Musical Literacy and Social Interactions Alyssa Johnson

Few things bring people together quite like music, and this is especially relevant to those who are musically literate. In her article "Defining Musical Literacy: How Music Education Boosts Student Learning," Professor Caitrin Blake of Arapahoe Community College defines musical literacy as, "the ability to understand how a song will be played and what it will sound like without actually playing it." Kelsey Tarbert cites Dee Hansen, Elaine Bernstoff, and Gayle M. Stuber in her article, "Learning Literacy Through Music," by defining musical literacy as "phoneme awareness, discrimination between similar auditory elements, speech signals, auditory memory, and more."
I define musical literacy as the ability to understand the logistic aspects of music that are either (or both) seen written down or heard audibly. It is being able to understand all of the mechanics and all that goes into creating and performing a musical piece. Those who are musically literate are practiced in performing, and not just listening. Everyone with the ability to hear has heard music before, but not everyone knows how to play it.
There is a special bond that comes from the solidarity of musicianship, and it is not uncommon for two people who are involved with music to be able to strike up a conversation almost instantly. Musical literacy is able to improve and create social interactions and social bonding between people, as the ability to have social interactions and to feel that one belongs to part of a community is key to a person's sense of positive well-being.

As a child, up until High school, I moved around a little more than every other year that I was in school, so I was constantly having to reaclimate myself to new school situations, and attempt to make new friends. When I was in the third grade, I transferred between schools twice in a year, and didn't have time to make new friends, so I was painfully shy. So the next year, in the fourth grade, my mom gave me a flute and signed me up for the school band.

For the next ten years, I played in school bands, performed in the church choir, and even helped lead the student worship band for about a year in high school. I went from being a painfully shy student who didn't know anyone, to developing close relationships with people within classes and church choirs, and found the confidence to be able to perform on stage in front of my church with a guitar singing. This confidence I never would have been able to find without a community of other musically literate individuals around me to practice and improve with, and to relate to them with.
My own personal story is just one of numerous examples of what Browyn Tarr, Jacques Launay, and Robin I.M. Dunbar call, "self-other merging," in their article, "Music and social bonding: "Self-Other" merging and neurohormaonal mechanisms." Music is an activity that requires two things: Listening and performing. A large amount of a musically-literate person's time is spent being social, by actively participating in performing music with a group.

Playing music in a group has been shown to create chemical reactions in the brain that create feelings of solidarity between musicians (Tarr, et al.) While actively performing and engaging in a band, for example, an instrumentalist is not alone (Locker). They are following along with the rhythms that many people are playing, and they are necessary and unique to a whole orchestra or band.

A feeling of being needed is established within instrumentalists in a music group, and the same could be said for different voices (soprano, tenor, baritone) in a choir. The chemical reactions that come from performing rhythms within a group include a rise of the release of endorphins and oxytocin in the brain. The psychological affect is a bond between students playing together-- called "mimicry" (Tarr, et. al). If one gets happy feelings for performing music, and they always perform with a certain group of people, they are going to have good feelings about those people they perform with.
In addition to the positive personal emotional benefits, there are many positive social benefits of performing in front of others. It creates more confidence in a student, and results in more willingness to perform in front of other people. Kelsey Tarbert says, "Through music, students will be able to practice being secure in front of a group. Some children may find confidence in their singing voices where it lacks in their speaking voices, and vice versa." From experience, I understand that singing in front of people also grows confidence when practiced regularly.
In his article, "Two theoretical perspectives on the socialization of music teachers," professor Christer Bouij concluded that, "By developing ego strength [confidence], the individual also develops the ability to balance between the collective and the individual identity." So essentially, by becoming more in-tune with other musicians, a person grow musically themselves.
This ability to have confidence to perform in front of others is beneficial to students in school. By exposing individuals to the experience of performing in front of others, it creates more confidence of being in the spot-light. So a student will be more experienced and thus more successful in a setting of being in front of a class-room for a presentation, for example or they will be more likely to raise their hands to ask the teacher a question, or to offer their input during a discussion in class.
By learning to perform, practice, and work well with others, students learn valuable lessons such as team work. Students will most likely be able to appreciate doing their fair-share of the work. As they learned from practicing in a group with musical instruments, any one person can play poorly and drag everyone down with them, or they can perform beautifully and be the star who brings everyone else together and makes the group sound wonderful.
Social interaction and dependence on others to achieve a goal is very important. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are a set of rules and steps that must be met for a person to achieve "self-actualization," or a completely positive sense of well-being (Rahim). Music provides people with an opportunity to achieve self-actualization that they might not have had on their own. In his article, "Love and Belonging: Strategies to help Mentally ill Patients," Shirim Rahim cites K. Lisbeth by saying, "Because of the social nature of humans and the long developmental period from birth to adulthood, the need for love and belonging is closely linked to the need for survival" (p.128).
Humans are naturally social, and need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance in order to achieve a positive sense of well-being. Performing with a group fulfills these needs, because each person feels that they are needed by the band or choir, because they have a mastery or specialty in something the group needs.
Melissa Locker argues that music may not be the the best way for a person to get the socialization they need, by pointing out that studies show that if a student does not "actively engage in the music or participate in class," the student will not reap the known benefits of music." So, if a student does not make an effort to socialize and do their best in class, they will not experience the chemical reactions in the brain that others who did focus in class will.
In order to achieve the benefits of social interaction through a music literacy, an individual should achieve musical literacy in the way that best fits them. For example, if a person does not enjoy learning music on the tuba, they may better enjoy learning the clarinet, or even singing in a choir. By participating in playing one of these instruments, a student can become more focused, and then reap the benefits of the socialization of a musical community.
In conclusion, a literacy in music is important for socialization within a community, because it allows people to relate to one another, and develop positive relationships. It also helps contribute to a person's sense of positive well-being, and helps individuals to become part of something that is bigger than themselves. While some may argue that the spreading of music with negative lyrics and messages could be detrimental to a community, musical literacy is much more than a person's ability to listen to music, but is how a person is able to interpret it and understand it themselves.
Furthermore, being a part of a musically literate community is beneficial, and every person at least once in their lives should allow themselves the experience of learning music and becoming a part of a musical group, such as a band.

Works Cited

Blake, Caitrin. Defining Music Literacy: How Music Education Boosts Student Learning. Literacy Resources. University of Vermont. 17 May 2016. Vermont.

Bouji, Christer. Two theoretical perspectives on the socialization of music teachers. Music Education Symposia. ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. 1 October 2003. University of Massachusetts.

Florida, Richard. "The North-South divide in American Creativity." Sun Journal. 11 Sep. 2016. Lewiston, Me. United States.

Locker, Melissa. This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain. Living Science. 16 December 2014. Web.

Rahim, Shirin. "Love and Belonging: Strategies to help Mentally Ill Patients." 2:4, 34-37. IMangager Publications. Nov 2012-Jan 2013. Nagercoil, India.

Tarbert, Kelsey. Learning Literacy through Music. Oneta Reading Journal. Luther College. 2012. Decorah, Iowa.

Tarr, Bronwyn. "Music and social bonding: "self-other" merging and nuerohormonal mechanisms." Hypothesis and Theory Article. 30 September 2014. University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

"Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth." Council on Communications and Media. Vol. 124, Issue 5. American Academy of Pediatrics. November 2009. Web.

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