Monday, June 29, 2009

More than One Way to Soothe the Savage Beast

One of my loyal readers, a professional music therapist, wonders why not everyone can express or sense emotions well through music.

Music is a very special way of expressing emotions - that's why we have music therapists, among other specialists. Some people can much better learn to communicate with the world and handle their own feelings through music than through, say, explaining things or exercising. In fact, there's a specific part of the brain - the temporal lobes - which handles music. (It also works with memory, which may help explain why putting things to music can help people remember them better. It also explains why so many ads have those annoying jingles that re-appear in our minds at the most annoying times.)

By definition, Aspies' and autists' brains work very differently from NTs'. And that's especially true for communications - we don't get our points across, or understand other people, quite the same way that NTs do. For example, we tend to have great difficulty using hints and euphemisms or understanding them when others use them. In fact, sometimes people call us "tone-deaf" in that regard.

That's a good metaphor. Music is another way of communicating, which some but not all Aspies use well. (In fact, my experience is that some Aspies excel in the arts and others in math and science. I'm one of the latter. I haven't taken a single art course since junior high school, because starting in high school art was purely optional.)

I can "tease out" the meaning of, say, an official form or a set of numbers a heckuva lot better than of a song. Among other things, that's why I do Emily's and my income taxes and I keep an eye on our finances. On the other hand, if our pay stubs were set to music and burned on DVDs, and if I had to submit our tax returns via music video (on YouTube maybe?), things would be more difficult.

Trust me, we've got emotions just like everyone else. We tend to express and understand them in our own ways.

What do you think?


Roia said...

Thank you, Jeff, for trying to help me understand your musical (or not, as it were) perspective.

As I'm thinking about what you've written, I'm wondering if it's possible that you're perceiving music therapy to be a matter of "knowing how to play music" (or learning to do so).

Another thought that crossed my mind was the fact that it took a long time for the group I described (for most of my clients actually) to even be comfortable being really listened to, let *alone* finding ways to be musical.

Admittedly, many of the sounds produced in our sessions would not be considered aesthetically pleasing or even musical. But that's because our aim isn't to play beautiful music, rather it is to harness the elements of music (the rhythm, melody, pulse, timbre, and such) to build connections and to have another way to be heard.

I do, either way, like your "tone deaf" metaphor. It certainly describes one of my friends quite well (although she is not, in fact, musically tone deaf).

It is interesting that there are so many connections between math and music (I'm thinking just in terms of discerning patterns) and yet it sounds as if music is rather confounding to you.

Thank you again. The time and effort you've taken to answer my question is much appreciated!
Be well,

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello Roia,

First off, my congratulations to your clients for having struggled and achieved so much.

Please understand - I'm not talking about music therapy, particularly as you have described it, but rather about music as played and heard by most people.

Music and math probably have many things in common. They're also different in many ways, including the fact that the former is often if not usually used for transmitting emotion and the latter rarely if ever is, and the former uses hearing while the latter most often uses sight and reading.

(Like many Aspies, I am predominantly visual. For example, Emily has learned that her requests are much more likely to get the desired response from me if she emails them to me or otherwise writes them down.)

What do you think, Roia?

Jeff Deutsch