On setting off on my holidays recently I decided to take some reading material. Rather than going for the usual crime thriller I went for “Music and Communication” by Terence McLaughlin. Ok, not everbody’s first choice but it’s been lying on the shelf staring at me for a while so I thought, now’s the time. It’s a pretty heavy read but it certainly did get me thinking. One of the first questions it addresses is “Why Music?” What are it’s origins, why as listener’s do we gain so much satisfaction from it. From a players perspective have you ever asked yourself the question “ Why is it that I want to learn the guitar? ”. Some obvious answers might be along the lines of : I heard Joe Pass playing (I’m sure you’ll have your own guitar hero) and thought, I want to do that; or, I remember my Grandfather playing that tune, I’d love to learn it; or, I’d love to be able to play some songs at parties! It strikes me that generally all of these reasons will have some type of emotional response attached to them. Why is it that you want to play like you’re guitar hero? Is it for reasons of admiration or is it because of the way the music makes you feel. I would suggest that more often than not it’s due to the latter, the way it makes you feel, the emotional response that the music triggers.
Differing from other art forms, music effects our emotions without there being an obvious external influence. The example given by Terence McLaughlin in his book is that of King Lear from Shakespeare’s famous play raving on the stage. Even if we understand not a word of the old English prose we can still identify him as an old man who has been left out in some extremely bad weather and a resulting emotional response is stimulated. Music often has no such footing in the real world. It is very much a shifting art form, always changing, moving and growing with these subtleties of composition not being linked to an external source as in many other art forms but none the less capable of prompting outbursts of emotion in both listener and player…..…yes, my playing has on occasion driven me to tears !
While having no obvious roots in the real world, most people would agree that music is often capable of expressing something deep and valuable. So the question is, why is it that music can affect us in such a manner that we are prompted to feel deep emotions of sadness, happiness and excitement.
I think to answer this question we have to look at the different elements music embraces to be expressive: the elements of dynamics, tempo, rhythm, harmony, melody and, underpinning all music the use of tension and resolution. There is also a more physiological question needing addressed as to how our brains process musical information. Maybe a question for my next holiday break !!