Listening to music is a hobby, a pastime to take us away from the world and indulge in fandoms. But it is also much more than that. Behind every piece of music is a message from an artist. There is a deliberate composition that follows a familiar pattern. This is designed to make us think and to help us learn.
So what does listening to music teach you?
There is a lot that we can learn from music, whatever the style or country of origin. Music has long been a form of expression and a way to educate others about social situations. So, by listening to music outside of our comfort zones, we can open ourselves up to new perspectives.
You can read more about this below.
At the same time, while we can highlight our cultural differences and personal feelings in music, we do so in very similar ways.
Listening to music teaches us that there is a surprisingly consistent formula in composition and creation. This pattern is something we can bring into other aspects of life. It also shows us that the most effective strategies in life are worth repeating.
The structure of music shows us a blueprint that relates to our lives.
One of the most interesting lessons that we can learn from listening to both modern and classical music is that structure is vital. Those that are less familiar with classical work and longer pieces may feel that they are more complex and unstructured compared to a modern pop song.
This is understandable when there are so many different elements to listen to in each section.
For example, a modern rock track may have a simple combination of guitar, drums, bass, and vocals with switches from verses and choruses, and possibly a repeated bridge. We pick up the pattern very easily and quickly learn how to sing along.
The same is true for other chart hits from pop and hip-hop artists. The more simplistic and repetitive the formula, the easier it is to hook people in.
Some of the more interesting alternative artists will turn away from this formula and build a different structure with different sections and minimal repetition – perhaps with no clear chorus at all. But, these don’t tend to chart so well.
The same band may create something a little more simplistic and repetitive to keep the label happy and then experiment on the album.
The pattern is pretty much the same in classical music.
Classical music is more complex in that you have many more instruments and elements to listen to.
However, there is still a lot of repetition in there once you listen. The same phrases and ideas come through over and over, just in different ways. There aren’t choruses as such unless you have a piece of music adapted with lyrics with repeated lines.
Yet, some of the most popular pieces, or at least the most famous, stand out because we can hear a specific part in our head. They just need that catchy hook. Every piece of music, no matter the genre, is well-planned. Writers and composers need to know where the piece will go and where it will come to a satisfying conclusion.
Or, in the case of a traditional sonata, you have:
You start with the basic ideas of the song, the time signature, melody, and basic composition.
You get this exposition of what the composer wants to say. From there, the pieces move into development with different takes on the idea, new keys, and directions to say more and make it more interesting. It can build and explore as it plays with the listener’s interest and emotions.
But, then we end with recapitulation, where the original ideas are restated to conclude the piece.
This form of expression works in different ways.
This shows us that no matter what we do, we need to have structure and form and a meaningful way to present ideas to the world. It doesn’t matter if it is a grand sonata or a modern love song. In many ways, they are the same.
The ideas also translate into other forms of expression.
An important speech or pitch can take similar forms. We start with the exposition of the key points, we develop them and take the audience on an important journey to get them on our side. Then, we recapitulate. We bring it all back to the key points and tie it together.
This all shows that there is nothing new in music. It is all just a new way of taking on tried and tested approaches. On that note, listening to music also gives us an important lesson in evolution.
Listening to music shows us that there is nothing truly new anymore.
All styles of music take inspiration from something and someone that came before. Composers and writers can adapt all they like and play with different instruments, but there is always a link to the past.
Some are open with this through homage, sampling, or other little nods. Others can’t hide their influences however much they try.
Guitarists walk a fine line between creating their own identity and paying homage to those that inspired them. Some can flow between these different sides with great contrast, such as Jack White.
One minute you have something modern and unusual that sounds like no-one else and the next there is a cover of Son House.
There are only so many chords and arrangements that you can create on any instrument. Sooner or later, something will sound like something else. It all comes down to the presentation and additional elements surrounding it.
Every genre evolved from something else.
Classical music evolved from the medieval era through the baroque, classical, romantic, modernism, and contemporary eras. Within that were various schools and styles creating their own music. But it is all an evolution and an attempt to break away into something new.
Popular music is similar. There wouldn’t be modern indie and rock without rock’n’roll, punk, and grunge. Rock’n’roll wouldn’t have made it without influence from the blues. The blues wouldn’t have developed in America without the traditional African music and songs of their ancestors.
It all keeps flowing further and further back. Similarly, we can trace modern pop and RnB music back to the soul music of the mid-century, and back to gospel and churches. Even electronic music evolved from a desire to minimalist and modern, something seen in classical music to this day.
Listening to music also teaches us about other people and makes us more receptive.
Another important lesson to take away from music is what it can teach us about other cultures. There are two key ways to do this. The first relates to race and cultural groups within our own countries, or maybe even our own cities.
Music is a great way for people to reach out when they feel their voice isn’t heard. There are deep messages behind tracks from black artists that tell white listeners things they may not have heard.
It just takes three minutes to watch a music video or read along with the lyrics and learn something important about the artist’s life experience.
A prime example in recent years is ‘This Is America’ by Childish Gambino – a song whose powerful video showed white audiences a shocking side to the experience of young black men.
This openness to listen extends across the globe.
Then there is the way that music not only transcends social and racial boundaries, but also those along geographical lines. Music from other cultures and countries can be fascinating and revealing when we take the time to listen.
It is easy to dismiss foreign music and say we would never understand it. But, when US teens listen to K-pop in their bedrooms, or Babymetal performs one of their highly-choreographed Japanese songs, language doesn’t matter anymore.
Those that choose to can delve deeper and learn lyrics and cultural implications. The rest can recognize the chorus and appreciate the structure as they have fun.
This takes us back to that point about a well-planned song. Regardless of the country of origin, all artists have a similar formula. This teaches us just how close we all are in the world, and how much we share.
It shows that we can write about the same feelings and life experiences and share that across the world. We can all be understood on different levels.
What does listening to music teach you?
In short, listening to music teaches us how similar we all are even when we express our differences. It shows us that we can all offer up personal truths in various languages and still be heard.
This happens partly because of the blueprint that runs through the structure of music and the way we express ourselves in life. There are repeated ideas to help us make a point. A recapitulation in a sonata. A recapitulation of this article.
Also, check out How To Introduce Someone To Classical Music? Complete Guide.
Sources: Cross-cultural perspectives