How Music Creates Empathy

Updated: Oct 15, 2019

There is a common misconception that childhood music lessons are for children whose parents wish them to be child prodigies. The truth is, music is for everyone. Among other benefits, music education helps build emotional maturity in young children. This is especially true for the development of empathy in children.

The Language of Music

Music is a universal language that has been interpreted and iterated upon thousands of times over by different cultures. However, they all break down to the same fundamentals. These fundamentals serve as a common language that unites billions of people.

For example, the pentatonic scale (a 5-note scale) appears heavily in both Japanese and American folk songs. Although one would imagine that the two cultures could not be further apart in both their histories and traditions, their musical roots are very closely linked. Imagine the impact that would have on a child, recognizing their own musical roots in an entirely different culture!

Modern Examples of Cross-Cultural Music

As the world becomes more connected, we are seeing more and more examples of music from different cultures crossing over. One of the biggest movements right now is the increase of Latin and Hispanic music in American culture. “Despacito (Remix)” by Puerto Rican musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber became a massive breakout success in 2017. This was Justin Bieber’s first experience singing in Spanish, and it reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. This was the first time a Spanish-language song reached number one since “Macarena” in 1996.

This cross-culture phenomenon helps create a positive connection between fans of both types of music. Even if an English-speaking listener does not understand the words, they understand the emotion and feeling behind the music. A breakout hit like “Despacito” opens the door for more Puerto Rican and Latin music to get exposure in the USA.

Empathy Between Musicians

The increased empathy a listener may feel when listening to music from a different culture is magnified exponentially for the musicians from different cultures that are performing together. When two people play the same music together (duet), their brains are synchronized.

Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development paired up 32 guitarists and had them duet Sonata in G Major by Christian Gottlieb Scheidler. The result was that the guitarists performing together experienced “synchronized brain oscillations.” This synchronization is known as “phase locking.” Essentially, the musicians’ brains were linked with the music as the connector.

Imagine if more musicians from different cultures were able to perform together. The act of that performance and the music resulting from it would generate empathy at a grand scale.

It's Never Too Early - Or Too Late - To Start

To achieve such a deeper level of empathy and understanding, music education is key. By learning music early, children open themselves up to different cultures and experiences that would previously be foreign to them. This allows them to mature and grow into a much more well-rounded individual. Even if it starts with something as simple as watching videos on Youtube, all children can benefit from more exposure to music and its fundamentals.

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