part of something that is larger than oneself. When you are a part of the whole, it matters to you what happens in the other parts. Parts need to blend, not compete in order for the outcome to be a success. Never is it so obvious the benefits of working as a team. When you do your part for the good of team and everyone else does too you can often achieve something greater than what you could on your own.
Practice and lessons require a commitment that students have to find a way to make part of their regular routine. Discipline is also learned in overcoming obstacles and facing personal weaknesses.
Music can be a great way to shift your mood. It can help put you in the mood for an activity or change your outlook when you need it.
Many life lessons play out through the process of learning to play an instrument. Lessons about ourselves, how to learn, and how to face personal strengths and weaknesses.
The same principles of balance in composition exist in many other forms of creation. Even if you are just playing a piece, not writing one, being aware of balance is still useful in interpreting it. Contrasting ideas are necessary to create balance and this is everywhere in music: louds to softs, highs to lows, fast to slow, silence to sound, etc.
Fine motor skills and coordination are important skills that are learned while playing instruments that can easily transfer to other areas of life. I’ve seen great strides in students who initially didn’t have a lot of coordination and have even had students whose doctors recommended learning piano as part of their physical therapy. Playing an instrument builds physical dexterity that can be applied to anything and in necessary for all kinds of endeavors. Athletes, architects, carpenters and surgeons all require coordination skills.
Zen or Flow
The science of happiness uncovered being in a state of ‘flow’ as being an integral part of people being happy. Music naturally puts you into the state of flow since in order to play it, you must be a participant in the moment and not just an observer.
Music has been the constant positive force in my life since I was a small child. Some of my first memories are of music. Having music in my life has balanced me as a person and taught me so much about myself and about living. There have been points in my life where the only happiness I felt was in the midst of music. My logical brain couldn’t make sense of it but it was undeniable. No matter how hard I’ve struggled with surviving and making sense of things, I’ve never doubted the importance of music. I can’t believe that music is sitting here in plain sight and there are people who don’t think it’s important and aren’t aware of the power it has.
I think the purpose of music is to keep us keep us constantly in the experience of feeling and living our lives; not just going through the motions of survival. It is always there to nudge us back on track when we forget that we get to choose whether we enjoy the ride or not.