The Three Factors for Good Music

It’s a proven fact that music does wonders for the human brain, and that music plays a vital role in many of our memories.

I read an amazing book about this subject a while ago that proved to me once and for all why music should be a prominent part of my life. Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain says that –

Music is part of being human…  The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain.

You definitely need to read this entire book to understand how true this statement really is. It’s an incredible and amazingly worthwhile read!

Music is built into our very being with our rhythmic heart beat, so it is only appropriate that music is such an important form of expression for us.

But how do our cognitive minds decide what makes music “good?”  How do we differentiate what we like from what we don’t like in music?

It’s a very important question! We should have standards for everything in life, and music is no exception.

There are many theories and factors that attempt to define our standard for what makes music great, and hell knows we aren’t scientists, but we have come up with our own theories for determining the psychology of great music.

Having read up on the subject, here are the three factors for good music that make a lot of sense in our minds.

1. Music appeals to our minds – Good music should always make us think!  Everyone’s heard the claims that listening to Mozart can make you better at math, and that playing classical music for your baby will make them smarter and encourage brain development.  And those theories don’t arise out of nowhere.  In Sacks’ Musicophilia, he describes the effect that great music has on the brain:

“Although a teaspoon of Mozart may not make a child a better mathematician, there is little doubt that regular exposure to music, and especially active participation in music, may stimulate development of many different areas of the brain–areas which have to work together to listen to or perform music. For the vast majority of students, music can be every bit as important educationally as reading or writing.”

There’s a lot of research behind this, but the point is this. Music should inspire discussion and thought – it should be much deeper than just ear candy.

Music that appeals to our logical minds is like a puzzle. We keep coming back to it because there is another layer to discover at every turn, and that’s what makes it great.

2. Music appeals to our bodies – Music makes us move. Music and dance go hand in hand for a good reason.

They have co-existed from the beginning of human existence and have been used for every purpose – for communication, for religious rituals, for the purpose of courtship, or simply to express that which requires movement.

Even if a song doesn’t always make you tap your feet, music has a way of conveying motion in other ways that compel us to move as well. Good music does (and should) inspire us to dance, even if we don’t know how.  As someone once said –

“Music must be swallowed by movement.”

A dancer might say that if you can’t dance to the music, there is no point in playing it. Good music can and should inspire you to move – no matter how you choose to do it.

3. Music appeals to our spirits – music appeals to our emotions and experiences as human beings.  We create music because words are no longer sufficient, and music provides us with another outlet.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music” – Aldous Huxley

Music is our therapist, our megaphone, our diary. We connect many of our memories to music because that helps to solidify them in our minds.

There’s a reason why we all have playlists on our iPod that relate to the mood we’re in.  And it’s not just about the lyrics – it’s about the way a piece is composed that makes us feel a certain way.

Music is the way that cultures and peoples have connected for centuries.  It is how we communicate the human condition to each other so that we always remember that we are all the same.

It’s been said that “music is what feelings sound like.” If the music you’re listening to doesn’t reflect who you are and what you’ve been through in life, it’s missing its greatest purpose.

For music to be truly great, I feel it should satisfy all three of these categories. Without all three, a song may not stand the test of time. If a piece has one without the others, it’s like a car that’s missing a tire – it’s not going anywhere fast. But if music meets all three of these categories, it won’t be easily forgotten.

In today’s society, a lot of crap gets pumped up the ladder of popularity for no good reason.  In the modern world, being a “musician” is a lot easier than it used to be, which means we have to sift through a lot more junk to find what’s really great.

It’s up to us as artists to expect a higher standard from the music we listen to.  We have to determine the kind of music that will define our generation. And I hope to God it isn’t the Black-Eyed Peas.