5 Scientific reasons to ditch words and let music do the talking

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Choosing the right words is hard. But maybe the solution isn't in your thesaurus. Maybe it's in your stereo. Here's how music gets you instantly understood by everybody.

Music is made and enjoyed in all corners of the globe. It's an essential part of our lives, connecting us with others in a way that words can't match.

Why? Because music is the closest thing we have to a universal language. Unlike the spoken word, we can understand the emotion in music at an instinctive, gut level.

The evidence for this is staggering, and proves that we should all be using music to connect with others.

Smashing through social barriers with music

Thomas Fritz is a German scientist. He travelled to the northern Mandara mountain range in Cameroon, where the Mafa people live in extreme isolation without electricity.

Fritz played the Mafa people western music they'd never heard before. They were able to identify whether the music was sad, happy or scary.

They also identified the same emotions as western listeners – people who grew up listening to similar music and have been surrounded by it ever since.

A similar study conducted among the Mbenzélé Pygmies, an isolated tribe in the Congo, gave strikingly similar results.

Some 40 participants identified the moods in various pieces of western music they'd never heard before.

With us since the ice age… and the womb

Steven J. Mithen, an archaeologist at the University of Reading, has argued that dance was vital as far back as 1.5 million years ago – as a tool for social interaction.

Cooperation would have been essential for survival during the last Ice age and this would have been facilitated by the social bonds that develop through communal dancing and singing. Dancing is a means to show off one's physical fitness and coordination, qualities that would have been useful for survival in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies.

Marcel Zentner is a professor of psychology at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He wanted to find out how babies are affected by music. Zentner's research made some wonderful discoveries.

Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants. We also found that the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music, the more they smiled.

According to Zentner's findings, babies have an innate talent for dancing. And the better they are at it, the more they enjoy it.

In other words, our appreciation of rhythm is hard-wired.

We're all singing from the same sheet

Watch this, it's only 3 minutes long and it's incredible.

Musician Bobby McFerrin is able to play his audience – who have no training or prior knowledge of the music – purely through their gut understanding of sound and scale.

What's interesting to me about that is, regardless of where I am, anywhere, every audience gets that.

Time and again, our innate understanding of music overcomes social, cultural and linguistic obstacles where other forms of communication can't.

So why aren't you communicating with music?

If people are born with an appreciation of rhythm and mood, what better communication tool could you have at your disposal than music?

Think of all of the things that stop people understanding your words. When you use music instead, those barriers just fall away.

That's incredibly powerful for communication. You simply have to use music that conveys the mood of your message – and make people feel what you want them to feel.

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