April 7, 2018
"The Neuroscience of Music, Behavior, and Staying Sane in the Age of Twitter"
I've been a big fan of Dr. Daniel Levitin's work for years; This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, and The Organized Mind are all tremendously informative and readable. As such, I was delighted to find this February 2017 interview for www.fastcompany.com where he speaks at some length about listening habits in the home, the interactive nature of language and music learning, a "golden age" for music and television, and music listening as part of healthy lifestyle.
Probably the most startling revelation in this interview is what his research has discovered on music in the home. It would seem that a large majority of families no longer have music playing in their home, let alone actively listen to it. This is despite the fact that we live in an age of ubiquitous access to great music through a variety of streaming sources. Has this ease of access contributed to reduction in listening at home? Perhaps it is the the constant soundtrack of background music in coffee shops, malls, elevators, on hold on the phone, in the car and elsewhere that has caused a waning interest in having a shared music experience with family? Since research tells us that music listening and music making plays a significant neurological role in bonding for families and other social groups, it seems a particularly unfortunate trend. This does, however, give me optimism that music can serve as an antidote to the isolation created by the often siloed environment of the social media age.
So how do we create listening habits that contribute to a healthy lifestyle? I've thought about this question a lot recently based on my experience bringing young musicians to jazz festivals. Adjudicators frequently tell young jazz musicians that they need to listen to the masters and rightly so. This is important advice, but it is also very open ended. Just like teaching improvisation, you need to have more specific parameters or you can become paralyzed by the nearly infinite choices that are available. I decided to give two ensembles an album each as a theme this year. The big band focused on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and the small group focused on Wayne Shorter's Adam's Apple. Giving such a specific target for the year did lead to an increase in some students' listening and it became clear from conversations with parents that the music was making its way home too.
Dr. Levitin says that his research revealed that 60% of his survey participants listened to music less as adults compared to when they were young. It would be very interested to know if the 40% that continued to have a robust diet of music listening in their life came from homes where communal music listening was commonplace. I'm sure more detail will be forthcoming as "the silent home" seems to have emerged as a topic of great interest to researchers.
In the meantime, go put on Louis Armstrong Plays WC Handy from Columbia Records, turn the speakers up, and share the music with your friends and family while you're together because research has already revealed that the "un-silent home" is 11% happier!!