No matter what part of the world they come from, human beings all share one common understanding: music. The power of music is something often over-looked and ignored in day-to-day life, but it its effect on us as human beings is nothing short of amazing. Every single race, culture and society has some sort of music attached to it. Even the most primitive of societies have some form of music incorporated within them, and it has been a part of humankind since the dawn of man. What is it about music that is so powerful? Where is this almost genetic, hardcoded understanding of music within us, and how is it we all posses an inherent knowledge about it? Let’s find out.

One of the most interesting things about music is that we all have a common understanding of it, most of us without out even knowing it. I found a fascinating clip from a TED Talk with guest Bobby McFerrin. As McFerrin demonstrates using the audience as his test subjects, we all have an inherent understanding of the pentatonic scale. It is safe to assume that many of the audience members are not musicians, and that many of them probably do not know what the pentatonic scale is, yet they are able to demonstrate their knowledge of it almost on cue. It is instinctual. McFerrin lays out the first few notes, and then the audience takes over. He hasn’t told them what notes to hit; they just hit them naturally.  And, as he mentions once he sits down, every audience he does this experiment with gets it right every single time. They never mess it up. This is direct proof that although we may not know it, we all posses an innate understanding of music within ourselves.

In addition to having an understanding of music, we as human beings are also affected by it on an emotional level. The key of a song is very important to how it affects our emotions, and musicians can use these feelings to convey specific feelings in their music. Without going into too much detail in terms of music theory, there are two types of keys: major and minor. Songs in a major key make us feel happy, positive, and hopeful; songs in a minor key make us sad, nervous, and uneasy. For instance, the theme tune for Star Wars is in a major key. It is uplifting and empowering. It makes us feel like we could take on the entire Empire single-handedly! Contrast that with the Imperial Death March which is Darth Vader’s Theme in a minor key- it’s a scary piece of music, and it fills you with dread! All the strength and courage you had from the Star Wars theme is now gone, and it’s replaced with uneasiness.

Just like with the pentatonic scale, most of us may not even know about major and minor keys, but we are certainly affected by it. It’s amazing the effects music can have on us, and how we understand it on an almost instinctual level. Music is so prevalent in our society that we tend to overlook it, however, we must never forget the connection we have with it. It’s really worth finding ways to incorporate it into our day to day lives, even if it’s just a relaxing track we fall asleep to or a lively upbeat tune to get us moving in the mornings. Why not use this powerful tool to its full potential?