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Research paper: Music

RESEARCH ON THE SOCIAL EFFECTS OF MUSIC

Acknowledgement

This research has always been a long lasting aspiration for me. It wouldn’t have been possible without the benevolent acceptance of my teacher, supervisor and my respected madam Ms. Salma Ainy. She has given me the leverage and freedom of researching on this topic which I initially loved to do. Besides her, I have received immense amount of support from my friends who helped me out with research questionnaires. Special thanks to Sir Muhammad Nadeem Khokhar, Talha Mujahid, and Syed Hamzah Rifaat for helping me out by providing information and translating from Urdu and Persian where it mattered. Also my gratitude for Zubaer Ahmed, Yamin Irman, Arunav Shuvro, Furkan Ali Shah and Fayyaz Ahmed who are all musicians and have made this research easier and more interesting with their input and thoughts about music. I’ve received valuable feedback and I would also like to express my gratitude to Shannon Whelan from Australia for discussing about how music helped and changed her life, online. I would also like to thank my parents for always encouraging me with whatever I am doing. This wouldn’t have been possible without them. Thanks to all the music lovers out there. In a nutshell, all praise is to the Almighty for making this possible. This research paper is dedicated to all the aforementioned personalities and Almighty Allah.

Abstract

Music is soulful, arouses sentiment and needs no introduction, whatsoever. It is almost impossible to find someone who is not attracted or buoyed by music in their life. Due to globalization, music is widespread around the globe, carrying identification of certain cultures. Internet made it even easier for music lovers to listen to music of another country. It brings everyone under the same umbrella and the language everyone understands here is music. Now, one might wonder why music is becoming such a powerful tool for communication and how it is expressed in so many different ways through symphonic tones. Are there really any two shades to music? Is it subject to scrutiny on the subject of religion? This research paper will examine how music affects people and their psychology. How music could aid the senses and what type of music is loved and revered the most. This research will also examine the different viewpoints regarding music in various religions including Islam because considerable confusion and ambiguity exists amongst many Muslims as to whether music is prohibited in Islam or not. This is a debatable topic, mandating deeper research and study. The outcome is included and analyzed in this paper.

Does music lead to positive social effects?

The word music needs no definition or introduction for souls which beat constantly. Music can only be felt from the inside and cannot be compartmentalized as being something worthy of being listened to only. It is anonymously claimed that- “Music is all about what feeling sounds like.” Feeling music from one’s heart requires devotion and dedication. L.Stokokowski (n.d.) quoted music as, “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.”

Music is consists of sound and silence. The art of music varies from pitch which includes harmony and melody, rhythm, dynamics, the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. It varies culture to culture, person to person about how they actually define music by their own. Yet, music is known as the universal language of all human around the world. It is not just considered as the universal language but also a great form of art, appeasing sound of nature and a way of expressing lives around the world. Music has a strong connection with people to their ways of life. Like every painting has a story behind it, a musical composition, colloquially referred to as song or track, too have a lot of emotions, memories and often a complete story. Sound of pouring rain, the chime of leaves takes a soul beyond. When we roam around the pages of human history, artists have led their generations from the front and that has defined different cultures. A culture without music is quite hard to imagine. If I close my eyes, I listen to our mesmerizing nature constantly creates music. Music is heavenly, Lord’s gift to mankind. Music has so much power to drive souls, touch it and sometimes helping people to get close to the Almighty. Since time immemorial, music has been embedded in life. It seeps into arts and culture, finds expression in language, and has great effect on lifestyle. The origin of music dates back to the earliest of civilizations, thereby making it difficult to pinpoint the exact date whence it started. Robert Schumann (n.d.), a German composer, noted that “perhaps it is precisely the mystery of her origins which accounts for the charm of her beauty.”

There is not much of doubt on the mesmerizing, magical power of music. However, an important aspect is to see how music effect on human mind and their lifestyle. Most of the people around the globe prefer listening to music but are they getting anything from music, be it something good or bad. Understanding why so many people love music has been a point of curiosity hardly explored. From the very beginning of mankind, music is there. There are ancient scriptures that discussed about music in different ages. However, music can have both positive and negative effects on people. Harmony brings peace of mind and at the same time, disharmony could cause negative effect. Music is therefore a strong driving force and one of the cores of cultural art in general.

Backyard of the memory lane

Our lives are shaping through our surroundings, the experiences of individual lives, our perception from the incidents and the actions and our reactions to it. From the very beginning of my life, music has a divine place to my heart ever since the tone of Azaan was whispered to my ear the day I was born. It might not be considered as music but it had all the elements to surpass the greatest tunes of music of any kind. It is not normal for any new born child to remember that, nor do I. However, I have very little doubt on my mind from where it all started. It was rather narrated by my parents, grand-parents and other relatives about my reaction to it. Soon I became addicted to music of other kinds. I was born in a family in which cultural diversity was pleasantly observed. I was more attached to my maternal grandparents and influenced by them considerably. Someone had to sing for me at the bed times for closing my eyes in peace and opening the door of heaven to my eyes. Most of the times it was my grandmother who I remember sung- Oolir o kotha shunay bokul hashay, koi tahar moto tumi amar kotha shunay hasho na tou, a famous song by legendary singer Hemanta Mukhpadhay. My next most favorite singer was none other than my mother herself who would sing all types of song, all day long starting from her morning rehearsal. I don’t remember if I ever got tired of listening to her with a harmonium. It is hard to remember when, but slowly I started imitating her and eventually ended up getting the crown of best singer in school competitions. Then on sudden twists of fate, I became alone but music became my friend of solitary, light in my darkness. It inspired me, and it felt as someone else is telling the story of my life and encouraging me to break free. I’ve closed my eyes and heard as if nature too is making music, as pouring honey to my ear; reluctant to let me feel the absence of my mother and grandmother. I slowly started exploring for more music that would satisfy my urge of getting close to my soul, and knowing that understanding my soul could have been the only way of understanding the graces of Allah on me. I discovered Sufism and the essence it has in it. It is devoted to the complexity of human psychology and this cryptic felicity of Allah for a man. As Lalon (n.d.) said in his song shohoj manush [translating from Bengali to English]-

“Seek for a heart not perched by misery and sinful greed. Give me a man without sheer complexity. And the illuminati within thy-self will appear with the message- "we were never above to the reason of being just human. I've heard that I may get into heaven but I can’t rest my soul in that, who is there on earth who wants something after life for the cost of all these illusion on earth? But we all fly into the ashes of history one day. Seek for a soul without complexity and sin.”

Evolving process

The time travel with music was never to halt the progress. I kept on exploring new and more meaningful music beyond the boundary of my land. I’ve searched for Ghazal, Kawali of the sub-continent to progressive and psychedelic music in which a song carries messages that are for good. I started listening to what my father has always enjoyed listening in the car. His voice and his guitar scratched my mind and I listened to him being static and mesmerized. Slowly I felt an urge of exploring the benefits of music and how it can be used for the betterment of all, if I too could write songs and sing like him. I’ve started writing poetry which was devoted to nature, my ancestors, my country or my Allah. However, I came across arguments about music being prohibited in Islam. I kept wondering how could such a wonderful creation of Allah, which eventually helps me getting close to Him, is prohibited? I kept on searching for an answer. Nevertheless, music has some really exciting effects on individuals as well on societies around the world.

Music as a healer

Music is considered as a great healer of pain. It is a powerful and effective tool to fight pain. Music therapy has been an established way of treating people to heal psychological disorders for quite a long time now. Music serves as a distracter and gives the patient a sense of control. Music also causes the body to release endorphins to counteract pain while slow music relaxes a person by slowing down their breathing and heartbeats. Thus in the process, it also plays a significant role in reducing blood pressure. Research shows that, music is treated as a medicine for the heart patients and this works effectively. Some research reveals that, it also helps a speedy recovery from stroke. For the patients suffering from migraine and headache, music plays a major role in healing and reducing the intensity of pain. Scientists explain that a particular type of music can create a positive and profound emotional experience, which leads to secretion of immune-boosting hormones. To much more surprise, music improves physical performances as well. It improves the athletic performance by reducing the feeling of being fatigue.
Music is beneficial not only for our physical health but for psychological benefits too. This could be surprising for many that, music makes people smarter, sharper and more intelligent. Various researches showed that, music enhances intelligence, learning and IQ. Music has the power to enhance some of the higher brain functions such as- reading and literacy skills, spatial-temporal reasoning, mathematical abilities and emotional intelligence. Earlier it has been thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhances performance on cognitive tests. However, further findings shows that listening to any music that is personally enjoyable has positive effects on cognition. Research undertaken on Mozart effect proved that, listening to Mozart improves memory power and performance, helps improving concentration and attention level, increase the level of physiological arousal, and relaxation response, and improvement in motor coordination. In this process, it improves body movement and coordination. Therefore, music helps to work more productively. Relaxing music induces sleep; it reduces stress and aids relaxation. Music also plays a major role in fighting depression and reducing negative feelings at the very same time. M.Torke (n.d.) quoted, “Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass?”

Anonymous. (n.d.). How Music Affects Us and Promotes Health Retrieved from: http://www.emedexpert.com/tips/music.shtml)

Music as a subject of education

Most of the schools and colleges around the world are adopting music as an educational subject itself. Music has various different educational traits in it. If we take music as a science, it is exact, specific and at the same time demands exact acoustics. “A conductor’s score is a chart, a graph that indicates frequencies, intensities, volume changes, melody and harmony, all at once and with the most exact control of time.” We can easily consider music as a Mathematic too because it is “rhythmically based upon the subdivisions of time into fractions which must be done instantaneously, not worked out on a paper.” Music is a foreign language. “Most of the terms of music are in Italian, German or in French and the notation is certainly not English, but a highly developed sort of shorthand that uses symbols to represent ideas.” The semantics of music are the most complete and universal language. Music often is history too because it usually reflects the environment and times of its creation, often it is the time and/or racial feeling too. Music is a physical education which “requires fantastic co-ordination of fingers, hands, arms, lip, cheek and facial muscles in addition to extra-ordinary control of diaphragm, back, stomach, and chest muscle which responds instantly to the sound the ear hears and the mind that interprets.” Above all the other education traits, music is recognized most as a form of art. “It allows a human being to take all accumulated knowledge and skill to create emotion. That is one thing science can’t duplicate: humanism, feeling, emotion.” Music on the other hand provides lifelong enjoyment; it develops cooperation and improves self-expression and creativeness.

Dom formularo(n.d.) Why music in our school?[Supplemental material]. Retrieved from: http://www.dannybritt.com/whymusic.htm

Music as a way of worshipping

Music has the essence through which a human brain can reach out to a spiritual frame of mind. Therefore, music according to most of the religions is another tool of worshipping to their Almighty Creator. There are very few other ways through which such level of meditation possible on which human minds could get as close to the Lord. Almost all the religions have given music a free license as a way of worshipping. It is called as religious music. Christian view of ‘sacred music’ is to inspire the Holy Spirit. They’re devoted to God and to inspire people with their free flow of mind and spirituality. In other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jewish, Sikh, Rastafarian, African-Caribbean, Shinto, Zoroastrian and etc, music is considered as a way of worshipping. In Islamic point of view, however, there are arguments about music. One side of Islamic scholars said, music is prohibited, the reason being- music potentially intoxicates a person and takes one away from the path of Allah. The other side of the argument is that, there’s no clear evidence in the Holy Quran about music being strictly prohibited and since Islam is a qualitative religion, it focuses on the purpose, rather than the subject itself. Music in Islam in the form of Sufi music, Ham’d, naat and etc are devoted to the greatness of Allah and his Prophet (Peace be on him). Another argument is there about the use of musical instruments to be prohibited except for duff. Those Muslim saints who allow the use of Music put following conditions for its use:

-- Spiritual kalaam should be used, of which no worldly or materialistic meaning could be conceived. And Hamd, Naat and other praising poems could be used.

-- Literature written in Happiness, Natural beauty, weather and atmosphere's praise. In which Materialistic love or vulgarity can’t be found. Wedding and other such songs are not to be included in this category. For they contain, vile tales of love for other women.

-- Songs written in the praise of Ancestors for such songs motivate the new generation to work just as their forefathers did.
-- War songs, for they keep the morale of the troops high.

-- If Music is used it must not be satanic and arousing, in sexual sense or in vulgar sense.

According to Hazrat Nizam ud din Auliya RA, there are four types of Music, i.e.

  1. Halal (Permissible)
  2. Haram (Forbidden)
  3. Makroh (Better to avoid)
  4. Mubah (Recommended)

Now, if the person is listening to music has his/her mind focused on Almighty ALLAH or s/he is drenched in Almighty's Love then it is Mubaah. If, his/her heart is partially towards ALLAH, that is more towards worldly thoughts as compared to Spirituality, and then it is makrooh. And if listener's heart is totally towards worldly thoughts then it is Haram for the person.

And if the hearts attention is absolutely towards ALLAH only then it is Halaal.

Imam Ghazali RA has dedicated a whole chapter in his book Ahya-e-Uloom e din (revival of religious sciences) for the topic of Music and he seconds the views of Hazrat Nizam ud din Auliya.
To wrap it up, there’s little doubt about the power of music and the purpose at the very same time. A great power is always something to be aware of, because a little misuse could lead to certain disadvantages as well.

Misuse of music

Not all the effects of music on the brain are positive however. Some types of music can cause the brain to lose its symmetry between its right and left halves, or hemispheres. We've all experienced this, when trying to concentrate on a task while loud or otherwise disruptive music is being played. This can lead to learning disabilities and behavior disruptions in children. It can likewise generate diminished work capabilities in adults. The types of music that cause these effects on the brain are mostly aggressive forms of music such as heavy rock or rap. The specific type of beat may be at fault. It could also be attributed to the fact that too much repetition leads to feelings of anger and hostility. Numerous studies indicate that a preference for heavy metal music may be a significant marker for alienation, substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, suicide risk, sex-role stereotyping or risk-taking behaviors during adolescence.

American Academy of Pediatrics, (1999) Retrieved from: http://www.brainhealthandpuzzles.com/effects_music_brain.html

Listening to music is a common phenomenon but how it affects a listener differently and this research aspired to find out how music could be used for a greater good by examining the following research questions:

  • What are the psychological effects of music on an individual?
  • What can we learn from music?
  • What are the views of music in different religions?
  • Is there any negative effect of music?
  • How can we make good use of music to build a better world?

From an individual level to a society, we create our mankind. Although, no individual would think alike but their collective view point is something that makes an axiom. Music has positive social effects apart from the fact that it entertains a listener. Is it possible to make good use of music rather than just listening to it just for a mean of entertainment? If there are people to make good use of music, there should be listeners to make it worthwhile since music is loved by most.

For secondary research, I’ve relied heavily on the information through the internet and browsed so many different websites and searched through google.com. I’ve taken helps from my friends about some websites which has information on my subject of research. I’ve skimmed through different books at my university library, however, failed to find what I was looking for i.e. effects of music. The books written on music rather focused on what is music and its theories which were not my cup of tea. I’ve found everything I needed on the internet. I’ve received an article written on music but that was in Persian, but I’ve got that translated by a friend mastered in Persian.

Like my secondary research, my primary research too has depended on the internet. I’ve firstly started my research on paper but accidentally I have lost all the data I’ve collected in 15 days. Later, I have created a Google spreadsheet questionnaire which made life easy for my audience as well as for me to collect it in a more organized manner. The statistics of my findings and research outcome was automated and for me, this proved to be the best way of getting data. This time it took me only a few hours to receive 55 responses while at the first place with paper based questionnaire, I could only collect 30 responses in 15 days. Making good use of the technology is something I’d look forward in future research too.
Interacting to many people through the questionnaire gives incite of how they are reacting to the same question differently. As the medium of my data collection was the internet, thus, the responses received are mostly from the younger generation aged from 19-25.

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Table 1:
Note: Age group of the participants of my survey.
As stated above, the figure shows 85% of the participants of my survey are aged in between 19-25. This is the age group who are active on the internet and more interested to participate on a survey based on music.

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Table 2:
Note: Sex of the participants of this survey.
As this figure shows, 80% of the participants are male and 20% are female. Research shows that the music taste varies between male and female. Male music listeners are however more fanatic music lovers than the female group who answered this questionnaire. At the same time, male music listeners usually prefer listening to heavier music while female music listener prefers to soothing and softer genre.

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Table 3
Note: How frequently they listen to music.
It is no surprise that 55% of the participants listens to music daily with interest. Music is a part of their daily lives. The frequency of listening to music is quite intense while 27% participants say that they listen to music every time, possibly with the aid of mp3 player or iPod. Music is with them wherever they are going, whatever they are doing. It is collectively 17% who either prefer listening to music few times in a week 11%, few times in a month 4% or hardly listens to music 2% only. This clearly shows how much people are drowned in the beauty of music they love to listen.

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Table 4
Note: Reasons for listening to music
My next query was to why they think they listen to music. The result was no different than the previous one. 49% people saying, they just love music. There are some fanatic listeners here too who feels they can’t live without music, 25% of the total. Rest of the participants settles with just time pass (5%), to avoid boredom (13%); I’ve nothing better to do (5%). The greater part on this question replied as they are devoted to music from their heart and soul. They would listen to music simply because they love to. This group of people seemed not to seek for any other reason to listen music.

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Table 5
Note: What type of music people prefers listening to?
Almost half of the people here (47%) who answered this question, saying that they listen to everything that is cognitive to them and irrespective of whichever genre it belongs. If people find a good piece of music, they will listen to it, no matter what. There are few others with specific taste of music which includes soothing and slow (13%), old classical music (5%), normal/random new release (15%), a little aggressive (4%), very aggressive (5%), spiritual/Sufi music (5%). Very aggressive music could be harmful and that is preferred by only 3 persons. However, the essence and true use could have been achieved by spiritual music but unfortunately only 5% preferred that option, which is understandable that it takes depth of mind to comprehend such kind of music.

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Table 6
Note: what aspect is preferred by the listeners while they listen to music?

This yields a mix responses as 22% saying they prefer lyrics, 25% prefers to composition of a music while 11% says not the lyrics but the overall music is what they love to listen which may include the combination of all. However, 13% answered that they would prefer all the above including melody (7%), tune (5%) while judging music.

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Table 7
Note: How music affects to our brain?
This question was rather more to the point and a technical query which is confused by many who answered. Many participants said they can’t live without music while on this question they’ve picked the answer that they don’t think music has that much effect on them (22%). If it doesn’t affect to their brain, why would one listen to it at the first place? However, the equal amount of people confessed that it affects and makes them a better person (22%). It is like a medicine to me, answered by 16% of the participants. It affects and makes some of them feel good (9%). Like the above findings, music here is taken as positively as it could get by the most participants. Only 34 out of 55 people answered this question while 26 people admitting that music have better effect on them.

While asked about memory of how they’ve first reacted to music and how it changed over time, most people answered that it made them dance or made them feel good. Most of them have experienced an upgrade of their taste in music at different times, explored new genres and fall in love to many musicians and their music. Most of the people answered and seconds to my hypothesis regarding the positive sides of music. Most of the people agreed that music is something that cheers them up when they are deep down to their own world. Echoing to their inner feelings and makes them nostalgic to their sweet memories which they can never get back again. Music helps them recall the good old days or specific incidents of their lives. I’ve also asked whether there’s anything that stops them from listening to music. Many music fanatics answered that nothing can stop them. Some others have shown their religious concern. Their opinion is that, they love music but they are sorry to say that, music is prohibited in Islam which makes them feel guilty of listening to music. Interestingly, very few we’ve encountered who left listening to music for that reason. This research was an attempt to appease them with Islamic view point on music which is more liberal and authentic at the same time. In the end, many have shared their personal suggestions and opinions about music which has helped me writing this research paper. Mostly the listeners appreciated good music and accept that it has become an inevitable part of their lives. Now the important part is to make good use of music not just for the individuals but for the society at large.

My research findings are more positive than my hypothesis expected it to be. People love listening to music and mostly quality music. Their taste of music has evolved and they are only ready to pay for good music. If musicians could use this tool, music could be used more often for fund raising, social awareness creating and many other good causes which can only aid to our society positively. There are negatives in everything but it is the responsibility of the true musicians and the music lovers to eliminate the negativities out of music and using it as a divine gift of The Creator to us all. Music inspires everyone, be it national anthem or war music. It is on us how we use this inspiration for good. Music can’t be bad, the ones who exploit it for money, fame, and popularity and intoxicates minds through their negative ways of expressing themselves are. If used positively, music is capable of producing positive change to our world. People should explore the real essence of music but they need to know the limit. Overuse of anything is not to bring any good for anybody. An individual should decide how they could make good use of music.

It is on us all about how we are going to use music for a greater effect. It reminds me of the story- “Pied Piper of Hameln” a flute which was first used for abolishing plague from the city of Hameln, another flute became the reason of mourning while all the kids of that city was taken out of their homes to somewhere lost in mountains from where they could never return back. We need to promise to ourselves, we are going to use music for better purpose in the days to come, listeners to listen better music, musicians to make music which has a strong meaning to all and devoted to noble causes.

References

Shopnil Mahmud

Shopnil Mahmud

A software engineer with avid interest on any form of arts and philosophy. Likes to write codes for a living and poetry for the soul. Currently residing in Toronto, originally from Bangladesh.

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