Music is THE ultimate universal language.
Updated: Mar 30
Verbal language is something we take for granted every day. It is only when you need to communicate using a language different to your own that you fully appreciate the diversity of infinite letter and sound combinations to create different languages and dialects. I'm always so astounded how we are able to learn language so thoroughly throughout our development as children and continue to learn complex arrangements of phrases to describe the world we experience around us. Most of all, our ability to transfer understanding to others so we can feel fully connected.
When I am attempting to learn the basics of a new language, I always find talking with children is a great way to learn. Using non-verbal communication such as arm movements and play to demonstrate fun learning. This is very comparable to my attempts to hold conversations with adults, for example this cold conversation with a seasoned shop owner in a rural town in Mexico when I was trying to buy vegetables;
"Veg-e-tables".. "Vege-taab-les".. "Vege-tarias".. Trying endless combinations of sounds only to be faced with a shaking head and confused expression. "Oh.. Vegetales, porque no dijiste!" (translation: Oh.. Vegetables, why didn’t you say!) !! The 'g' sound is not as we say it in English as a 'guh' or 'juh' sound, it is more of a throaty 'ccc' sound. A small mistake to make, but pronunciation is everything. It is the difference between leaving the shop with a bag of "ve-ccc-eh-tal-es" or not!
It's going to be a long time before I'm fluent at Spanish. But I do enjoy appreciating having to change the way I look at communication to get the daily tasks done. It is a skill, and a complex one at that, especially when you are trying to foster a connection with someone else. I always remind myself about people who don't communicate through language or have lost the ability to plan and form speech, how confusing life can be without it.
However, there is one common language I have found in every corner of the world - from Banda Ache in Northern Sumatra, to Huaraz in the Andes of Peru (both very colourful.. ask me about either!) - and in my sessions with non-verbal participants, a language which connects vast amounts of people together almost instantly - MUSIC.
Take Bob Marley as an example.
I have listened to his music playing out of cafés, cars, houses, shops, restaurants, bars, speakers in every continent I have visited. When English is not the spoken language, Bob Marley's music still stands proud to define the listener as an open and easy going human. It transcends language and boils down to the simple musical elements which are the mood of the music and can be read and shared by anyone. There are songs which can define generations of people from all around the globe and connect them through the elements of this easy and melodic music alone.
Listening to Marley's music in any environment creates connections between listeners, breaking down cultural barriers and bringing smiles to people's faces. Within seconds of listening to a combination of musical elements such as rhythm, melody and harmony, music has the power to transcend language and move us.
Let's look a little closer into how music can effect you. Here's three ways:
Physically. Physiological reactions beyond our consciousness (Schneck & Berger, 2005), allow us to move, dance, tap our feet in time with the music. We naturally entrain to the rhythm without actually thinking about it. Next time you are listening to music, see how your body moves to the beat. Did you realise you were dancing? When humans listen to music together, our bodies start to entrain together. Our breathing, movements and even heartbeats have been proven to sync together when playing music or singing together (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23230411). This BBC article talks about a study which found that 'music structure determines heart rate variability of singers', basically saying that when song structure changes, so does heart rates of not only one person, but a whole choir! Link in the references.
So it's not only our souls that enjoy music, our bodies tell us they're loving it too!
Mentally. The way our brains function, process and communicate requires a complex system of organisation to be efficient. We work within systems, organised systems of repetition and structure. Whether we like to believe it or not, this is when our brain is the most happy, when running within the organised systems it knows and understands. The natural organisation within music offers a fun framework for sensory (the senses) and motor planning (movement) and a way to categorise and compartmentalise our thoughts. This is especially important when our brains are overwhelmed or overloaded or trying to break things down into easier chunks. Music helps to teach the brain to take processes one step at a time, and build up more complexities over time and practice (without you really even realising it). Rhythm is one of those magical musical elements which helps brains to think a little clearer.
Spiritually. The expression of emotions and access to our memories - this is the deep stuff. The place we go when we're asleep, our daydreams and the thoughts that influence our behaviour. Music is a vessel to explore and travel between thoughts, experiences and memories, putting you - the master of your destiny - in the driving seat. Music can communicate between our unconscious, subconscious and conscious minds and has the power to reveal so much about ourselves. One of the psychodynamic music therapy methods where music is used to reach deep into the psyche is Guided Imagery and Music. If you are interested in finding out more, have a look at the websites below.
Music is the master communicator and
the ultimate universal language.
So the next time you have the unstoppable urge to shake your tail feathers to some old school songs with your favourite people, or you're inspired to change lyrics to something that fits the current political situation, or you just need to put that Bob Marley song on which understands how you're feeling right now, just do it! You're actually communicating on a way more understandable level than you may think. Let the music help you to say what you want to say, without actually having to say it. Phew, thats way easier than learning a language!!!
Want to find out more? Keep your eye on this blog for links to current research exploring the power of music and how it is proven that music is present and active in every corner of the globe.
Guided Imagery and Music:
Björn Evickhoff, Helge Emalmgren, Rickard Eåström, Gunnar Enyberg, Mathias Eengvall, Johan Esnygg, . . . Rebecka Ejörnsten. (2013). Music determines heart rate variability of singers.Frontiers in Psychology,4, 334.
Schneck, D. J., & Berger, D. S. (2005). The music effect: Music physiology and clinical applications. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.