Music plays an important role in our psychic composure. Good music balances our mind and helps building a sensitive and open mind. Bad music drives the psyche into a state of overexcitement; this state of mind is like a closed loop in that it prevents us from accessing our center, the infinite in us. A mind that is regularly bombarded with modern music cannot be reached by educational wisdom because it knows no silence, and there is no inner space of rest and quiet contemplation. This in turn leads to shallow thought and lacking understanding of life and the world; such a mind stays at the periphery of things and events.
The effect of music on the child’s mind can be assessed under two angles, actively and passively. We all suffer music passively at certain places, in the café, in the cinema, in the supermarket, in department stores and nowadays also in airports, post offices, public halls, and subway stations, without even talking about nightclubs and discos where loud aggressive music is considered to be a stimulant.
And yet, it seems that most people never bother about how such music affects their psyche! I have been sensitive since childhood to the impact of music on the mind and have observed how music acts upon my body, and as some of my bodily reactions were clearly alarming, my awareness became acute as to the good and bad effects music has on us. I namely registered as early as in adolescence that disco music and generally modern 4-beat music results in the following symptoms displayed by my organism:
— incapacity to form clear thoughts;
— strong sweating of hands and feet;
— anger or even rage;
— sudden claustrophobia.
Research on sound healing has shown that music directly affects our emotions, our mind, and our thoughts.
— See, for example, Jonathan Goldman, Healing Sounds (2002), Tantra of Sound (2005), and Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (2003).
Actively, music plays a role in education in teaching musical structure, and the notion of time, and how time transforms emotional space; this was even a topic dear to traditional education, at a time when score reading and playing a musical instrument was still considered good and useful for the education of children from well-to-do families. But unfortunately in most countries today, this positive and important tradition has been almost entirely lost, except in costly private institutions for the education of upper-class children.
The reason for this change to the worse is probably the fact that children today only in rare cases have a piano, cello or violin at their disposition, and most parents find acoustic musical instruments bulky, noisy or too expensive. As the house music tradition of the 19th century has found its end, most parents do not see a value in sending their child to musical classes. In addition, as television became a replacement of parental care and instruction, what we have here is clearly a major cultural deterioration that shall have consequences on the general education level, and the level of sensitiveness of our whole population.
To express it colloquially, the house and chamber music tradition contributes to depth, sensitiveness and authenticity, while television contributes to shallowness, insensitivity and falseness.
Before I further comment on the importance of active musical education, I would like to briefly discuss the passive influence of music upon our psychic composure. It has been established by musicology and psychology that music has a far greater impact upon our psyche and our emotions than the general public is aware of; the effects of music we passively endure in public places, are considerable, serious and astounding, to say the least. From there to mind manipulation really is only a tiny step, for subtle messages can easily be embedded in the musical carpet, even without using subliminals; a sound clip can trigger emotions, or keep certain emotions from unfolding.
Much research has been done on the effects of music in strategic places such as major department stores, and it was found that even without the use of subliminals, which is legally forbidden in most modern jurisdictions, music can have an effect on purchasing volume. It would lead too far to explain the details here, but the fact as such is corroborated by scientific research.
Music is actively used today in the media, in most public places, in department stores and fashion boutiques for influencing, and positively stimulating, the purchasing motivation of consumers. As most of this knowledge is hidden to the public, and to be found only in specialized publications, available to a scientific audience and to marketing bureaus and advertising agencies, the average consumer is hardly if ever aware of this sort of subtle manipulation through sound carpets and fashionable music that serves other than musical purposes.
Of course, professional media experts and advertising agents know very well what I am talking about here; they are fine psychologists, knowing that consumption is not a natural drive in the human, but needs to be turned on, and turned on again, to get the consumer buy products, and buy them at still higher prices, and repeatedly — especially those products they don’t really need. In the sound production business, experts know what kind of music triggers what kind of emotions, and which emotions are favorable for getting into money spending.
Also in films, the background music serves the purpose to musically underline the emotions unfolding in the spectator as the plot goes on, and this knowledge dates from the first days of the mute cinema; it is instructive to listen to old Charlie Chaplin movies and hear how the pianist reflects the emotions on stage in his play. Music, in this case, remains in a certain distance, and this distance is deliberate.
Scientific research on sound and memory has shown that when two different sound stimuli impact upon our psyche, our subconscious mind will register the underlying stimulus or music, not the dominant one.
Dr. Georgi Lozanov, a psychiatrist from Bulgaria, has positively used this specific characteristic of our brain to design a revolutionary method for learning foreign languages, originally called Suggestopedia, and today sold under the brand name Superlearning.
Students are put in a relaxed state of mind, seated in comfortable arm chairs, and listen to Baroque string music. Over this musical carpet which is the dominant sound, the teacher recites texts in the foreign language, as an underlying sound, while the students are told not to listen to the speech, but concentrate on the music, and breathe in the rhythm of the music.
With this revolutionary method, people learn difficult languages such as Arabic, Russian or Chinese without any accent in two or three months. Lozanov used the technique originally for teaching reading and writing to school children and found that, in the regular case, a child would learn to perfectly read and write in about six months only.
What happens is that the brain passively registers not just the words of the foreign language, but whole patterns, which include grammar, pronunciation, syntax and all that is needed to speak and understand that language, and all this without ‘studying’ anything. The learning content is first passive, and at the end of the course will be activated through conversation in the foreign language.
There are no translations, there is no grammar to learn, and there are no mistakes to make; the whole process is smooth and no effort is needed for learning complex languages.
The key to fast learning is our subconscious mind, and also our access, during self-hypnosis, to the universal library of the collective unconscious where all grammars are stored, and a lot more knowledge.
Now, what most people ignore is that we are involuntarily often times in a state of reverie which is similar to the alpha state, the predominant wave length characteristic for deep relaxation, hypnosis and self-hypnosis.
When we are poised and relaxed, we can slide quite smoothly in the alpha state, often without being aware of the change in our brain wave structure; it is in these moments that we are especially sensitive to input, and our subconscious will easily absorb it and memorize it. Thus, when you stroll in a quiet moment through a luxury department store, enjoying the sounds, perfumes and colors, and when you are not in a hurry, and get into a relaxed state of mind, the background music does have a marked impact upon your mind, and you register, once you are aware of these hidden connections, that you once of a sudden go to buy something, while you came to the place ‘just for looking around.’
What is interesting is that we rationalize such an experience instead of wondering why we suddenly discover we ‘need’ something that just a minute before did not even in a dream hit our mind; we say, ‘Oh yes, I forgot I need to buy this, good I see it now, it reminds me that I need this.’ While the truth is that if you really needed that thing, you would have remembered it upon entering the place, and would have directed yourself to find it, and buy it. But you didn’t, and were strolling around ‘just for looking’ and that thing was hitting your mind. And when that happens, it’s not a coincidence, for sure! Our whole consumer society runs on creating needs, not just meeting existing needs, which it also intends, but the peak of surplus profit it creates, it creates it not by fulfilling our latent needs for shelter, clothing, food and transport, but by creating new, industrial and artificial needs.
Now, why did I tell you all of this? I told you because responsible educators know these things and protect children in certain ways from being brainwashed with publicity. For you need to know that with children, the input received through advertising in television and at public places is even more indelibly carved in their subconscious minds as this is the case with adults. It is for this reason that psychologists advice parents to not let children sleep in front of television.
And there is another reason. Research also found that children naturally are more often in the alpha state, and even the theta state, than this is the case with adults; thus in these moments their minds are easily accessed by, and imprinted with, outside stimuli. Hence, in those moments, children are easily influenced and manipulated with publicity. This fact is one of the main reasons why medical doctors, psychologists and parent organizations increasingly resort to activism and public awareness building against the dangers of violence in our television programs. This is not an exaggerated concern, because patterns of violence have been assessed in children, in controlled research, after having watched a variety of programs, and it was found that the most negative for the psyche of a child are violent animations, comics and cartoons in ‘Disney’ style.
Educators who love the children they care for will do all they can to protect them from such kind of negative and dangerous conditioning to violence, and they have to find a modus vivendi with their students to control their television diet.
I know this is a rather hairy topic that triggers lots of controversy, and media control surely is not a ‘nice’ thing to do, but there is no way to avoid these problems in a society where children are bombarded by media input. Controlling media input certainly strikes hard when children are already addicted to daily media consumption, while when this is not (yet) the case, it’s much less of a problem. With media addicted children, simply curtailing down the hours of media consumption is regularly felt as a brutal measure and they react with withdrawal or outright rebellion, some even with autistic symptoms.
So this doesn’t really work. What works instead is to offer alternatives, without negative judgments, because judging only invokes resistance, and the child will attempt to justify what they want to see. It’s ineffective to tell youngsters about the dangers of media consumption; most of them intuitively know that anyway, but that doesn’t change a bit, and when you think about it, it can’t change anything, simply because a child doesn’t have the control mechanisms built in that an adult disposes of. They feel their addiction as a pleasure boost, of course, and that is their primary sensory experience. Hence, this is not really something you can discuss about with a child. They will simply say ‘I like that’ and what can you say against that affirmation?
The best method for avoiding a child being endangered by a certain kind of music or a certain kind of television or movie program is to subtly divert the child’s attention from it, by offering alternatives, and not just fake alternatives, but things you know the child will be enthusiastic to do.
Why most parents and educators don’t use this strategy is that it involves time and effort. It’s easier to let children enjoy what they like and trust that because ‘everybody is doing it,’ it can’t be that bad, after all. For example when you know that the children in your class enjoy running outside in the rain, and you divert them from a violent television program with the suggestion to ‘go out in the rain and play,’ you are part of the game, and your getting wet can hardly be avoided. That is the simple reason why most educators and most parents don’t do what they know is right to do. They don’t want to get wet, to ride the bike in the hot sun, to go swimming in the cold water, to take the car out of the garage for ‘driving to the ice-skating arena’ and so on and so forth. The power of television would be none if we could offer children natural and sane alternatives on a consistent basis.
I have had parents and educators in front of me who did not find anything objectionable with the television consumption of their children, but were fault-finding music producers for the allegedly ‘violent and obscene’ music they are composing, prohibiting children and even adolescents to join their friends in a rock concert, or in a disco. I find that concern relatively artificial and nonsensical, to be true, because for one, shared activities are always better for the child than isolated home movie consumption, and for two, the time children pass in such locations is relatively limited. We are talking about two or three hours per week here, or even less. But strangely enough, many child-protecting thoughts are focused upon rather unimportant matters, while the big issues remain untouched.
I have had parents and educators in front of me who persisted that despite accidents already occurring, a certain staircase or playground was still ‘good enough,’ just for avoiding a minor expenditure, until the big accident happened, and then it was argued that ‘one should have known before.’
What I want to say is that a loving and caring educator is always alert to protect children from things or activities that are really harmful, while being permissive regarding all others. It is the wisdom and experience of a good educator to know where the limits are, and how to distinguish harmful from harmless activities, and to assess potential danger. Any extreme taken when doing such an assessment leads to either accidents that could have been avoided, or it renders the child anxious and withdrawn because of overprotection.
When I weigh the pro and con, and see it from my experience as an educator, I must say that overprotection is worse than negligence, really! Nature has a certain protective attention built in, and with children, even when they fall, and fall hard, the damage is always much less than when it happens to an adult. And healing is much more rapid. By contrast, the psychic damage done to a child that is overprotected for many years is not to repair, a fact that many adults know who have lived through such childhoods and later end up in psychotherapy. Once in therapy, then, they cripple along for years without significant improvement, because they suffer from constant fear of life, recurring panic attacks and an overall high anxiety level.
Now, regarding active musical education, what I observed is that today it’s rather difficult to accompany a child who is musically gifted, when the family is not musical and doesn’t bother to build something like a ‘musical culture’ in their daily family life. Then, what happens, and it happened to me, the child will quickly feel to be an outsider and a marginal freak within their family context.
That is why I think it is better, in such cases, to not push children into active musical practice, without being assured of the full collaboration of their parents, but instead showing children the beauty of music by listening to good music, and by doing that on a regular basis.
I am conscious of the fact that in this context, to talk about ‘sensibilizing’ children for musical input, as it’s often put in educational forums, is a ridiculous concern because natural children are anyway sensitive, and they are especially sensitive to music. What educators have to do is to protect this natural sensitivity of the child against a very insensitive culture that systematically desensibilizes children and adolescents, because, to put it colloquially, real feelings today are ‘no more in.’ What is ‘in’ is toughness, and rude manners, showing-off with ‘big brand names’ in front of the peer group, and faking a ‘cool’ composure in all and every situation.
What is that, being ‘cool’? Is it simply to be brutal and insensitive, to be a nerd, to be bare of any compassion? It’s really not a positive value, but one our modern popular culture is pervaded with; it’s insane, but most children do not look through the veil of cultural lies and distortions, and they just follow the trends. That means when you as an educator stress sensitivity, you are actually swimming against the stream, and you are doing something that is ultimately not politically correct.
To repeat what I said in the Introduction, doing a sane education in an insane society is truly a challenge. It requires all our energy, all our commitment, all our dedication to truth and human progress, and it also requires constant learning. We can do it only if we have a real passion for education and the wellbeing of children, for if we do not derive an intrinsic pleasure from it, we will not be ready to cash in all the frustrations that inevitably go along with such a professional choice.
Without more, the profession of the educator is not a place in the sun, and how much less in a society that works counter to sane education, and to sane educators. It’s a struggle, but that struggle has a deep meaning for it connects us with children. For a child, growing up is in most cases not a ‘nice’ experience, as many people wrongly believe.
This is even more true in the case of gifted children, and it’s about those children I am talking in this chapter, for ordinary children have very little interest to invest time and energy over years and years for learning and mastering a musical instrument.
I learnt from experience that if children are not really musically gifted, it’s a torture for them to learn playing an instrument for, as we all know, musical performance requires much sacrifice, consistency and a basic mastering of stage fright and negative emotions in the form of recurring frustration. It’s only when the child experiences a genuine enjoyment with music that they will build the endurance to master a musical instrument with all that this entails over long periods of time.
When the talent is there, the child doesn’t need to be much encouraged, as genius has a built-in ability for realizing itself. Another essential benefit that comes with studying music is that children learn musical logic which is pure cosmic logic comparable to mathematical logic, and the child’s mind will gain in clarity and clear communication ability.
In my long years of experience with musical performance and composition, and having met many musicians in my life, I can affirm that among all possible people from all possible cultures I met in my life, musicians are by far the clearest, most intelligent and most wistful people I met, and also the most harmonious people. Their emotional life is balanced.
And my experience here certainly is not singular, it is not a subjective impression; for example, among writers, you do not have the same psychic setup. Writers tend to be much more conflictual in their daily life, in their communications, and often much less clear, less simple and more convoluted, and much less harmonious!
With painters, there is harmony, but also egocentrism, while I have seldom met musicians who really were egocentric; if so, they were bad musicians. I found great musicians always really open-minded and harmonious in social exchange, while focused and often serious in their overall attitude, but always open for sharing and for social exchange. This is generally less the case with writers who tend to be much more introvert, as a general rule.
There is another benefit for children who learn a musical instrument; they become more humble because they learn that all great mastery is to be paid with ‘sweat and tears.’ While genius certainly is inborn, it needs to be developed through mastery, and self-expression, and a lot of persistence! This explains why children who perform early in life, and so much the more when they are prodigies, are more disciplined, more mature and more sensitive than the average child. They also tend to be more responsible in their daily dealings with others, and they understand others better than ordinary children.
By contrast, a child who only plays all day long and was never exposed to the harsh sides of life, who has not learnt self-discipline for mastering an instrument, a sport, a computer, or anything else of value, will never attain the brilliance and elegance of children who are on their way to genius. In most cases, those masses of children remain mediocre consumers who regard life as a residual concept, or a set of standard behaviors, without penetrating into the depth of life and soul, and without participating in the cosmic drama of living. That is why learning a musical instrument and getting involved in musical performance as a long-term endeavor is one of the greatest and most intelligent ways of achieving to become a complete human.
I have actually found that many ordinary children, and many neurotic and hyperactive children have artistic talent, but the problem is that they are too restless, and too shallow for doing anything in a consistent manner. It is not enough that a child be gifted for music or arts if parents are indifferent to their uniqueness, and if the children themselves came to value icecream and television more than learning. In such a case the precious essence of innocence is lost forever.
I came to believe, over the years, that the signal for genius is more of revolt, than of adaptation. Children who easily adapt to the status quo and who go along with all kind of adverse conditioning, without voicing their needs for one time, will later in life often become depressive. For depression really is nothing else than the inability to express oneself, one’s deepest will and one’s emotions!
Albert Einstein is a vivid example that comes to mind, as it shows that somebody who loves music and was a brilliant violinist doesn’t need to ‘make a musical career.’ But the genius Einstein is unthinkable without the genial musician in the physicist, and the genial freak in the musician.
That is the secret of genius, it’s not one-sidedness, but a cosmic inner setup that somehow embraces the whole of creation in one flash of insight that lasts a lifetime!
Einstein, as it is notorious, revolted against everything, before he ever started to learn anything. He did never finalize school nor university, and simply escaped those institutions, to a point to break with his parents and go on his own when he was barely sixteen years old.