Music plays an important part in the lives of all human beings. It may give us pleasure, excite us, or make us sad in a happy kind of way. It may make us want to move and dance, help us to relax, help us to concentrate or work physically, even help us to sleep. It brings people together in a special kind of way – a special kind of human, emotional, physical, mental and social contact.
It is hugely exciting that in the last few years a revolution has occurred of tremendous importance to everyone who cares about music – simply, science has begun to catch up with music. There have been discoveries, particularly in the biological sciences, which offer irrefutable proof that music does indeed change people’s minds and bodies. Brain scanning has revealed not only the many parts of the brain involved in listening to and responding to music, but also that music “builds” the brain – certain areas of the brain critical to general human life and development are enlarged by musical experience.
Advances in neurophysiology and endocrinology have shown that music does indeed have a significant influence on our autonomic nervous systems, and on the hormones and neurotransmitters that affect the way we feel and experience emotion, and our capacities to act and react. New research in psychobiology has shown that musical communication is a vital part of human social development, and helps us both relate to others and learn. There is even a humble but important new role for music in medicine.
Why is this important? Because it helps give music its proper place in our lives and education; it empowers those who practise it, helps them to value properly what they do, and offers them new insights into their art and its potential to grow.
Composer, Reid Professor of Music, Edinburgh University, Co-Director of the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development