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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 19-Jun-09


Friday 19-June-09

Why music?

What's the point of music? It's something that I've worried about for ages, so a recent radio programme on the subject held me spellbound.

Psychologist Steven Pinker sees little value for evolution in it, although the venerable Charles Darwin, who defined the original evolutionary lens, considered it to be important, along with its close partner dance. The ideas is that it is valuable in mating displays where the male effectively showing his ability to understand and use complex patterns.

An interesting fact about music is that we can hear a tune in a different key and different timing and yet still recognise it. We are, above all, pattern experts.

One of the things we know is that learning to play an instrument increases cognitive ability across a range of other subjects. Doing music, it seems, reaches the parts of the brain that other activities do not reach.

On a related note, another recent radio programme pointed out that it takes 10,000 hrs of practice to reach true expertise, and even Mozart only achieved his early peak through an extremely focused childhood.

So why music, indeed? Whatever the evolutionary cause, the bottom line for most of us is that it makes us feel good. And in changing minds, good feelings are jolly handy things to be able to elicit. Which is why careful use of background music ('atmospherics') is an ongoing tool for many persuaders.

Your comments

Many might say that songbirds introduced us to music. However if any researcher manages to precisely translate the "lyrics" birds use the practice may not always be so social.

For several generations that have come of age since the introduction of the radio, popular music has become the soundtrack of their youth. We may not know, much less understand all the lyrics or remember the artists but the melodies become more magnetic with time.

Thus, strangely, many "establishment" Corporations now pay royalties to their former rivals -the rebellious minstrels - to sell their products and services.

The music then must play a role in exercising ones memory, not to mention recollecting and processing the blur we sometimes call adolescence(?).

-- Peter

A case in point, in relation to how music is used as background as a persuasive tool, is in the retail environment. Specifically, in the preteen clothing market. Walk into an Abercrombie and Fitch store in any Market and the music is deafeningly loud, and the beat, fever pitch. The expectation is that your spending rhythm will match it. I find these environments overwhelming both in volume and urgency.

Step into a dentist office, on the other hand, and you'll be encouraged to relax with music that is many many fewer beats per minute. The same of course is true of a massage therapist's treatment room.
Just as clock pendulums in a clock shop entrain to one another in synchrony, swinging in unison, so in fact do our own heart rhythms , and breath rates and blood pressures to the music they are exposed to, by resonance.

Elevator Music? almost always instrumental anonymous versions of pop classics. ...Can't explain that one, but "Elevator Behavior." I am sure is a product of this specifically chosen soundtrack.

-- Gloria I

Dave replies:
Ah, indeed, Gloria. Music is indeed persuasive and can be a subtle part of a holistic approach. As can such as smells. Curiously, the Muzak corporation, which started it all, seems to have gone bust recently.

Smell, the strongest sense connected to memory, is used often in environments, where the memories triggered influence decision making. Vanilla and Cinnamon, for instance, are often suggested in the home real estate market, as they enhance feelings of homeyness , and memories of comfort that baked goods often provoke. suggesting, of course that you will experience those feelings of comfort residing in this particular home.

-- Gloria I


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