The Secret Language of Music

music-1-300x300Can you feel it? The heavy base. Can you hear the soft vocals? Can you visualize the cool ivory keys as you hear the solo of a piano? You are experiencing the emotions of music.

Music is a universal singularity that crosses all borders of nationality, race, and culture. A tool for arousing emotions and feelings, music is far more powerful than language. An increased interest in how the brain processes musical emotion can be attributed to the way in which it is described as a “language of emotion” across cultures. Be it within films, live orchestras, concerts or a simple home stereo. Music can be so haunting and overwhelming that it can only be described as standing halfway between thought and phenomenon.

Music unquestionably affects our emotions. We tend to listen to music that reflects our mood. When we’re happy we may listen to upbeat music; when we’re sad we may listen to slower, somber like songs; when we’re angry we may listen to darker music with heavy guitar, drums, and vocals that reflect our level of anger.

Have you ever been asked to name your favorite band or performer? Were you able to rattle off the top five you listened to regularly? We may not be able to say for sure why we prefer the artists we listen to. We might say It’s what I grew up hearing. Or even, That’s what my parent’s heard when they were younger. We do know and can say that we resonate with, or feel the music. Or maybe even more straightforward, we just like the music they write.

But we can learn a lot about our emotional selves through our musical taste. I know for me that music has a way of bringing out feelings that I didn’t realize I was experiencing. There have been times where I was feeling perfectly fine until I heard a specific song by the amazing Johnny Cash. That was all it took for a flood of emotions, and tears to come to the surface.

What about in learning? Can music affect the way one learns? Most defiantly! Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.

More than Just Music.

Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.

Speaking from experience, making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument. I grew up in a house where taking up an instrument was actively encouraged. My father plays both the guitar and piano.  A child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles. Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education.

With my little guy, I can see how music already affects him. Even before he was born, he reacted to the music I played. There were specific songs that I would play over, and over, and over that, I would feel him jumping and moving all over. At four months old, he was moving and smiling to the melody he recognizes. He’s now two, and it is so much fun to watch him dance and shake his head around like a cockatiel to the beat of the music.

The same is true for me. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing. If I hear the theme song to Perry Mason, I instantly stop what I’m doing and look up almost as if to say mentally I know that, I remember that!


Some songs will put my little guy right out! You are my sunshine is his bedtime song. Then the flip side happens, and there are some that bring out the inner crazy and wake him right up! We can tell if he likes the melody or not just by how he responds. If he loves it, he starts smiling and spinning. If he doesn’t? He will cover his ears, make a face, and wiggles galore as he attempts to get away.

The list of examples that shows the significance of being exposed to music, especially at an early age is immense. Music has been found to play such an essential role in education that March has been officially designated by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) for the observance of Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM), the time of year when music education becomes the focus of schools across the nation.

The purpose of MIOSM is to raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children – and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music. MIOSM is an opportunity for music teachers to bring their music programs to the attention of the school and the community, and to display the benefits that school music brings to students of all ages.

Over the years I have listened to many different types of music. Ranging from the Blues of Muddy Waters (whom I still enjoy) to the Heavy Metal of Pantera, and everything in between. Each genre reflected a different phase in my life, growing as I grew. Music affects and touches us in a variety of ways. Unlocking emotions that might otherwise lay dormant.

How has music affected you?


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4 thoughts on “The Secret Language of Music

  • Andrew Jensen

    Honestly I can’t separate words and music. Which side of your hand do you prefer? Words and music are like that, you need both. But these two are remarkably different. Words require the physical presence of a book whether that is paper, electronic or audio. Music on the other hand requires only that you have ears. I’m sitting in the backyard writing this and I close my eyes and listen. There is music as the wind rustles the eucalyptus leaves next door. The swaying palm tree adds another layer as it occasionally groans. My neighbors hens, clucking as they scavenge for food, bring in a slight percussiveness. Then there is the discordant nature that mans world adds to the mix. The squealing brakes of the garbage truck brings to mind the piccolo. I think of an oboe as a jet flies overhead. The steady hum of traffic coming off the freeway.

    I so much prefer music that allows me to travel with it. Jazz, classical, the blues, zydeco, sitar rich Indian music. This is the organic nature of the wind, the palm tree, the hens. Rock, hip hop, rap, punk, etc. doesn’t allow me to travel. It more crashes over me like a wave. It forces me to move not because I choose to but because it forces me. That’s not to say that one form of music is better than another. It’s a personal preference. What genre of book is better? Preference.

    I grew up with Andy Williams, Herb Alpert, Sinatra, etc. Then I entered my tweens and found the British Invasion of rock. It wasn’t until my late teens that I discovered Jazz in all its varieties. Classical in its many iterations. My music world bloomed.

    When I was blessed with two sons, (the world somehow knew that girls would have owned me), I made sure that from the earliest age they were introduced to music. Hundreds of albums, tapes, then CD’s. I didn’t judge the music they chose, except when I found it offensive. Both have come back to me now in their late 20’s and early 30’s to thank me for opening up the range of possibilities.

    When I entered my 50’s I came to the realization that music is what you chose to hear. There is music in the laughter of a child. A sound that grabs hold of your heart and moves you to their joy. A song of praise to God song by many always sounds beautiful regardless of how horrible we may sound alone. The gentle thrum of of voices at a convention. The crackle of a fire, particularly when it is cold. The breathing of a spouse as they drift off to sleep. A child cradled into your chest as the tiniest sounds escape from their mouths. All of it music if you choose to hear it.

    Now at the beginning of my 60’s I have heard sounds that weren’t music when I first heard it but over time has become an inevitable music. This is a music that I do not care to hear but it is there anyway. The music of aging, the music of sickness, even the music of death. This music is atonal, discordant, at odds with what we want to hear. It won’t ever be in the hit parade and will soon disappear but for the moment it exists.

    I enjoy the music I have heard but look forward to the music I haven’t yet heard.

    • Carmela Dutra Post author

      I love the vivid description you shared of the sounds filling your backyard. I found myself imagining the hen clucking away. I also appreciate your sharing the way music has touched your life throughout the various stages. Thank you!

  • Lise Chase

    Great article Carmela. It seems like the music programs in schools are the first to get cut during budget concerns. Administrators need to understand all these points you have outlined. Its more than just the music. Thanks for highlighting that.