About Music and Movement

“Rhythm is everywhere and it’s integral to our existence. Rhythm runs through everything – talking, writing, cycling, skiing, football, song, dance. Music is obviously rhythmic. There is no life without rhythm.” (Jon Roar Bjørkvold, University of Oslo, Norway)

In the video When the Moment Sings. The Muse Within, Jon Roar Bjørkvold, a Professor of Musicology and pioneer in researching the spontaneous singing and play of children, states that “man himself sets the creative string of rhythm vibrating.” When was our first experience with rhythm, a defining characteristic of music? In the womb with the sound of the mother’s heartbeat! What happened afterward?

As children, did we continue to regularly experience rhythm, and music? Depends on the broader and family culture! Did school-learning experiences shape our (and all children’s] responses to rhythm, music, and movement? Yes definitely, because a strong message in schools is that of disciplined sitting still without external movement. Additionally, in response to the politics of current standardized testing, the trend now in American schools is reduction and even downright elimination of programs which promote music and movement. One might even propose that they teach some children to ignore or negate their own unique inner rhythms.

Does living in intellectually oriented book-based cultures weaken the sense of rhythm of the people of these cultures? Some suggest that connection with music and movement is being broken in intellectual western cultures which give strong emphasis to sitting still and immersion in book reading. We might make a similar argument about living in the contemporary digital culture in which the typical posture is fast becoming that of fixation with looking downward at a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Jon Roar Bjørkvold was bold in stating that “We are trained into roles so that as adults we have no creative pulse. It happens so slowly and carefully; maybe we are even proud to have achieved this control – without feeling the need to relate thought to body movements.”

Is rhythm being lost in modern western society which fragments and compartmentalizes aspects of existence? “Sound and rhythm, the dance in us - is drastically neglected”: Jon Roar Bjørkvold is among those who would say yes! He is not alone in this viewpoint. John Collins, a musician, music philosopher and researcher in Ghana, thinks that Europeans have lost the sense of music being an integral part of everyday life. Instead, the role of music has become one only of entertainment, something experienced at a specific event at a particular time.

Music – a form of movement. Music itself involves sequences of invisible vibrations in the air that we hear, which we call sounds, and though defining it is culturally driven, music is a universal phenomenon. For some music is a special sort of organized sounds different from something else called noise or non-music. For others music is an experience of anything one listens to with the intention of listening to music. Another form of movement – brain and neural action – takes place during musical activity. Different regions of the brain engage, depending on whether one listens to instrumental or lyrics, recognizes, marks rhythm, reads a score or performs for others, whilst also having an emotional experience with the music.

Music is not just something we hear. Music is part of our inner life which we can draw on it whenever we wish - should we choose to seek, listen to, and sing with it. Dr. Daniel Levintin, a neuroscientist, musician, author, and Professor of Psychology, Behavioural Neuroscience, and Music at McGill University in Canada, argues that “Music is not simply a distraction or a pastime, but a core element of our identity as a species, an activity that paved the way for more complex behaviors such as language, large-scale cooperative undertakings, and the passing down of important information from one generation to the next. (in The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature).

Rhythm and music might not contribute tidily to modern day notions of efficiency prioritizing achievement, destinations, and maximums. Can we shift our viewpoint on the importance of efficiency as we define it, or define efficiency in a new way? What would life be like if instead of the mantras “I work at/I am a …, so I am important” and “I think, therefore I am,” we shift to new mantras, “I move, therefore I am” or “I dance, therefore I live” (as is said in Africa) or “I sing, therefore I exist”?

What would happen if:

  1. we allow music and movement to be at the heart of our existence?
  2. we each seek our unique pulse and acknowledge the vitality of the rhythmic movement emerging from thisunique pulse?
  3. we move from our unique rhythm as we walk and partake in other essential life actions and movements?
  4. we find value and wonder and joy in the connected world of movement and music?

There should be no separation of music, and thus movement, from normal life. Rhythm gives pleasure to the person listening to and engaging in the rhythmic movement.


  1. When the Moment Sings. The Muse Within -With Africa as a Mirror (excellent 31:42 minute video produced in 1996 about rhythm being everywhere and integral to existence. It poses the question, Is rhythm being lost in modern society?)
  2. La Milonga Interna – A Tango Fairytale (1:46 minute video about tango as a walking dance and a natural dance that relates to everyday movements, and also points out that dance as movement is a way to explore the meaning of music)
  3. Cover Story/Roots of Music. It’s Just an Illusion (article in The New Scientist, 23 Feb. 2008)
  4. Music on the Brain (article in TIME Magazine, May 28, 2000)
  5. Why Music Moves Us (article in Nature, 8 April 2010)
  6. Finding the Right Balance (Sunday Review Opinion article in The New York Times, 6 June 2015. Not an article about tango, but dancing tango is a movement-music activity in which finding the right balance is essential, and Katherine enjoys dancing Argentinean tango. Dancing tango could fit the ideas reported in this article - “a more integrated approach for … exercising in a way that taxes your coordination, agility and balance, and rewires your brain … to enhance cognitive performance. and [promotes] novelty and unpredictability, rather than repetition, that are essential to keep your brain engaged.)
  7. Dr. Daniel J. Levitin. Neuroscientist Musician Author (website)

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