The Power of Music: Rhythm with a Purpose


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Keeping Time: Importance of Rhythm

For most, music is essential to carry out day-to-day activities – it certainly carries a purpose for a lot of people – musicians more so. I listen to it; I play to it and most importantly of it, I move to it.

But, to some, it carries more purpose to others, compared to us, when we just stick it on in the shower. It personally contributes to their wellbeing, mental health state and even encourages growth in their daily struggles.

Aiding the Helpless

Beyond the repetitive motions of walking and dancing, music may allow an ability to organi(s)e, to follow intricate sequences, or to hold great volumes of information in mind – this is the narrative or mnemonic power of music.

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

For the individuals who struggle mentally throughout the day, hearing a simple rhythm or the beat of the music can spur them back into life, offering comfort in completing their day via rhythmic sequences that can hold a person together.

This mnemonic power of music offers a coherent system for individuals to evoke certain associations once again about something. And lo and behold, memory does not become an issue.

Visual Agnosia: Seeing is Believing

In this instance, it was of an individual, named Dr. P, who had severe visual agnosia. This causes him to lose the ability to recognise or identify common objects, despite be able to see clearly. His condition was worsening – until he discovered something extraordinary. He could perform his daily needs and tasks if he simply put them to a song.

Dr. P’s wife went on to explain;

I put all his usual clothes out, in all the usual places, and he dresses without difficulty; singing to himself. He does everything singing to himself. But if he is interrupted and loses the thread, he comes to a complete stop, doesn’t know his clothes – or his own body. He sings all the time – eating songs, dressing songs, bathing songs, everything. He can’t do anything unless he makes it a song.

For me, this is fascinating. After all, who can possibly resist rhyme and rhythm in music? It is almost as if Dr. P bonds with the music, the consistency of the melody or the rhythm in the song may be the only thing that allows Dr. P to function. It is this interruption that is intriguing. When stopped, its almost as if he has come back into the real world, and stops what he is doing immediately. For him, it is a bond like no other.

This bonding of music has been embedded in our society for years – from around the first fires to our first music gigs and festivals. It is a feeling that is shared collectively in shared communities across world cultures.

It seems that rhythm turns the listeners into active participants, and ultimately synchronises the brains and minds of all who listens. But to be aware of such a compelling story that actually encourages his growth and prevents his condition worsening, is a worthy read.

You can read this full story further in Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.

But, it is important to note that it is not just those with agnostic difficulties. Those who have severe problems with memory, most importantly patients with Dementia, for example.

Dementia: Reliving Again

There has been plenty of cases where those of memory loss, otherwise unresponsive to music, have ventured out to live music gigs, festivals and concertos and have been taken over by the rhythmic clapping and stomping of the crowd and not before too long, have seen to be more alive in that moment than any other time in their lives.

Rhythm and its entrainment of movement (and often emotion), its power to “move” people, in both senses of the word, may well have had a crucial cultural and economic function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community.

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia
Part of the Community

For me, as an avid drummer, who collectively lives off rhythm, it is comforting knowing that rhythm has more than a purpose to others than just a backbeat on the twos and fours. For some, it not only allows them to re-live themselves, but also gives them everyday hope.

And if they can escape from their minds for just one moment, reliving a music experience, humming along a melody or stomping out a rhythm, then who we are we to stop them?

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