What Music can Teach You About Yourself

David Andrew Wiebe

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“What can the music I listen to teach me about myself?”

There is more to this question than you may even realize, and the answer is more important than most people would suspect.

Music can teach you a great deal about yourself, about others, as well as the world we occupy.

This article is an examination of the many facets of music, the important lessons contained within, as well as warnings for those who don’t understand just how powerful it is.

The Importance of Discipline

As any musician worth their salt will tell you, learning to sing or play an instrument well takes time, dedication, and hard work.

Many of us will have gone through music lessons at some point, and if not that, had at least a superficial encounter with it in school – in the choir, on the recorder, harmonica, or maybe even the melodica.

Some of us will have understood from that brief encounter that learning to play music requires discipline, and that discipline is key to becoming good at anything worth doing.

The sooner this lesson took root, the better, because it meant we could become an expert in our chosen field faster by applying systematic discipline to our efforts.

Musicians Mobile says:

Music lessons can help children extremely well with patience and most of all – better discipline. Playing an instrument is not an activity that gratifies kids immediately with a positive result. In many cases, they will be practicing for days or even for months until they hear the fruits of their labor.

This doesn’t just apply to children, though. It applies to adults too.

As the saying goes, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now. Too bad we don’t know who to attribute that quote to.

It doesn’t matter much when you’re starting. Plenty of people go onto do amazing things later in life.

Per international business strategist, speaker, author, and extreme athlete Dan Waldschmidt, J.R.R. Tolkien went onto publish the first volume of his fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings, at age 62.

That’s not all. Ed Whitlock ran a standard marathon in under three hours at 69. Katsusuke Yanagisawa became the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest at 71. Theodor Mommsen became the oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature at 85. And more.

Discipline is a macro life lesson that, when applied to the things we care about most, yields return beyond imagination.

The Power of Repetition

Repetition is the key to fast improvement. And nowhere is this more evident than in music students.

As a musician practices and continues to improve, the learning curve steepens. But when they are first getting started, they pick up new skills at a dizzying pace.

APL nextED explains exactly how this works:

Repetition is a key learning aid because it helps transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious. Through repetition, a skill is practiced and rehearsed over time and gradually becomes easier. As the student improves, he or she does not need to think consciously about the skill, free up mental resources to learn new skills and concepts.

As with discipline, repetition is a macro lesson that should be applied liberally to anything you want to get better at.

But there is another important dimension to repetition in music, and that is repeating certain musical or lyrical “hooks” so that they get stuck in a listener’s head.

It’s fair to say the music industry machine applies this tactic copiously, not just to make their songs hits, but also to instill beliefs and narratives.

This isn’t just opinion. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra explains exactly how this works as applied to pop music:

More repetitive songs were more likely to chart in the Top 40. In fact each repletion of the chorus increased the likelihood a song would make it to the Top 40 by 17 percent and increased the chances it was a #1 hit by 14.5 percent. It’s impossible to measure all of the factors that make a song “catchy,” but each repetition a chorus seems to make it more likely that song becomes that inescapable earworm that we mentally sing and want to hear again and again.

If you’re looking to write a hit song, perhaps it would be wise to repeat the parts you want to be remembered.

Your Beliefs

The music you listen to says a great deal about your identity.

six-two staff writer Chantal Ford explained it this way:

When we start to discover music for ourselves and we’re deciding what we like and don’t like, it often leads us away from the music of our parents and towards something pretty different.

That’s a nice surface level view, but this goes so much deeper than that.

Music encapsules religious and spiritual beliefs, attitudes towards love and relationships, and even perspectives on history and culture.

Do you listen to a lot of music about disappointing relationships? Would it be fair to say you’ve experienced your fair share of disappointing relationships?

Do you find yourself turning towards angry music? Do you often find yourself angry, looking for ways to let out your aggression?

The music we listen to may not be reflective of any lasting beliefs, attitudes, or views, but may say a great deal about our short-term stance on a specific subject.

Listen carefully to your favorite songs. What are they saying? And what do they mean to you?

You may see yourself reflected in those songs. Or you may even be horrified by what you find.

At first, we reflect the music we listen to. Then, as we grow and mature, the music we listen to reflects us.

Going back 60 years, music was much more about self-expression and it was more freeform. Today, music is more commercialized and homogenized than it’s ever been, and it’s been designed to push a narrative.

Repetition reinforces, and music has never been more repetitive (just look at Rihanna).

Some people say they “just like the beat,” but don’t realize that whatever they listen to unconsciously affects them subconsciously, and eventually, consciously too.

Music also has a special connection to geography. Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, Mark Altaweel says:

We do not often think of music having a spatial relationship to different factors or even other music. However, geography and spatial analysis can demonstrate that music not only has important spatial properties in regards to how it influences but also where it is played, where venues may develop, while music also has important political and economic implications.

Geography is key to understanding music, just as understanding our taste in music is key to understanding ourselves from various perspectives – economic, political, and more.

Final Thoughts

Music is human. It’s the language that connects us all. And as with most creative artforms, it allows for unprecedented self-expression.

Music can also teach us important life lessons that, when applied to other disciplines and areas of life, reward us richly.

But it’s also important to recognize its impact on us. Music is often a part of our day-to-day life – in the car, on our walks, at the mall, at celebrations, and more.

Music can instill ideas, perspectives, and attitudes that can end up becoming our own, without our full consent, presence, or cooperation.

If we have chosen consciously, this can be a good thing. But the wrong music can water down the richness and depth of life. The shallowness of Top 40 music is not lost on most, even those who seem to gobble it up.

In recent years, the devaluing of arts continues. But perhaps it would be wise to reexamine its importance and prioritize it again.

Sources

· Musicians Mobile – How Music Lessons Refine Children’s Discipline, https://www.musiciansmobile.com/music-lessons-refine-children-discipline/

· APL nextED – Focus and Repetition in Learning, https://aplnexted.com/focus-and-repetition-in-learning/

· Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Meyerhoff and Strathmore – The Power of Musical Repetition, https://www.bsomusic.org/stories/the-power-of-musical-repetition/

· six-two by Contiki – 10 ways music is intrinsically linked to our cultural identity, https://www.contiki.com/six-two/10-ways-music-helps-cultural-identity/

· Geography Realm – The Geography of Music, https://www.geographyrealm.com/the-geography-of-music/

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