Why should adults take music lessons?

The answer lies in asking better questions, like: what is worth spending our time doing, and why does good live music matter? 

In order to turn away from passive consumption, we must strive for active engagement with the world. Doing things that fascinate us – rather than watching others do them – is an inherently richer proposition. Even if we are not experts or professionals, we gain insights from trying our hand at doing something that we’d never gain sitting-on-the-sidelines. And sometimes, we have the luck to discover that we enjoy a certain activity, or might even be good at it. 

A first step in re-aligning our priorities is recognizing how much we’re exposed to low-level noise through the blitz of media advertising and info-tainment hurled at us every day on our computer screens. Nothing could be further from the ideal of living fully in the arena of our lives than not actively choosing it for ourselves. This is what usually happens when we allow our minds to be hijacked by too much random information.

We can then start by asking ourselves the following:

  • What do I value? 
  • Why do I value it?

By reflecting upon these questions, we will arrive at the realization that, after we tally our most prized possessions and belongings, what we value most aren’t things, but instead are:

  • Positive experiences
  • Positive relationships

And after this epiphany, we will probably realize that the best and most meaningful experiences and relationships only arise through:

  • Genuine connection with others
  • Genuine connection with our ‘best self’ via self-awareness

Genuine connection is really the essential component of a happy and productive life – and finding ways to access that connection over time is essential to our happiness. 

Art and music give us insights into our deeper selves, our relationships with others, and our places in the world at large. When we tap into this deeper ground, we short-circuit our calculating minds that are more focused on basic needs and survival and touch upon the means for deeper happiness and fulfillment. 

In a day-to-day world where our livelihood often relies upon how we use words, music and art give us the means to interrupt the steady, numbing stream of measurable data we process every day, refreshing our perspective and well-being. We tend to spend most of our waking hours in this realm of measurement and calculation through countless actions, such as:

  • Being on the internet
  • Driving to work
  • Shopping for food
  • Working to put food on the table
  • Wondering whether we make enough money to support our family
  • Driving home from work
  • Running errands and doing chores
  • Doing all of the above on the internet

Everything from performing well at work to maintaining our busy lives through endless errands and chores takes up a lot of time! 

However, when we listen to music, our persistent patterns of weighing, measuring, and calculating are broken and we find ourselves on a different footing: 

Pure emotional communication. 

Our emotions let us know what we value and are our inner compass, shifting our thoughts and actions toward our desires. The arts, and music in particular, are powerful ways to connect with desire because they give us a direct conduit to our emotions through expression.

Desire ultimately gives us the courage to pursue our ambitions and goals, which are our dreams. This is why music and art are so essential to who we are – they give us the tools to become better people and make a better world through becoming our best selves.

  • Values = positive relationships = connection = expression = emotion = desire = music and art = YOU as your best self 

Music and other forms of art are all composed of abstract concepts intended for deep expression. These concepts can be measured yet are more than the sum of their parts. 

In music, those features include pitch, interval, meter, rhythm, and dynamics, which have rules which, when well-balanced, work as perfectly as mathematical equations. And these musical rules have their strongest emotional effect when performed live by experienced musicians, or when practiced and played by us.

Other forms of art, or even recreation, offer this ‘uplink’ to our emotional centers in different ways:

  • Visual art bypasses verbalization via images – appreciating abstract, impressionist, or even older painting and sculpture challenges our brains to sequence information coherently, and making visual art harnesses fine motor skills which can give shape to our thoughts and feelings 
  • Poetry and fiction upend our brain’s data processing in order to make connections between words and concepts not easily perceived, and writing fiction or poetry requires us to make cognitive leaps not needed for our basic daily survival 
  • Theater and acting harness both our hearing and vision to relate a playwright’s intentions to our lives, and the challenge of memorizing lines while rehearsing their emotional delivery allow us to aspire to our best inner character
  • Dancing, in its social form, is the only art which allows us to touch one another in order to execute specific movements in tandem, and watching ballet, in its synthesis of extreme physical poise and agility matched to classical music, reminds us of the human body’s marvellous potential for grace, which is not less than our own potential
  • Sports exercise the physical body in ways that can refresh our minds yet are inherently limited in how they’re tied to competition – the best games are ones in which losing never matters
  • Appreciating the natural world enlarges our conception of life, thereby fostering deep perspective, but nature is so much an activity as a larger template – hiking, camping, and fishing may be considered recreational activities

If music and art have this amazing potential to transport us to emotional expression and connection, it follows that, if we value emotional connection more than humdrum, mundane interactions, we would also value deeper connection in the music we choose. 

Some music was first written centuries ago yet is still regularly recorded and performed, and is therefore not reliant on fads, trends, or image. This music requires more effort to understand due to its inherent sophistication, but also offers us a greater emotional reward for our effort since, despite its complexity, it was written to capture big ideas expressed deeply and sincerely.

This music has several names, ranging from concert music to Western art music, but is most commonly called classical music.

Since playing and singing classical music is a challenging pursuit requiring years of cultivation, it follows that playing and singing classical music well is a worthy pursuit for our whole lives, not just when we are young and required to do so by our parents and teachers. By affirming ideals when we are adults that were mistakenly relegated to our youth – like artistic expression – we can invigorate and strengthen both our emotional communication and critical thinking skills because our emotions power what we value. 

And what we value most, again but with more clarity, are:

  • Positive and meaningful experiences
  • Positive and meaningful relationships

Time spent learning an instrument – an activity that only broadens and deepens with regular and consistent practice – differs dramatically from time spent watching shows or movies on the internet or television because it requires our active mental and emotional engagement. 

There is no such thing as improving at watching television, but there is such a thing as getting better at playing the violin or singing. 

As we improve at playing and singing classical music, we gain a level of competency where we can share our efforts with others, by playing chamber music or in an orchestra. As we do so, we create a wavelength of connection more authentic than passively sitting in a room mindlessly taking in entertainment produced far away by people whom we will probably never meet and certainly do not know. 

Think about that for a second – why would we even consider watching shows on the internet when we could sing, play an instrument, dance, write poetry, act, or paint?

The more we engage with music and art, the more we learn how to express our emotions and feel connected to one another ‘in the moment’ in ways that only grow deeper with time. 

You’ve made it this far so I want to hear your thoughts – what’s your take-away? What do you value and why? Do you think adults should play music?

Send me a note at geoffreybakermusic@gmail.com

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