Four Lessons from Music
Whatever we specialize in, I believe we acquire two important things:
- Knowledge Acquisition: hardcore techniques, fundamental theories and laws, important notations and equations, etc…
- Perception Acquisition: the way we approach certain problems and the different mindsets that gets built in our characters when facing certain situations.
After finishing my bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, I believe my greatest take away was my problem-solving skills, and not exclusively to engineering-related problems. It goes the same way with being a pianist — during the university days I joyfully integrated my perception in engineering and music when studying both.
What’s wonderful about perception acquisition is that it stays longer than knowledge since it doesn’t require intentional daily practice; it gets built in your character and senses, or subconsciousness. This article is intended to be focused on perception acquisition.
You may find common perceptions which you can connect to other fields; I bet it would be wonderful to find such connections!
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Lesson 1: Metaphorical language
“We live in a metaphorical world”, said a great intellectual friend Mike Harber during our conversation on science and metaphors.
We come across certain fields where the excellent usage of metaphors and understanding them is considered to be “expertise taken to the next level”— physics, poetry, engineering, religion, etc. While music is, by itself, based on metaphors whether you’re creating or listening to music.
When you study a verbal language, it equips you with words in order to communicate more effectively; the “next-level” would be manipulating with words and their initial meanings in order to create meaningful metaphors. Music is almost just the same: you learn meaningless notes and scales, then you create meaningful combinations.
Once the notes are combined and we have a musical phrase, “a sentence”, these elements join the play: movement, pitch sounds, forces, tension, motifs, speed, etc… — all of these elements enriches the listener’s vocabulary of metaphors and allow the composer’s main idea to develop throughout the piece. Try listening to Schubert’s charming style in his Moment Musical No. 3 in F minor while noticing these elements and how it’s weaving in and out of major and minor tonalities:
Music equips you with a rich vocabulary of metaphors.
Lesson 2: Finding and creating patterns
You don’t need to read music sheets to understand, just a bit, what a long sequence means: pain. We’ve all stood in front of long sequences: numbers, notes, or words which we couldn’t see how they were meaningfully combined.
When one trains the mind to continuously find, or create, patterns among some notes on a five parallel horizontal lines, it will instantly create a shift in how the mind starts connecting different things together outside of music.
Lesson 3: It’s a way to understand reality, not necessarily escape from it
Whenever I read Einstein’s quote “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”, I can’t help but remember one of my favorite stories from his life:
Einstein was staying up late at night contemplating and trying to solve complex physics problems. His roommate used to hear him play the violin at their kitchen, then Einstein would suddenly screamed out loud “FOUND IT!” — as if the answer he was looking for was floating in the imaginary space in which the music notes were moving along (you can read more interesting stories from Einstein: His Life and Universe).
Music was a great intellectual stimuli for his brain, and his visionary approach to science, or life, was deeply affected by playing music. I wonder how much of a game changer it would be to look at the things we practice daily as a way to understand reality, rather than mainly escaping from it.
Lesson 4: Allowing the work to be imperfect
Sometimes I wonder: Is the reason why many greats in history produced magnificent works was because they were okay with it turning out to be imperfect? When you look at old recordings of legendary musicians performing, you can hear a bunch of mistakes in almost every piece that was played in the program.
Not too long ago when the AI-generated music first started, the perfection and the accuracy of hitting the notes exactly on the marked tempo made the listeners feel uncomfortable. Therefore, they deliberately made the AI fall slightly behind the tempo on some beats (not in a very significant way) to make it comfortable to the human ears!
I think many musicians, including myself, got their attention stuck in accuracy rather than musicality. And this by all means doesn’t mean that accuracy isn’t important; we do need to deliver music with excellence just without forgetting that we’re imperfect human beings. For a long time musicians have been protesting against the AI-generated music because it lacks the inimitable human musicality, but it seems that we ourselves are turning into artificial intelligence beings.
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What perceptions did you acquire from your fields of interest?