Last night, prompted by a mixture of curiosity and vanity, I did this BBC musicality test. The test and this accompanying piece are eager to kill some of the myths that infest our social attitudes to music. Far too many people still see “musicality” in, if you’ll forgive me, almost Calvinistic terms: you have the Elect (sprinkled with the fairy dust of talent) and the Damned (a.k.a. the tone-deaf). In reality there are many measures of musicality besides the ability to “hold a tune”, and the BBC study tests awareness of genre and sensitivity to rhythm, as well as asking participants to fill out a long questionnaire.
Anyway, at the end of all this my scores were reassuringly high, but I scored worryingly low on “emotional connection” to music. The questionnaire had asked if I often used music to motivate or relax me, or if music often evoked memories of people or places for me – and my answers were lukewarm. However. At the risk of sounding defensive, I quibble with the conclusion that this makes me less emotionally connected to music.
Music does motivate me and it does relax me, but that’s not, in general, why I listen to it. It’s a useful side-effect of the fact that I listen to music for its own sake. I know plenty of people who use music to motivate themselves, for instance while doing exercise, and in some cases they couldn’t care less what the music is, as long as the mood and the BPM fit the bill. For relaxation purposes, similarly, any old whale-song will do. But for me, it does music a disservice to treat it as a means to an end – a substitute for Red Bull or bubble bath.
By the same token, I am perfectly capable of being moved and transported by music, but don’t necessarily associate its emotional wrench with a particular event in my own life. Music can be sad without being sad about anything.