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Music is hard to define, but its benefits are easy to see

I bet you listen to music. Not everyone does, but a good percentage of the population enjoys it in some form. Music is one of the rare things we all have in common. We listen to it when we're sad or happy or bored. We listen to our favorite songs to make it through a tough day. There are hundreds of types of genres -- something for everyone. Music is almost impossible to define, but we all know what it is. We don't always appreciate how much music impacts us. A song will inspire us, a band will change the way we dress for a year, and a concert can change our lives. Perhaps if we stop and listen, we'll realize how much music means to us.

Contradicting my earlier statement that music cannot be defined, let's try to define it. The Official Webster's Collegiate Dictionary definition is: "The art or science of ordering tones or sounds on succession, in combination, and in temporal relationship to produce a composition having unity and continuity." When I asked friends and family for their definition, I got a better sense of how most people see music.

One of the best definitions I received was from a classmate. She said: "Music is an expression of the soul, a way to show feelings and express yourself. Music is a way to connect, it allows us to communicate with others regardless of language or nationality. Music is something that moves us all."

A family member explained it in a slightly more scientific way: "Music is the combination of human emotion and experience combined with mathematics and science."

I think we can all agree that music isn't something easily defined or formulated because it has such an emotional quality. However, music does have its own math and formula to it. The number of spaces in intervals and the amount of beats in a measure are important in the construction of a song. Music is also made up of the science of sound waves and acoustics. Then why do we think of imagination and soulfulness when we think of music and musicians? I think it's because music, like any other art form, provides a glimpse into the essence of humanity, or, simply, it helps us understand each other.

Music and art are usually seen as luxuries rather than needs. But what if we do need music? What would happen if we lost it? Music unifies us.

We identify with people who like the same music, and it creates a common bond. Lifelong friendships can be made from sharing a love of the same artists and genres. Often, musicians create communities like the high school band or orchestra. Kids who feel isolated because they don't do well in sports or academics can turn to playing an instrument as an outlet. Music has given many a sense of purpose and direction in their lives.

Musicians also can hold concerts and events for charities. U2 is famous for doing so, helping third-world communities struck by natural disasters.

Music can also provide a chance for escape. It could be argued this is not necessary, but what would you do if you had no relief from the stress and strain of everyday life? Of course you can't hide from your problems, but taking time to listen and relax to your favorite song can be revitalizing.

Playing an instrument also can be beneficial. Instead of watching two hours of a reality TV show, you can learn a new song. You can join the band or orchestra in your school or a music group out of school. If you feel like it's too late to participate in school music programs, you can always pick up an instrument on your own. It's easy to learn the basics on guitar and piano and then start branching out. Playing an instrument improves finger dexterity in most cases, and gives you a sense of rhythm. Playing guitar has given me a sense of rhythm and improved my ear for music. Now I can count how many measures of four there are in the chorus of a favorite song.

After you learn one instrument, it's easier to pick up another, especially if you can read music. If you have the proper technology, you can put songs together by layering different parts you've played earlier. However, there's no substitute for playing with other people. Starting a band can be hard, but if you can find people who all get along it's fun.

As hard as we try, I don't think we'll ever be able to define music. It's intangible, it moves, it stirs something inside of us. It propels us to greatness. It makes a friend out of a stranger. It gives a community culture and a teenager an identity. Maybe music isn't just enjoyable and exciting, maybe it is necessary.

If life were a movie, music would be the continuous soundtrack playing in the background.


Emily Coleman is a sophomore at Frontier High School.

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