by Faith Halverson-Ramos
Music has played a significant role in humanity’s collective history and cultural development. Throughout time, philosophers and poets from around the world have spoken about the meaningful effect music has on overall well-being. Confucius said, “Music produces a kind of pleasure that human nature cannot do without.” Plato is quoted as saying, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described music as being “the universal language of mankind.” Even Nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche recognized the value of music when he said, “Without music, life would be an error.”
The ways in which people engage with music has varied over the years. For most of our history, people were largely responsible for creating their own musical experiences. However, this started to change during the 20th century with the advances of audio technologies, such as transistor radios and mp3 players. While these technologies have allowed people to be able to access musical experiences 24/7, fewer people seem to be making music for their own enjoyment and pleasure. In some ways, it seems that music has become a commodity to be consumed, as opposed to an opportunity for personal creative expression to be experienced.
Music is complex because it is composed of several components, including melody, rhythm, harmony and timbre. These components come together into one entity or experience when it is processed in our brains after being received by our auditory system. Perhaps not surprising is that music has a complex neurological effect in people. Advances in neuroimaging show us that music stimulates more parts of the brain than other activities.
The Benefits of Active Music-Making
Active music-making is especially stimulating, and has a different neurological effect than passive music listening.
Dr. Alicia Clair and Karl Bruhn write that active music-making “expands mental abilities that are essential to good mental function, while music listening allows minds to wander.” If you ever played a musical instrument, I am sure you can remember the amount of attention and focus required in order for your hands to be able to accurately play what you wanted to play, whether from written music or by ear.
Another benefit of making music is that it can help reduce stress. This is partly due to how making music can encourage attention and awareness of the whole person. By becoming attuned with our experience in the present moment, we relax and are able to come back to self. Music also helps reduce stress because it can stimulate the immune system and encourage the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain, which help us feel good.
Making Music for Yourself: Reclaiming Your Birthright to Well-Being
Fortunately, expensive instruments or musical knowledge are not required for you to be able to make music. We are born with an instrument — our voice. Unfortunately though, many of us, especially women, have received negative messages about our voices as both a tool and an instrument.
However, a profound freedom and sense of empowerment can be discovered when one starts singing or engaging in voicework. Simply toning or creating your own melodies on syllables can be an easy, no-pressure way to make music and help you feel better. If you feel more adventurous, you may want to sing with other people and join a choir, participate in a singing group, or simply have fun with your family.
Remember, you deserve to feel well, and making music is a timeless way for you to do so. Reclaim your birthright. Reclaim your voice. Become a musical being and make music.
Faith Halverson-Ramos, MA, LPC, MT-BC is a board certified music therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor in Longmont, Colorado. Faith utilizes music and voicework to help people with life transitions, grief and loss experiences, and personal empowerment. More information about her services can be found at: www.soundwellmusictherapy.com.