Cognitive Rewards Of Music In A Troubled World

Music offers a welcoming escape route for both creators and listeners.

Today, more than ever before, we need to let our minds wander. Listening to or playing music reboots our optimism. Whatever your preferred genre. It’s never about shutting the world out, but seeing it through new eyes.

Escaping into a world of ideals through music is healthy. While traditional protest songs or poetry are designed for a communal setting, the job of recorded music is to re-energise the individual. To explore crazy scenarios and shape our belief system.

And though we might feel helpless amidst a climate crisis and other global problems, we do have music for channelling this annoyance. While I don’t sing songs my guitar is still a voice with an emotional brain attached.

Music Theory Is Really Hard

Our brains love music. It’s a fast turnaround. I can pick the guitar up and create a new song within a couple of hours. Whether it’s any good is another matter. But I don’t have to wait long for the next idea. Listeners get this same sense of progress when switching playlists.

Creative thinking is really hard because the brain is wired to focus on threats or survival. We only solve complex problems in science and design by training our minds. It’s why we might struggle to learn music theory quickly. Because this level of thinking requires unnatural processes. But this hasn’t stopped me creating music.

I’ve developed my own instincts, style and patterns for playing. I also rely on mental models quite a bit. Knowing where positions are on the fretboard. I do try to dedicate more time to music theory, but often it’s counterproductive to what I am trying to achieve.

Modernity Helps My Optimism

I am now quite averse to nostalgia, but more fascinated by music history. There is a difference. Nostalgia is seeing the past through rose tinted glasses. For music fans nostalgia comes in the shape of biopics, memoir or reissued recordings. I just got bored and now seek new input to keep my thinking fresh. It also keeps me optimistic.

Music history is social history too. Songs anchor us at a particular point in time. A similar experience to visiting a museum. We are captivated by how ancient civilisations lived, but look forward to finally reaching the gift shop. The best gift we take away is inspiration.

Is nostalgia a natural, human condition or is it a product of commerce? Stylistically, ancient Rome was heavily influenced by ancient Greece. Nostalgia likely relates to our brains preferring the familiar and the predictable. We like a sense of safety, particularly as you get older. In youth we take risks, live in the moment.

Social Music, Creative Democracy

We deprive our minds of fresh perspectives if we live in silence. Music can be disturbing, which is more likely due to other unwanted distractions. Nobody really hates music, they just can’t find the time. It’s astonishing how music is often ignored by psychologists and mental health improvement guides. It’s not always about relaxation either.

It’s healthy to experience a variety of emotions. Recorded music provides an outlet for this via headphones, without disturbing others. Music is rarely recommended as a tonic for depression. Commerce rules our lives, with little room for the arts. Playing a musical instrument is proven as an aid for therapy.

Just hop onto SoundCloud and you can witness music therapy in action. While SoundCloud’s business model is questionable, the concept of social music is groundbreaking. It’s a form of creative democracy. The fruits of community music is freedom of expression and a currency of ideas. Anyone who trades ideas without conflict is also a lot happier for it.

A Fairer Deal For Creators

What disturbs me about social media is not the public. It’s the gatekeepers and corporate disruptors. We have little control of our information. We can no longer trust who we’re dealing with. Trust in digital providers is at an all-time low. Social groups prefer smaller networks. Otherwise we are fatigued by noise which leads to conflict.

Music remains a powerful form of communication. However, Big Tech discards music in favour of discourse. Unsurprisingly this serves the needs of marketers very well, but not musicians. But now creators are abandoning this flawed model. Artists can serve their audience very directly. Platforms such as Bandcamp, Patreon or Substack cut a much fairer deal. They act more as facilitators rather than gatekeepers.

This is great news for everyone. When music is in the hands of those that value it most, we all gain a much healthier state of mind.