Two of my favorite topics of discussion are music (duh) and human evolution. When they drift into each other I get all excited. There is definitely an evolutionary element to music so I thought I'd put this on here.
Below is an excerpt from the conclusion of a book I wrote called How To Play The Guitar Without Wanting To Smash It With A Rock.
Music Strikes a Chord in the Brain, Scans Show
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - It may not be necessary for survival, but music taps into the same brain structures that things as crucial to life as food and sex do, researchers report. The investigators found that the music their study participants said gave them ``chills' also activated the brain's reward and emotion centers--the same areas that have been found to ``light up'' when stimulated by food, sex and drugs of abuse.
In the September 25th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (news - web sites), researchers describe the finding as ``remarkable,'' since music has no effect on survival, nor does it directly alter the brain as drugs do. They suggest that music--which is woven into the fabric of all cultures--may be important to humans' sense of well-being.
Dr. Anne J. Blood of Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown led the study of 10 musicians. She and colleague Robert J. Zatorre of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, had the participants each pick a piece of music that consistently sent shivers down their spine. They then used positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to view which areas of the brain were activated by the music. All of the participants chose classical pieces as their spine-tingling favorites.
The PET scans, Blood and Zatorre found, illustrated clear effects of the musical selections--as the intensity of participants' ``chills'' increased, blood flow in particular brain regions changed in tandem. Other music did not inspire such changes.
``The ability of music to induce such intense pleasure and its...stimulation of (the brain's) reward systems suggest that, although music may not be imperative for survival of the human species, it may indeed be of significant benefit to our mental and physical well-being,'' the researchers conclude.
They also note that although the study participants were all musicians, music lovers of all sorts may experience such intense responses to their favorite tunes.
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2001;98:11818-
What!? When I first saw this report I was both amazed and unsurprised. The power of music never ceases to astound me in any way. I have been a musician for over 40 years and have had moments of near religious intensity whilst playing or listening to music. I still do. As a performer I have wielded considerable power onstage using music to lasso my audience’s attention and emotions. We are dealing with some serious voodoo here, folks.
But music as a survival strategy that holds the same importance as eating and sex? Pretty heady stuff, indeed, and yet not so surprising if we think about it. Music is woven into the fabric of every aspect of our lives. It engulfs us; we are awash in it. Try to think of a significant portion of your life that doesn’t have music in it (alright, maybe going to the bathroom. Don’t be wise.). Tall order, eh? It permeates our existence like no other art form (novelists, dancers, sculptors and performance artists need not respond-please!). I think it would be very, very hard to exist without it.
We know that music can conjure powerful emotional responses. A simple D minor chord (D minor was pointed out by Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap to be the “saddest of all keys”) really can make us feel sad. The combination of a D an F and an A can do that. There are pieces of music that really affect us emotionally and we all have them. If we as musicians analyze those tunes and find out the elements that have strong influence over us we can apply those elements to our own music. Great sorcerers start out as apprentices, just ask Mickey.
So, as I conclude this book I want to leave you with a couple of thoughts. Personally there aren’t many things in my life that have brought me the pure, unabashed joy that my guitars give me (wife and children are above the discussion). The guitar fosters a sense of camaraderie and friendship; there are few relationships that are stronger and more intense than those I have had with my bandmates (again, wife and children are exempt). Jamming with friends and my students is one of the most fun and gratifying things I do.
So, love what you do. If you love to play guitar it can bring you joy for the rest of your life. If it ceases to be fun stop playing. Music should never be made using guilt or bad feelings as a motivator. It should never be a chore.
Finally, many years ago a dear friend of mine dropped this pearl of wisdom on me (pearls before swine some would say): “We don’t play music because we like to. We don’t even play music because we want to. We play music because we have to.” I hope you all feel the same way about music and the guitar. If you let it the guitar will enrich your life in countless ways. It has given me so many of the things that have made for a great life and I am thankful for it.