Sound of Music

What makes music a hit with kids and adults alike? In other words, your family

Listening to musicA talent for music is not just hearing from your inner ear, yes. It has to it something more than music in your mind. Also, music's impact on your mind, and body, begins with the physiological process of hearing itself. Says Elizabeth Miles, an ethnomusicologist: "The ear is the first sensory organ to develop in the womb, preceding even the nervous system - so sound is your first source of information about the world." She notes: "Once you're born, the primary function of the auditory system is orientation and self-defence. [Because] your entire hearing apparatus is designed to detect, locate, and identify sound, and thereafter integrate these signals into propulsive behaviour for self-preservation - for instance, fleeing from the woolly mammoth you hear charging from the rear."

A flair for music

From an evolutionary standpoint, hearing is life itself, and, as such, we are endowed with a sophisticated system for processing sound in the brain, body, and nervous system. Studies have demonstrated the mind-altering power of music - an all-natural alternative for mastering your moods, and making more of your life.

The earliest sign that a child is gifted in music is a strong interest and delight in musical sounds. Most children exhibit this trait early in life — it is also a characteristic that comes naturally to all of us.

It, however, depends on how interest in music is cultivated and developed - as one grows up. Because, nature and nurture are both necessary — for music or any innate gift to expand? Yes!

Yet another early clue of musical giftedness, as we have all experienced, is the ability to sing back accurately songs one has heard. This ability is made possible by not just exceptional, but an innate musical ability - the ability most central to musical talent.

Says Ellen Winner, a psychologist: "Musical giftedness reveals itself very early. In fact, giftedness in music may appear earlier than giftedness in any other area of skill. Many great performers and composers have demonstrated musical giftedness as young as one or two, and almost always before six." "Mozart started picking out tunes on the piano at three, and he was composing by six. The violinist Yehudi Menuhin performed with symphony orchestras at the age of seven."

Yes, you'd also conjure up a few of our own Eastern paradigms in this context - the likes of M Balamuralikrishna and "Mandolin" U Srinivas. Corollaries also exist in a host of other fields of human activity, too - from sports to medicine. But, the fact is: music examples are plentiful, primarily because melody, or an ear for music as it were, is such a highly rule-governed, formally structured domain that its giftedness manifests so early in life, sometimes without any formal training - in any clime, or cultural setting.

Science, as a matter of fact, is also convinced about the power of sonic energy - one that can play a big part in your moods, motivation, and your/child's success. It has been suggested that one can, with great benefit, use music as a mood-enhancement tool, with the right soundtrack - a sort of therapeutic model that will help you handle stress and anxiety, enhance your/child's creativity, boost IQ, control pain, get motivated, and have a better conjugal life.

Tuning your brain with music could be started at any point in life - and, at any point of time. But, the best time to start with music as your natural "tool" of motivation would be right from one's childhood. If you haven't done that - take a step ahead. It's never too late. Better start with your child, right now, because music's mood-enhancing power is a great motivator, a wonderful tonic.

Music, says Miles, has proven useful in acquiring verbal sequencing skills, or language. Proper music, especially classical - not heavy, boisterous music - she further explains, can actually enhance reading comprehension. She's spot on. Because, it's been scientifically proposed that music plumbs our mental potential like no other. It can also significantly raise mathematics scores, in school, including spatial and temporal reasoning, vocabulary, facts, formulae skills, and concentration.

Now, the big question: how can one expand on the musical attribute within us and benefit from it? Simple. Use "Focus" music, or background music. The measure and meaning of the word, focus, is obvious.

Focus music

Focus music is tuneful energy that adds value to your own, and your child's, efforts. It also has the ability to increase your physiological arousal. The reasoning for using "backdrop" music, in simple terms, in any setting - at home, work, waiting room, or the doctor's, or dentist's, office - to "fine-tune" your brain is simple. Music has an elegant structure, a mathematical basis, and an orderly progress through time: these are ingredients that can organise and drive your thoughts through a long workday at the study table, workplace, or the cricket ground. Most important - it eases your tensions and relaxes you. Soulful music is also evidenced to reduce your cortisol - the stress hormone - levels.

Sci-tech writer, Robert Jourdain, explains: "Musicality flowers when it is reinforced, from an early age. Children take naturally to improvisation and composition, readily acquiring pitch-discrimination and other skills needed for music. They experiment freely, retaining ideas they've stumbled upon. By the age of four, more than half produce something original. And, the progress continues right through adolescence. The results are hardly Mozartean. But, children's efforts at writing are seldom Shakespearean." Adds Jourdain: "The point is that original music arises naturally from minds exercised in it, and not from some muse inhabiting a fortunate few."

The inference is obvious: parents need to be serious, imaginative, enthusiastic, and friendly vis-a-vis music's emotive power. They should -

  • Allow music to speak in ways that words cannot
  • Help their children develop a powerful connection to it
  • Make it more potent than we have known it.

This is something that can prevent our future genii from burning out. too early.

Sonic energy

You know it, don't you? That even with people, or children, of many different tastes, classical music seems to be the Focus music of choice. Because, we associate classical music with a cultivated mind? You bet. What's more, new sounds, especially in the classical form, expand your mind.

Not for nothing has complex music proven effective for neural "priming." In other words, listening to music actually taps both sides of the brain, potentially uniting creative and analytical functions in the mind.

What has been most exciting is the discovery of music's neural impact, today: that music can "prime" or access both the left and the right hemispheres of the brain. To quote Miles: "[May be], you think of yourself as left-brain if you're analytical or word-driven type, or right-brain if you're creative or visual. In general, the left brain handles symbolic activities, like language and logic, while the right brain is responsible for direct perception, including spatial tasks and abstract intuitive leaps." Her bottom line: listening to music actually taps both sides, potentially uniting creative and analytical functions in the mind - at one "go." This is something that nothing else - including medicine - can do for you!

Studies suggest, Mozart, as may be obvious, is your best bet. You could also opt for Bach or Beethoven, or Baroque [European classical] music too, which emphasises the usage of stringed instruments like violin, guitar, mandolin etc.,

Purpose? It helps trigger your/your child's learning, and memory, response.

You'd also without any problem, light up our child's mind with classical traditions - most notably, Indian ragas, or folk music of your clime.

According to Miles, the Carnatic style of classical music is best suited for "tuning" your child's brain. "[Carnatic music of South India] combines composition with improvisation in the complex raga [melodic structures], and tala [rhythmic cycles]. Unlike the sometimes-meditative music of the North [India], Carnatic compositions tend to move at a lively clip, which might be better for neural priming." "Players [Carnatic musicians] trade phrases, and develop ideas, in a way that relates to Western art music, but with the added challenge of improvisation."

So, what are waiting for? Plug into sonic energy - and, listen to melodies that help best to fine-tune your mind and expand your creative graph.

Melodies that Work

For right-brain neural priming, or "access:" you/your child could listen to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, or Bach's 6 Symphonies. Carnatic classical music: Vadya Lahari, featuring A Kanyakumari on the violin.

For left-brain neural priming: Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in 3 Movements. Carnatic classical music: Laya Vinyas, featuring Trichy Sankaran on the mridangam.

Work and learn music: Bach's A Musical Offering BWV 1079, or Vivaldi's The Four Seasons [4 Concertos Op 8 #1-4].

Also recommended - more so, if your child is able to resonate well with them. Any of the great Carnatic classical vocalists, or instrumentalists [Chitti Babu on the veena; U Srinivas on mandolin]; or, Hindustani classical music with Kumar Gandharva [vocal] and Pandit Ravi Shankar [sitar]; English popsical music of The Beatles, or Richard Clayderman on the piano. Or, think of the good, old country music numbers, or our own evergreen Hindi film numbers of 1950-60s - of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and other singers. If you love Southern flavours, you'd relate well to the haunting melodies of P B Sreenivos or S Janaki. Or, you may choose your own local "aromas" wherever you are - including folk songs. Or, just about any music you like. But, remember - the songs you pick should not have more than 60 beats per minute. They should, in other words, be soft, energising, uplifting, and relaxing.

Tune in Your Mind

Music has been a historical hit parade, since ancient, or Vedic, times - from the caveman, early history, the epochs of Pythagoras and Plato, and mediaeval era, to our present age: the age of technological nirvana.

According to modern science, some of the networks, in the human brain, seem to be solely dedicated to music. This, in more ways than one, has prompted neuroscientists to rethink their ideas on the nature of intelligence. To consider a commonplace example: listening to your favourite tune can help you work well with words, do maths, and make a better effort at the workplace, and in sport too - without reaching a point of boredom. Sporting greats often use music to relax, and get into the rhythm of things out there in the middle with better outcomes.

The explanation is simple. Music stimulates the emotional centre of our brains, and [our] long-term memory. So, playing some background music - especially quiet classical music, at the workplace [or, while studying, or before a sport event] - is a very effective strategy for many people.

  • Allow your child [and, yourself] to let the idea of harmonics guide his/her musical meditation, or bring balance
  • Also, allow music to be the light inside him/her
  • Ask him/her to keep the door of their minds wide open: to let music in
  • Allow them to "evolve" with music - and, the moments of silence that define the sound
  • Have patience.

The results will be enormous - and, you, and your kids, will be blessed.

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Rajgopal Nidamboor
Rajgopal Nidamboor, a trained physician, is a writer, commentator, and author. In a career spanning 25 years, Nidamboor has published over 2,000 articles, on a variety of subjects, two coffee table books, an E-book, and a primer on therapeutics, aside from an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy.

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