Music can help us express ourselves, whether we’re ecstatic or angst-y, angry or in love. It’s fun to move to. It unites people. Not to mention the empowering thrill of a flawlessly executed artistic statement, or the groupthink-fueled euphoria of unwavering fandom.
And while it’s fun to be a fan, there’s something more irresistible still about being in the driver’s seat. The greats dedicate their lives to making meaningful, memorable artistic statements. McCartneys and Adeles aside, though, just about everyone can be found deep in a shower- or drive-time performance of their favorite song from time to time. Begging the question—why?
Why keep singing when no one can hear? Or, more crucially, when accounts from loved ones and neighbors would confirm a tendency to be tone-deaf? Even from a visceral, human survival perspective—why keep making music when it’s not practical? Why did early man, who had a slew of life-or-death preoccupations like hunting, gathering, and avoiding vicious wildlife, even bother to see what would happen when they banged two sticks together? And today, why does the struggling musician play to empty rooms, strumming that guitar when it’s never guaranteed make them a dime?
The answer is simple: creating music just feels good. And quite apart from its emotional indulgence, there’s some very physical, very scientific business that goes on when a tune tickles your ears.
According to an Evolutionary Psychology article, music-related activities like singing, dancing, and drumming kick up your endorphins in ways that listening alone can’t. It seems that the act of creating sound sends your body into a state of euphoria that’s hard to replicate without the use of controlled substances.
And speaking of—don’t think for a moment that the captivating quality of music is to be taken lightly. Studies show that even just hearing music triggers a natural high. As musical sound floods the ears, the brain’s nucleus accumbens, provider of the pleasure-inducing dopamine, flutters into action, something that also happens during sex, a good meal–and addiction.
Back to the cavemen…Time Magazine asserts that making and hearing music may in fact have an evolutionary benefit as it allows the creator and/or listener to use the patterns in music to learn larger, more important patterns in life—meaning, if you’ve played or heard one song, you can quickly broaden the knowledge to anticipate what works in others. Similarly, if you’ve seen what happens to one caveman who tries to tickle a saber-tooth tiger…
In this way and countless others, music is beyond a doubt one of man’s greatest gifts.