We often hear the phrase that music is a universal language, but how much truth is really in that statement? In a sense, there are tons of musical elements that can be spread to all types of different cultures, and people will understand the overall meaning and mood.
But is it truly a language like the spoken ones that we use to communicate large and small ideas in the thousands of different variations we've had on the planet?
Let's dive into some of the details and see if it is truly a universal language that cannot be disputed.
Since everyone was using the phrase "music is a universal language" without an official study to back it up, Harvard Law took on the project to do a study with over 315 cultures of music involved.
The basis of the study was to see if listeners from many different cultures could identify the overall genre or mood of a song based on the feeling of the melodic and rhythmic structure without knowing what the lyrics mean.
As it turns out, people generally can identify the overall meaning of a song in a different culture from their own based on the emotional, melodic, and rhythmic cues presented.
“Music is, in fact, universal,” the study concluded in its written summary. “It exists in every society (both with and without words), varies more within than between societies, regularly supports certain types of behaviour, and has acoustic features that are systematically related to the goals and responses of singers and listeners."
Music can spread an overall feeling or sentiment without the need to master a spoken language to understand.
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Music and its healing properties are also universal across all cultures because the effects are relevant to all humans regardless of where they are from or where they were raised.
Music can help anyone accomplish many of their mental, physical, and cognitive goals each day. Music therapy can calm your anxiety, ease your pain, and provide a pleasant distraction from the world's stress.
"There is no other stimulus on Earth that engages the brain as globally as music does," says Brian Harris, one of the US's thousands of board-certified music therapists.
Music is also used across all types of cultures in relation to nurturing kids with nursery rhymes, worshiping in religious settings with sacred music, and using music to help you focus, relax, or sleep better.
Instrumental music, for example, can be something that is understood across many different cultures despite different rules they may have in terms of scales, chords, and melodic structure traditions.
As a musician who uses the internet to collaborate with tons of creators worldwide, I can attest that music has been a very helpful language that has brought me close to so many people I would have a really tough time communicating with if it wasn't for music.
In times when there was a lack of understanding in verbal communication, I've been able to successfully get my point across with the language of music.
Thanks to the internet, collaborations across the industry have taken the art of music to whole new heights, with all of the many different cultural inspirations swirling together into a creative masterpiece.
Some music professionals say that although music can convey overall emotions, feelings, and even aid us in our health as humans, it still doesn't count as a language since there aren't specific rules that all cultures follow in the world of music.
Different cultures have words in different languages, different scales, tonalities, and tempo preferences that don't fit down to the very detail when you try to label music as an official language.
You may also find that what a song means to one person can mean something completely different to another person based on their culture or previous experiences in general. While one happy song can bring someone joy, it can piss another person off.
Although its healing and magic powers are generally universal, it is important to be aware of what each unique person and culture can give and receive in the process of music consumption.
Music therapist Sarah Pearson states, "If we take the time to honor these individual differences, we can show that we care. By embracing each person’s unique individual music, we can help strengthen the universal language of care."
So, is music really a universal language? Well, the evidence seems to suggest that it is. The Harvard Law study showed that people from all over the world could understand the emotional and melodic cues in music without knowing the lyrics.
Plus, music has some pretty powerful healing properties that are relevant to all humans, no matter where they're from.
Thanks to the internet, music collaborations have reached new heights, combining diverse cultural inspirations into one creative masterpiece. It's pretty amazing how music can bring people worldwide together, even when they don't speak the same language.
However, we should still be mindful of individual differences and unique cultural perspectives when consuming and creating music. Honoring these differences can help strengthen the universal language of care and empathy.
All in all, while some may argue that music doesn't fit the definition of a language, it certainly seems to be a powerful tool for communication and connection across cultures. So let's keep on grooving to the beat of that universal language!
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
If you are in need of singer, songwriter or song producer services, see what Yona Marie can offer you on her services page.