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Play an instrument, sing and make music with whatever you have at hand. Your brain (and heart, of course) will reward you with incredible excursions into the unexplored corners of your hemispheres! | Photo:  Miles Giles (Unsplash)
Play an instrument, sing and make music with whatever you have at hand. Your brain (and heart, of course) will reward you with incredible excursions into the unexplored corners of your hemispheres! | Photo: Miles Giles (Unsplash)
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TOP 5 Reasons Why Music is Not a Superfluous Luxury

Do we really need music and music education? Isn't it just a luxurious hobby for snobs, a time-filler for people with too much free time or annoying music lessons at primary school? The common belief and widespread cliché about music education suggest that music is somehow superfluous – something at the bottom of the list of life priorities, a pastime for someone who likes to strum, fiddle, bang or sing. Isn't the internet, the malls and TV full of it? Music is both a ubiquitous background and a blatantly ignored entity. But today, let's take a look at the top 5 reasons why music is definitely not a luxury, let alone a redundancy.

1. It adds meaning to life

Do you know what El Sistema is? It is the Venezuelan national system of youth and children's orchestras that provides music education for more than 250,000 children from the poorest families. Orchestra membership serves as a lifeline for young souls who would otherwise grow up among criminal gangs and drug cartels. Thanks to the structure and security that the orchestras provide, the children are so passionate about music that their concerts always resemble a small carnival.

What a difference from the uptight and conservative school productions in our region (with notable exceptions, of course)! By contrast, in Western European society, music education is traditionally viewed as both an elite and irrelevant skill. The incomprehensibly low social status of musicians is taken for granted. Only the exceptions succeed and it is always better to have a plan B – a so-called "proper" education and a job.

2. Workout for your brain

Don't worry, we are not going to discuss the thousand times mentioned left and right hemispheres or the so-called Mozart effect, or invent other popular science theories. Let's just acknowledge that when playing an instrument or singing, things happen in our brains that we have no idea about. Hemispheres shoot signals to distant galaxies.

It might be thanks to music that some advanced aliens haven't invaded us and wiped out our civilization. Maybe they figured that if people can play the violin like Yehudi Menuhin, have the divine vibrato of Pablo Casals, feel Bach like Glenn Gould, wail in the Lydian scale as only Steve Vai can and slap like Marcus Miller, they may not be completely lost. Play an instrument, sing and make music with whatever you have at hand. Your brain (and heart, of course) will reward you with incredible excursions into the unexplored corners of your hemispheres!

3. It forms communities, societies and civilizations

Music is a very powerful socialising agent. Its role in history is undeniable. Every nation has an anthem. Every football club has an anthem. Every political party has an anthem... and that's enough, we'll stop here. Haha!

The experience of forming and running a band is worth its weight in gold. You have to learn how to communicate, deal with extreme situations, improvise, approve budgets, promote your project and travel. In other words, you do an incredibly complex set of activities to make your four or five-piece rock'n'roll band reasonably function.

Big bands and orchestras are at the top of the pyramid of musical communities. Their role in society is gigantic, as the Venezuelan example above suggests. But actually, you can create an impromptu social event just by putting a guitar into someone's hands. In prehistoric times (when there was no light in caves), we used singing (sound) for mutual identification and orientation, which was vital. I would even dare to say that without music, human society as we know it today would not have evolved.

4. It cultivates emotions

Without emotions, we are just shadows. Without emotions, life is meaningless. Without emotions, there is no life. And music is an endless source of emotion. Are you a metal fan? Lose yourself in a wild mosh pit or stage diving. Are you sensitive and romantic? Get your tissues ready and enjoy the Best Of Celine Dion. Looking for depth and sophistication? Play your favourite vinyl on your favourite hi-fi set with three-way speakers precisely positioned in your favourite room.

But of course, you'll most appreciate the wide range of emotions that music offers as a musician. Pick up a guitar and feel every note, discover an irresistible chord progression or just enjoy the beautiful (to others, ear-splitting) sound of a new fuzzbox. Through sensitive music education, children grow into perceptive, curious and, most importantly, patient young individuals. Note that the power of music (and by extension, art in general) has been used throughout history by egomaniacal sociopaths or leaders, dictators, despots and others of that ilk. They knew very well that emotions always drive our decisions in the first place, even if we think we are extremely rational. Our lizard brain located in the amygdala is always faster and stronger than the other "rational" parts.

5. An endless source of inspiration and richness of life

My favourite philosopher and author of Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts, beautifully described a skill I would like to learn someday: "The art of living [...] is neither carefree drifting nor fearful clinging to the past. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in treating it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive."

Personally, I perceive music and especially its active creation or improvisation as this "sensitive moment". Thanks to playing the bass guitar, I have not yet lost touch with my soul, with the richness of my inner world and the beauty of the present – elements that so often disappear in the pressure of day-to-day life and the rush of a world obsessed with quantification and production. Music is the gateway to the magical world of mystery that our soul needs.

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Marek Bero
Bass Gym 101 books, touring & session bass player, football tactics aficionado.