Author: Imen Maaroufi
“Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”
Music moves us: we have all heard or said this ourselves. People also encounter, at least once in a lifetime, someone who appears to “have rhythm” and others who seem to have no rhythm. Some might argue that specific movements attributed to a specific, yet universal music genre demand a specific rhythm, which could lead us to reject the hypothesis of the subjectivity of rhythm. To clarify this, a person is either a good Salsa dancer or not; that itself is a perception drawn by cognitive processes.
Despite its significance in universal expressions of emotions, the music-movement relationship is poorly understood. The PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) has conducted research where they “presented an empirical method for testing whether music and movement share a common structure that affords equivalent and universal emotional expressions. A research team undertook two experiments, one in the United States and the other in an isolated tribal village in Cambodia. These experiments revealed three findings, which concluded that music and movement can express the same emotion, and that this common structure between music and movement was evident within and across cultures (PNAS). As stated earlier in this paper, music is not the only medium to express emotion, as human behavior also reveals unspoken words in movement. We perceive the power of singing in a choir and musical ensembles to be the equivalent, in the absence of sound, to the rhythm and harmony of a military march.
According to Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, facial expressions and other emotional movements are cross-culturally universal. This lends credence to the notion that both Music and Motion express emotion. The University of Oslo in Norway published Egil Haga’s Ph.D. thesis under the Department of Musicology, wherein he provided thoughtful insights on the correspondences between music and body movement4. Haga talks about the inclusion of rhythm when we talk about music and movement, and his research focused on the question of when we say that music and movement are similar to each other, what do we mean? Which features in music and movement are we referring to, and what is heard in music that is similar to what we see in a movement? Haga discovered many correspondences when music and movements were analyzed separately. Based on this and other research, both music and motion could prove impressive and valuable tools to create therapies.
When using therapies that are based on rhythmic motion and melody, we engage with cognitive issues. People with Parkinson’s Disease suffer Bradykinesia, or a slowness of movement which can lead to difficulties with simple daily activities in their lives. Progressing movement through rhythmic exercise increases patients’ focus and attention to coordinate motion and remember it later.5
4 Egil Haga, Correspondences between Music and Body Movement, Ph.D. Thesis
5 According to the Parkinson’s Foundation: 2018 Center Leadership Conference presentation