What music can teach us about life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

This essay talks about the silent lessons that music imparts about life

Submitted: December 05, 2017

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Submitted: December 05, 2017



What music can teach us about life



Friedrich Nietzsche once remarked “Without music life would be a mistake” and rightly so; without music life would be so dull.

Music is the arrangement of sounds in time and our music, human music, is how we attempt to decorate time. Music is arguably one of the only truly universal forms of art that transcends all human barriers and probably the only art form enjoyed by all. It is so engaging that when we listen to a song while inside an MRI scanner, our whole brain lights up like India during Diwali.

Sound is sacred, it is intrinsic to the fabric of the universe as it is pure vibration while the entire cosmos (and everything in it) is nothing but vibrations of different frequencies. If you listen closely, everything from the planets to the seas and the bees creates music and if you listen even closer the music can teach you a lesson or two about life.


Lesson 1: Playing itself is the point; the journey itself is the point


Practically everything in life for us is a means to an end and so we rush through chasing the end product. In this process, we skip through life in order to reach the final point, trying to get there faster every time all at the expense of the entire journey. We eat quicker to satisfy our hunger, we drink quicker to get drunk faster and drive quicker to get to our destinations earlier.

Music can show us how that is the wrong approach to life. In music, there is no end to reach; nothing will be achieved when you reach the climax of the song. You simply cannot hurry through as listening to the song in its entirety is the point of the song. Similarly, living life in its entirety is the point of life. The playing itself is the meaning of the song and the journey itself is the meaning of life. Live life the same way you listen to music – at its own gentle pace.


Lesson 2: Lyrics and the need to know


Since the beginning, man has not been comfortable with the abstract, the unknown and while it doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation, we almost always respond with fear. There is nothing more abstract than life and this can leave us feeling perennially anxious. In order to tackle this great unknown and to allay our anxiety we strive to know something about everything; knowledge makes us feel secure. The known makes us comfortable. It is irrelevant whether the knowledge is right or wrong, that is never our concern. We are simply assured knowing that we have a concrete idea about life and subconsciously we start believing that this knowledge can help us decipher the meaning of life or at the very least eliminate our uneasiness.

At a deeper level, this is one of the primary reasons why we like the lyrics in a song. If you observe closely, our brains respond readily and faster to the lyrics in a song and before we know it, we are singing along. This is because words have a more tangible identity as compared to sounds; they are far easier to know and to understand. This makes us believe, wrongly so, that we know the song and can decipher the meaning of the song. Again, it doesn’t matter if our interpretation of the song coincides with that of the artist.

Sound is way more abstract, which is why our perpetually anxious subconscious prefers paying attention to the lyrics as it does not know what to make of the sounds. However, if we can just let go and learn to love the unknown (instead of trying to understand it) we will realize that life, just like music is a mystery to be enjoyed and not one to be solved.


Lesson 3: Silence, as much a part of music as sound


Duality seems to be a universal feature of reality with polar opposites a part of everything we experience. If there is right, there is wrong; if day then night and to the yin there is yang. Our lives are ruled by duality or so it appears to us.

If you listen to music attentively, it won’t take you long to see through the illusion of duality. When listened to closely, you can see that every sound is actually a duality of sound and silence. Without silence, music would just be a relentless progression of sounds. Silence transforms music from a collection of sounds to acoustic art, it brings sound to life.  While it might be considered nothingness, it accentuates sounds and without it, sounds would have no identity.

If you can apply this knowledge to life, you will realize that there is no duality. Everything in this universe exists only in relation to its polar opposite. They complement each other and make the other a possibility. Without one, the other could not exist and while they might seem to be two different things, in essence they are the same thing posing as two. They are, to put it poorly, two sides of the same coin. Many of us seem to possess this knowledge but if you keep listening to music, soon you will be possessed by this knowledge.


Lesson 4: The sum of the notes is greater than the harmonic whole


We have become creatures of meaning. We strive for it, crave it and interminably spend every moment (awake and asleep) hunting it down. We desire that all the moments in our life should coalesce into a grand meaning of our life. This, in itself is not enough as we want the meaning of our life to be better than the meaning of someone else’s life.

This mad search for meaning can cease almost instantly if you listen to the different notes in a song. A single note or a bunch of notes in a song have no purpose independently except in relation to the entire song and in the same vein, every note has a different purpose to every other note.

The notes in the song are like the parts in your life and while they might, in those moments, not seem meaningful; they come together to create an auditory masterpiece. If this analogy is extended further, comparing a song to a life, it is easy to see that you simply cannot compare two lives and thus no life can have a better meaning. Every life, like every song has its own unique meaning and this meaning exists only between that life and existence.

In the larger scheme of things every song is meaningless but it is meaningful in itself. Similarly, your life is neither meaningless nor meaningful, rather it has a certain “meaningness” to it where each moment has a meaning to life and each life has a meaning to the whole of existence.



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