Music is emotional communication… explained

Some time ago I wrote a blog called “What is Happiness” – the blog talked about our human happiness, the opening of our hearts to truly experience passion in our lives and our ability to elevate our emotions and increase productivity across our relationships.

A very good friend of mine is in the music industry – I love our meetings, he is so inspired by music, old music, new music, we talk hours about music produced, artists, it is always a totally inspired encounter when we meet.

As a young man, I always enjoyed listening to music, I also had the great fortune to travel globally and really enjoyed to hear music from the country I would be visiting, I felt a strong alliance to culture and understanding with the country I was visiting. I may not understand too many words but was nevertheless enthralled. Was it because the sounds of human speech are thrilling? Not really.

Pharell Williams created “Happy”. The song has been highly successful, peaking at No. 1 in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and 19 other countries. It was the best-selling song of 2014 in the United States with 6.45 million copies sold for the year, as well as in the United Kingdom with 1.5 million copies sold for the year. It reached No. 1 in the UK on a record-setting three separate occasions and became the most downloaded song of all time in the UK in September 2014. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. A live rendition of the song won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards.


It is clear that with Pharell Williams he had much to celebrate communicating ‘Happy’ and sharing emotional love across the globe, but does music generally continue to emanate from our alarm clocks in the morning, and fill our cars, and give us chills, and make us potentially cry?

According to a paper by Nidhya Logeswaran and Joydeep Bhattacharya from the University of London, music even affects how we see visual images. In the experiment, 30 subjects were presented with a series of happy or sad musical excerpts. After listening to the snippets, the subjects were shown a photograph of a face. Some people were shown a happy face – the person was smiling – while others were exposed to a sad or neutral facial expression. The participants were then asked to rate the emotional content of the face on a 7-point scale, where 1 mean extremely sad and 7 extremely happy.

The researchers found that music powerfully influenced the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music made happy faces seem even happier while sad music exaggerated the melancholy of a frown. A similar effect was also observed with neutral faces. The simple moral is that the emotions of music are “cross-modal,” and can easily spread from sensory system to another. Now I never sit down to my wife’s meals without first putting on a jolly Sousa march.

The question, of course, is what those elements are. One candidate is our expressive speech – perhaps music is just an abstract form of language. However, most of the emotion of language is in the meaning, which is why foreign languages that we do not understand rarely make us swoon with pleasure or get angry. That is also why emotional speech from an unfamiliar language is not featured on the radio!

Music is a proven common phenomenon that crosses all borders of nationality, race, and culture. A tool for arousing emotions and feelings, music is far more powerful than language. An increased interest in how the brain processes musical emotion can be attributed to the way in which it is described as a “language of emotion” across cultures. Be it within films, live orchestras, concerts or a simple home stereo, music can be so evocative and overwhelming that it can only be described as standing halfway between thought and phenomenon.

But why exactly does this experience of music distinctly transcend other sensory experiences? How is it able to evoke emotion in a way that is incomparable to any other sense?

Music can be thought of as a type of perceptual illusion, much the same way in which a university is perceived. The brain imposes structure and order on a sequence of sounds that, in effect, creates an entirely new system of meaning. The appreciation of music is tied to the ability to process its underlying structure — the ability to predict what will occur next in the song. But this structure has to involve some level of the unexpected, or it becomes emotionally devoid.

Skilled composers manipulate the emotion within a song by knowing what their audience’s expectations are, and controlling when those expectations will be met. This successful manipulation is what elicits the chills that are part of any moving song.

Music, though it appears to be similar to features of language, is more rooted in the primitive brain structures that are involved in motivation, reward and emotion. Whether it is the first familiar notes of The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” or the beats preceding AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” the brain synchronises neural oscillators with the pulse of the music, and starts to predict when the next strong beat will occur. The response to ‘groove’ is mainly unconscious; it is processed first through the cerebellum and amygdala rather than the frontal lobes.

More than any other stimulus, music has the ability to conjure up images and feelings that need not necessarily be directly reflected in memory. The overall phenomenon still retains a certain level of mystery; the reasons behind the ‘thrill’ of listening to music is strongly tied in with various theories based on synesthesia.

When we are born, our brain has not yet differentiated itself into different components for different senses – this differentiation occurs much later in life. So as babies, it is theorised that we view the world as a large, pulsing combination of colors and sounds and feelings, all melded into one experience – ultimate synesthesia. As our brains develop, certain areas become specialized in vision, speech, hearing, and so forth.

Professor Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and composer, unpacks the mystery of the emotion in music by explaining how the brain’s emotional, language and memory centers are connected during the processing of music – providing what is essentially a synesthetic experience. The extent of this connection is seemingly variable among individuals, which is how certain musicians have the ability to create pieces of music which are brimming with emotional quality, and others simply cannot. Be it classics from the Beatles, Bob Marley or fiery riffs from White Snake and Led Zeppelin, the preference for a certain type of music has an effect on its very experience. It could be this heightened level of experience in certain people and musicians that allows them to imagine and create music that others simply cannot, painting their very own sonic image.

Music is a fundamental part of our evolution; we probably sang before we spoke in syntactically guided sentences. Song is represented across animal worlds; birds and whales produce sounds, though not always melodic to our ears, but still rich in semantically communicative functions. Song is not surprisingly tied to a vast array of semiotics that pervade nature: calling attention to oneself, expanding oneself, selling oneself, deceiving others, reaching out to others and calling on others. The creative capability so inherent in music is a unique human trait.

Music is strongly linked to motivation and to human social contact. Only a portion of people may play music, but all can, and do, at least sing or hum a tune. Music is like breathing, all pervasive. Music is a core human experience and a generative process that reflects cognitive capabilities. It is intertwined with many basic human needs and is the result of thousands of years of neurobiological development. Music, as it has evolved in humankind, allows for unique expressions of social ties and the strengthening of relational connectedness.

Music is linked to learning, and humans have a strong pedagogical predilection. Learning not only takes place in the development of direct musical skills, but in the connections between music and emotional experiences. Darwin understood both music and consideration of emotion to be human core capabilities. Emotional systems are forms of adaptation allowing us to, for instance, note danger through the immediate detection of facial expressions.

Whether music makes you happy or sad, one of the fascinating things that has become clear is that people from very different cultures and backgrounds will often agree on whether a piece of music sounds happy or sad – making it a truly universal form of communication.

As Hans Christian Andersen once said:

“Where words fail, music speaks”

Being an Author

I met with a client recently who has read a copy of my new book, “Meaningful Conversations” and provided an amazing review, even though he sort to purchase a paperback version, we share many thought provoking discussions through our relationship and one is writing and the writing of other’s.

We chatted about a relatively new author called David Sedaris who has just written ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ and before you ask, the spelling of the name of the book is correct. 😊

The book is so frank, that any author will resonate with the words, his sense of humour, delivery writing style and comic timing are the best.

He wrote: ‘When a book you have been working on is finally published, the first person you normally hear from is the friend or family member you dedicated it to. In a perfect world he or she will cry, the way they might if you named your baby after them, but for me it’s never worked out that way’.

My third book, ‘Holiday’s on ice‘, was dedicated to a friend who appeared thankful but stopped short of crying, and this one, your notice was for my father. I sent him the first advance copy I could get my hands on, and when a week went passed, and I did not hear anything, I mailed him a second, thinking the earlier copy may have gotten lost. Another week went passed and then I called.
‘So did you get my package?’
‘I did’
‘And?’
‘I just told you I got it’, he snapped, I got two as a matter of fact.’
‘Did you notice I dedicated it to you?’
‘Of course I noticed,’ he said, ‘How could I not notice with the damn Post-It note stuck in there?’ He paused. So, are you coming to North Carolina on your book tour? Let me know because I have a lot of crap in the basement and I want it cleared by the end of summer.’

The next people you hear from when a book comes out are the armchair grammarians. These are readers who dream of working as copyeditors, and desperately need to inform you of the dangling modifier at the top of page 128.

‘And how is it that nobody caught the colon that should be a semicolon in your author bio? They want to know.

So funny……I think all writers can recall instances that make you feel flawed, I recall a good friend of mine who is a great lawyer, she read my first book “Freedom after the Sharks”, saying ‘Geoff, I have read your book twice and what happened to page 115, there is a full stop missing’, I know the look of amazement I gave – looking at her when she said this, and then there are the people who want to critique your published work, your heart and soul, with words on their interpretation, but they would never write and publish a book of their own.

So how did Wordsworth deal with these subjectivisms?

Wordsworth was a poet who never seems far from critics’ minds. From the moment of his first publication (in 1793), there has been no shortage of critics ready both to dismiss him and to idolise him. His close friend and fellow poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, recognised early on that the sheer amount of critical attention threatened the poems themselves: ‘His work produced an eddy of criticism, which would of itself have borne up the poems by the violence, with which it whirled them round and round’. It is within this whirlpool of critical voices that Wordsworth’s poetry exists for us today.

It seems that new generations of critics never tire of evaluating and re-evaluating the ideas found within Wordsworth’s poetry, and reinterpreting their significance for a new generation. Whether they love him or hate him, critics of every age have felt it important to communicate their views on his verse and his critics include Hazlitt, DeQuincey, Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot and Harold Bloom. Just what is it about the poetry of Wordsworth which seems to provoke such disparate responses?

Stephen King has had an uncanny ability to hit the commercial bull’s-eye from the beginning of his career. In the 40 years since his first novel, Carrie, he has published more than 50 books, all of them international best sellers. Shortly after its release, Carrie was turned into a blood-drenched film by Brian De Palma. And in 1977 King’s novel The Shining, set in a wintry ski resort and featuring a paranormal child and a maniacal father, further showcased his unparalleled gift for psychological terror. When Stanley Kubrick turned that novel into a film in 1980, the Stephen King industry was born. There are now more than 100 films and TV programmes based on his work, and he shows no signs of slowing down – not with his legions of fans, hungry for more.

But the respect of the literary establishment has always eluded King. For years, the question of whether he was a serious writer was answered by a quick tabulation of book sales, film deals, income and sheer volume of output, which added up to a resounding ‘no’. Commercial triumph did not equal literary value. Being a best seller was anathema.

Sissy Spacek earned an Oscar nomination for Carrie – a film that brought both the actor and Stephen King to wide attention.

From the beginning, King was dismissed as a ‘genre writer’.

Here is the sad truth: most people who write a book will never get it published, half the writers who are published will not see a second book in print, and most books published are never reprinted.

What’s more, half the titles in any given bookshop will not sell a single copy there, and most published writers will not earn anything from their book apart from the advance.

So, do not expect anything from your writing apart from the personal fulfilment of having learned your craft and created a work that did not exist before. By all means hope to get published, and dream of having a bestseller or even a long string of them, people do, after all. But writing talent is not nearly enough; thousands of people have it. To succeed, you have to write the best story you possibly can, for the genre you’re writing in, and be professional in every other way. It is the writers who work hardest at every aspect of their craft, and never give up, that get there. And when you do, enjoy the adventure while it lasts, but don’t expect it to last forever. It probably will be short lived, but at least you have your legacy. 😊

A rare few will ignore all this and succeed, but they are the lottery winners like JK Rawling and Harry Potter. As an Author of two books ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ and ‘Meaningful Conversations’ take my word for it, everyone else has to work hard at it. Just do not expect success or you are bound to be disappointed. Publishers are in business for the long term and they have to make a profit. If you write books that sell, your publisher will love you. If you do not sell books, it’s goodbye, no matter how much he or she likes your writing.

As Ernest Hemingway once said:

“For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.”

More management, more leaders or are we failing in business?

I always travel once a year to my business partner in the US and we always have this debate over “you can train and educate an individual into being management”, but I have always maintained you “cannot train a leader”: leadership is in your DNA or not, and I believe leadership is something that passionately is in your blood, the route of success in any business is with the strength of its leadership, so the question that I am always engage within these days with groups is why is there so much management, why do we have a shortage of competent and strong leaders?

Some of the readership will remember a blog I wrote in 2014, “Middle Management or Strong Managers”: here.

My views are not only individual if you read Chapter 7 of John Bogle’s book ‘Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life’. The theme of management versus leadership is a familiar one and the distinctions that Bogle makes are based on some fairly standard and familiar definitions. To clarify the distinguishing features, Bogle quotes Professor Bennis as follows: ‘The manager administers, the leader innovates’ … ‘The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust; the manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective; the manager accepts the status quo, the leader challenges it.’

Clearly the need for leadership is as strong if not stronger in IT as it is in the world of finance and business with which Bogle is primarily concerned.

These calls have been made consistently over a long period of time now by a large number of business gurus, life coaches and consultants, but still the landscape remains patchy in my experience. For every good piece of leadership, I see, where teams are given clear direction and empowered to operate effectively, I see examples of micro-management where managers are insistent on predetermining the activities, tasks and man-day estimates and then badgering the team to report their success in following this predetermined plan.

A great leader will possess qualities like passion, integrity, a take charge attitude and the ability to inspire others. Employers and executives recognise this, and these “born leaders” are often first in line for promotions to leadership roles.

But people with leadership potential have never simply become leaders overnight. To co-exist as a leader, existing leaders have a responsibility to train the next generation, showing them how to guide a group of people toward a specific vision or goal, which in this new digital era of automation, robot and in some exception non-verbal communication – a particularly difficult challenge to overcome.
The challenge is that we live in a world where never before has leadership been so necessary but where so often leaders seem to come up short. Our sense is that this is not really a problem of individuals; this is a problem of organisational structures, effectively those traditional pyramidal structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.

So here we are in a world of amazing complexity and complex organisations that just require too much from those few people up at the top. They do not always have the intellectual diversity, the bandwidth, the time to really make all these critical decisions. There is always a reason that, so often in organisations, change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive.

My thoughts are still that the dilemma is one of complex company organisation, it’s growth, as fast as the environment is changing, there are just not enough extraordinary leaders to go around, something that I have majored on with my new book “Meaningful Conversations“. Look at what we expect from a leader today. We expect somebody to be confident and yet humble. We expect them to be very strong in themselves but open to being influenced. We expect them to be amazingly prescient, with great foresight, but to be practical as well, to be extremely bold and also prudent.

So, can organisations develop real leaders that can make a difference to business and create value?

My belief is that emotional intelligence (EI) is going to be a huge key component of effective and developed leadership. The ability to be perceptively in tune with yourself and your emotions, as well as having sound situational awareness can be a powerful tool for leading a team. The act of knowing, understanding, and responding to emotions, overcoming stress in the moment, and being aware of how your words and actions affect others, is fundamental for growth. Emotional intelligence for leadership consists basically of these five attributes: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, relationship management, and effective communication.

The business world is evolving and changing at unprecedented speed in a very unconnected human world, emotions and our day to day communications are becoming a much more important aspect of working relationships. Having emotional intelligence increases your chances of being more accepted on teams and considered for leadership positions. It can also set you apart from the competition when seeking a new position or promotion.

Sharing information is critical, but it is substantially less than half the battle. You must communicate clearly about the organisation’s strategy, speed, direction, and results. But you cannot stop there. Verbally and nonverbally, the way in which you communicate – humbly, passionately, confidently – has more impact than the words you choose.

As a leader, you must inspire others through your words and actions. And before you speak, make sure you listen and observe; knowing your audience is as important as the message you’re delivering. Communication informs, persuades, guides, and assures, as well as inspires. You must be willing to reveal more of yourself, to let others see your soul. If you withdraw, you will undermine your effectiveness as a leader, and your followers may soon drift to the side lines.

In summary, clear communication is the most important key to a business leader’s success. So, to grow as a leader and manager, you must learn how to be an effective, compelling communicator. And if you want your company to succeed, you and your team have to master the art of clear communication together, as well. By using these and other strategies, you and your employees can reach new levels of leadership excellence.

Rick Pitino, once said:

“Technology is a compulsive and addictive way to live. Verbal communication cannot be lost because of a lack of skill. The ability to listen and learn is key to mastering the art of communication. If you don’t use your verbal skills and networking, it will disappear rapidly. Use technology wisely.”

Ever wondered why there is not an app for introspection?

On our journey towards self-knowledge, our first impulse is often to turn inward, introspect and self-reflect. We give great weight to our introspections. Most of us are confident that our perceptions of ourselves are more accurate than others’ perceptions of them.
Yet psychological research tells us that introspection is often a highly inaccurate source of self-knowledge. An over-reliance on introspection sometimes trips one up and potentially decreases one’s performance, reducing decision quality and even undermining self-insight.

A very good friend of mine said recently ‘have we lost introspection and values in today’s society’ – I paused to reflect the depth of this question, which is unusual especially when discussing such an interesting subject with my coffee and great company, but the facts are Millennial’s and the youth generation of society appear to be entirely an appendage of their smart phones. One study I read recently concluded that the average university student uses a smartphone for about nine hours each day.

According to research provided by CTIA in 2016, 2.27 trillion texts we sent globally and the US is responsible for 45% of the text traffic.
The take on smart phones is that you can customise them to give you exactly what you want. You are in charge. The trouble with this reasoning is that someone else is programming the apps you use; and those apps are programmed to get you to do certain things in certain ways that are generally to the advantage of the companies providing the apps and to advertisers. These apps may be useful to you, but they are certainly not your apps; they are not actually customised. And, they only offer the illusion of control.

Moreover, there is no app I know of designed to get you to stop looking at your smart phone and focus on the world around you or on your inner life. Some people listen to music or podcasts on their smart phones while they exercise, walk, drive, study, read, eat, or do practically anything. I’m all for listening to music and podcasts. But some of the activities listed above are actually great all by themselves.

Then there is the constant texting. Texting is very useful, I find, for telling people I’m running late to a meeting, inviting people to something at the last minute, coordinating family hordes on vacation and so forth. It is very apparent that humans prefer texting to face-to-face encounters. Millennials and youth have even characterised face-to-face conversation as a form of “aggression” – quite unbelievable!

If most people are going to shrink from having a human spirited in-person conversation with somebody else about a critical issue, how exactly are we going to move forward on the major challenges of our age? In order to address critical issues, one must do critical thinking. Where is the time for that when all one does is move from music selection, to podcast, to texting, to posting photos, to computer games, to email, back to music selection and so on? There’s never a dull moment with your smart phone. But are they really your moments in life?

One of my favourite quotes by Rabindranath Tagore, sends the message to us all when he said: “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

So much of our thinking is of necessity shaped by the mass media, it may be hard to imagine that the smart phone could really be the main reason for our inability to think our own thoughts.

Many writers have a high level of introspection which can explain an informal reflection process and a more formalised experimental approach to creativity, inner thoughts and creation.

It involves informally examining our own internal thoughts, feelings and beliefs. When we reflect on our thoughts, emotions, and memories and examine what they mean, we are engaging in introspection.

The term introspection is also used to describe a research technique that was first developed by psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. Also known as experimental self-observation, Wundt’s technique involved training people to carefully and objectively as possible analyze the content of their own thoughts.

Still, throughout our daily lives, we are constantly observing and analysing.

Whether it’s an important document for work or a confusing text from the opposite sex, we have successfully trained our brains to obtain data and examine it for deeper meaning or explanation.

While it has become second nature to think critically, the ironic part is we often forget to apply this concept to ourselves.
Introspection involves examining one’s own thoughts, feelings and sensations in order to gain insight.

Being introspective is often a rare quality in young adults, and with good reason: slowing down and taking a breather from our crazy lives is not always the easiest thing to do.

In a society fixated on fast-paced environments and a “go, go, go” mentality, it’s difficult to find the time to sit down and reflect. However, setting aside a small portion of your day for self-examination can be a lot more helpful than you might expect.

Here are seven ways introspection can be a positive tool in your daily life:
1. It allows you to notice negative patterns in our life.
2. It keeps you focused on the bigger picture.
3. It prevents you from worrying about things out of your control.
4. It helps you face your fears.
5. It allows you to clearly define happiness on your own terms.
6. It allows you to make decisions based on your conscience.
7. You will finally get different results.

When we continuously go through our lives the same way, we inevitably block the chance of changing things for the better.

By becoming more self-aware, we are able to have a better understanding of what we truly want in life. Naturally, this involves making changes, whether they’re significant or menial.

Of course, nobody likes change. It’s uncomfortable and scary, and we seek comfort in what we know.

While trying to decipher the reasons behind certain behavior often leads to confabulation, focusing on our immediate emotional reactions instead may serve us better in our quest for self-knowledge, as they are often a more direct reflection of actual attitudes. In the process, we should also be open to inconsistencies between our gut feelings and our preconceived, and seemingly rational, notions.

In the end, a single observer with only a few faulty tools in your toolkit will produce dubious data. We need to go beyond introspection, and expand our toolkit towards self-knowledge.

As Caroline Knapp once said:

“By definition, memoir demands a certain degree of introspection and self-disclosure: In order to fully engage a reader, the narrator has to make herself known, has to allow her own self-awareness to inform the events she describes.”