Exploring Music's Complexities

Music and the Development of the Humanistic Conscience

Role of Music in the Development of the Humanistic Consciousness

Lilly B. Gardner D.P.A and Daniel Kobialka, D.M.A.



Over the years we have had the opportunity to collaborate with educators, scientists, and Music Therapists who emphasize the need to incorporate teaching and learning strategies that integrate feelings, values and social studies along with knowledge. These humanistic models are based on the work of psychologists and educators such as Maslow (1970)(i), Rogers (1951)(ii), and Combs (1982)(iii). Freud’s Psychoanalyses Theory deals with personality and concludes, “Human behavior is motivated by inner unconscious fears, memories, and conflict (Feldman, 1988, p. 26)(iv) that may stem from early life experiences.” Social learning theorists also emphasize the acquisition of beliefs and attitudes, and behavior. These observations suggest it is important for the process to begin in a child’s developmental years.

As humans we are aware of the existence of a self and a personality that remains with us throughout our lives. How one views ones’ self determines how one will experience life. Being comfortable with how you see yourself in relation to others and to your surroundings becomes a source of strength and happiness. Through actions, thoughts, and feelings that are conducive to leading a productive life we are able to acquire a feeling of inner approval, of “rightness.” Faith in ourselves is the reality behind the word “I”(v). It is also what permits us to be able to be faithful to others because it is the result of our own observation and thinking.

Developing a Humanistic Conscience

Through the development of a humanistic conscience(vi) we are able to express our true selves because it is the essence of our moral experiences in life. Derived from principles or ideals that drive and/or guide behavior it becomes possible to demonstrate who you are and what you stand for. If you are unaware of, or become disconnected with your values, you end up making choices out of impulse, instant gratification, or by conforming. For Eric Fromm, the humanistic conscience preserves the knowledge of our aim in life and of the principles through which to attain it(vii). It represents those principles which one has discovered as well as those we have learned from others and which we have found to be true. For Fromm, the proudest statement a person can make is to be able to say he acted according to his conscience. He further states the more productively a person lives the stronger is the conscience and furthering of one’s productivity (self-actualization).

If the function of the conscience is to be the guardian of our true selves, it follows we should attempt to strengthen its effectiveness. One of the reasons the voice of our conscience is feeble may be the result of our refusal to listen and an ignorance of knowing how to listen.

Learning to understand the communications of our conscience is not easy. In order to listen to the voice of our conscience we need to be able to listen to ourselves. The inability to listen to that inner voice is more often than not, due to our inability to be alone with ourselves. In fact, there is a tendency for us to concentrate on being like everybody else rather than realizing our individuality. This tendency may exhibit itself in the period between adolescence and young adulthood when many teens develop a personal identity that results in a clear sense of self.

Music, like art, is a universal language and like art, it has the ability to transport you beyond your ordinary level of awareness. It has also been shown to lower hormone levels of cortisol and melatonin that, in turn, reduces stress and encourages sleep. Above and beyond its ability to awaken the senses, listening to music helps develop critical thinking, self-discipline and, spatial reasoning skills. For the listener the experience may alter the state of mind. For performers it provides a real-time feedback loop.

The  Connection Between Music and the Brain

Because of the strong connection between music and the brain, the process of getting to that place where you are alone with yourself is enhanced with selection of the “right” music. Just as with consciousness, music is fleeting, changeable, and always in motion. With the proper music you are able to lessen troublesome, negative thoughts and get your mind to a place that you want to be. Decide on the things you want as your goal.

Different types of music produce vastly differing effects. For us, music that is less than 75 beats per minute helps  clear our minds. Slow rhythms or constant beats produce a hypnotic affect allowing you to become relaxed. Certain musical instruments may offer another way to relax. This will be a personal choice.

Look for soft and uncomplicated music. Music written in a minor key may also aid in relaxation. The practice of self-inquiry begins with allowing the music to declutter the mind. This may take as long as 10 or 15 minutes. When the mind is fairly open (in the moment), ask yourself, “Who am I?” Discovering who you are requires you to look beyond thoughts that hide your true “I” and enable you to feel the timeless, silent, ever-present place of being. Don’t look for conceptual answers. Rather, let the question permeate the consciousness.

Thought should be given to early incorporation of music into a child’s daily activities. Regular listening to melodies such as Lullaby of the Ages, Angel’s Sleep, and Gift of Dreams(viii) can establish a bedtime ritual that creates a feeling of comfort between parent and child. As far back as 1989, Brown and Hendee emphasized the importance of developing an awareness of the impact of music on adolescent behavior(ix). They contend that music is a powerful medium in the lives of adolescents and produce conflicting values and that physicians should be aware of the role of music in their lives and use music preferences as clues to the emotional and mental health of adolescents.

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Taking advantage of the effect the music has in altering consciousness allows one to listen to the inner voice, intuition, subconscious mind (or whatever name is right for you), to strengthen consciousness. Once you know who you are it is possible to return to rest in the silent presence you know yourself to be. Here you will ultimately experience the peace and joy of true freedom.

Music expresses, in some way, the movement of the feelings that cling to the unconscious-processes… music represents the movement, development, and transformation of the motifs of the collective unconscious (Jung, 1973, p. 542 in Skar, 2002, p.632).



(i) Maslow, A. Motivation and personality (2nd Ed.). New York: Harper and Row.

(ii) Rogers, C. (1951). Client centered therapy: Its current practice, implications, and theory. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

(iii) Combs, A. A personal approach to teaching: Beliefs that make a difference. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

(iv) Feldman, R. (1998). Child development. Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice-Hall.

(v) Eric Fromm (1947). Man For Himself. Rinehart and Company, Incorporated, New York.

(vi) A humanistic conscience is the expression of our true selves. It constitutes an ability to know one’s self and to be able to love and accept one’s self as one is, knowing one can improve and develop. It also requires the ability to be honest with one’s self and be true to who you are and what you value.

(vii) There also is a requirement to take responsibility for choices and actions.

(viii) From Daniel Kobialka’s album entitled Lullaby available at www.wonderofsound.com.

(ix) Brown, E.F. & Hendee, W.R. Adolescents and their music. JAMA, 1989;262(12):1659-1663.


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