The Gift of Music: Embracing Active Listening to Strengthen Human Connection

So I don’t claim to know much about music.  I don't play an instrument and I certainly don't sing (although I keep threatening to take vocal lessons with my girls’ teacher for pure personal enjoyment!).  What I do know is that I absolutely love music.  And I also know that it helps people.

Music is a powerful universal language.  People of different ages and cultures and backgrounds may gravitate to different genres, but music speaks to everyone.  Science proves what most of us already know: Music stimulates the release of dopamine in the reward centres of the brain, much like eating and sex.  I have seen it help patients manage stress as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Studies have shown that listening to music can boost the immune system, improve athletic performance, reduce pain, and even ease the symptoms of neurocognitive disorders such as Parkinson’s!

Secrets of a Happy Life: Making Music Part of Your Daily Routine

Most mornings, my son practices the piano for me before our family breakfast.  Given that he is prepping for his Grade 5 Royal Conservatory Exam, my ability to provide helpful instruction beyond "try that again" is relatively limited.  However, this is not why I listen.  The thirty minutes he spends making music are a true gift to us both.  I started practicing “with” him at a time when he was making motions to quit the piano altogether.  Like many kids, he was looking for more time to play and do sports, and I was struggling to convince him of my near total certainty that he would eventually come back to thank me if I prevented him from doing so.

Help Your Family Thrive: Better Listening to Better Connect with Your Children

Instead of engaging in a battle that could backfire and erode his desire to keep at the piano even more, I took a different approach.  I stopped telling him I knew what was right for him.  And I started listening.  Really listening.  Not just with half-an-ear while I talked on the phone, paid some bills and hollered at someone to take out the recycling.  But listening with my full attention.

Although I am not always present for the entire half-hour daily, I am mindful of actively listening to a portion of each practice session.  When I do open my mouth, I focus my comments on my appreciation of the music and how it impacts me and enriches my life.  Sometimes I let him know when a piece has really touched me – when it has given me a toothy grin, gripped my heart, or brought me to tears.  I have told him that his playing brings me joy and that it has helped me to be more aware of other basic human pleasures over the course of my day.

Create a Positive Home Environment: Turn a Power Struggle into a Win-Win

In the end, this strategy has turned a potential power struggle into a win-win situation.  My son’s playing is better than ever and I have been able to ease-up on the annoying nagging (trust me – I can nag like the best of them).  Beyond this, I have been reminded that music is a wonderful way to connect and ease tension.  Sometimes when I find my voice escalating with the kids, I turn on the music.  It certainly doesn’t always prevent me from yelling, but sometimes it is just enough of a mental time-out to allow me to regain a more balanced perspective and re-engage in a more positive way.