Is music really all that great?

Alboka basque traditional music instrument.
Alboka basque traditional music instrument. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music: it’s everywhere you go – humming softly over a grocery store’s public address system; blaring from your co-worker’s pickup during a break; rattling your windows as an SUV passes by with the bass pounding out through twelve-inch speakers. It’s a more or less ubiquitous part of our lives, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Before music players were around – before the record player, the gramophone, even the wax cylinders that our forebears used to reproduce audible things – music was either a single-song act in a mechanized box or you were required to experience it live. Rich people had access to the most skilled musicians, while the less fortunate – ironically – made their own stuff that we most often cite as being the roots of modern music.

In other words, for the most part you either had to be there or you had to make your own music. Today we can take a vast library of music with us in our pockets, and most of us do. But is this really as beneficial as it sounds?

Earworms

The more music we inundate our environment with, the more problems we seem to have. For starters, there’s that annoying breed of musical tinnitus where you get a song stuck in your head and you just can’t seem to get it out. Well, you might say, that’s harmless! I beg to differ. Having a song stuck in the head can be distracting and lessen one’s ability to focus on tasks at hand. Just like a driver who sings loudly to the jams on their radio, the attention becomes divided so long as the music persists, and the quality of the more important task – driving – suffers.

Personal Taste

Then there is the sensitive nature of personal tastes in music. Some people treat their taste in music as though it’s absolute truth – this music is good, that music is garbage, et cetera. At this point it falls into a realm that comprises both politics and religion: spheres of thought that are largely matters of opinion and thus not conducive to productive debate. Yet some people seem to be willing to start wars and dismiss the possibility of another’s intelligence purely on the basis of musical tastes, thus fracturing society along those lines. Were we to keep our musical tastes to ourselves, to say nothing of personal politics and religion, would we not get along that much better?

Burnout

Finally, when we hear a certain song too much, doesn’t it sort of wear out for us? I often find that I get sick of some music if I hear it too frequently, which diminishes the pleasure I get from it; and that sounds a little like what happens when you overindulge in alcohol and your body becomes accustomed to it, right? What does that do to the brain?

Cognitive Roadblocking

Speaking of which, what happens when we listen to too much music for too long? I’m reminded of Bud Bundy‘s “full pitcher” theory when I think of this; he taught his sister Kelly something for school, I think, and he was explaining to Al that her brain is like a pitcher that was already full. When you pour something new in there, something old has to come out. If our brains are all tricked out with different memorized musical elements – song lyrics, tunes, melodies, is it possible that we miss out on being able to learn or remember different things? Or could we sabotage any innate ability we might have to specialize in something? After all, we are what we repeatedly do, and if we immerse ourselves in music all day long, how can we be anything other than an overplayed song?

The Curse of Convenience

And here’s one more question: does having easy access to music in fact help deprive us of musical talent? Back in the Western world of Plato and prior to then, storytelling was a big deal and most people had several long and involved stories memorized and ready to go; this was because nobody was reading and writing yet. If we can produce music with so little effort then the impetus to learn to play musical instruments must have reduced over time. Indeed, where once a classical education involved learning to play a stringed instrument, in modern times music of any kind is largely an elective and is occasionally still used as a reason to ridicule poor band geeks. Thankful for TV shows like Glee and Freaks and Geeks, right?

Still, despite these drawbacks and potential others, I’m not sure what I would do if I couldn’t carry thousands of songs in my back pocket.

Maybe I’d take up whistling!


This post was prompted by today’s Daily Post prompt.

What do you think? Drawbacks? Benefits? Am I just plain crazy? Let me know in the comments!

22 thoughts on “Is music really all that great?”

    1. That’s good, I’m hoping I don’t draw too much fire over the stance I took; music is definitely huge for me too. Today I spent ten hours whistling “Danny Boy”. It was quite distracting! 😀

  1. What’s hard for me about all this is research: I’m going to be inundating the web with it in the new year. I’ll probably be singing and playing some of it (and I’ll encourage people like you to do it, too, Rob). Is that bad? Digging up something and asking people to do it with me?

    1. No, I think crowdsourcing a project is the best way to make it even greater. We can totally put the parallel processing power of several minds to good use and I’ll be right there with you if I’m able; after all, as I indicated, I’m completely intertwined with music.

      Research?

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