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What are some of the ways people have used music to communicate?

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Quick Answer

Music, along with dance, can effectively communicate a shared experience of joy, sadness, romance or patriotism and serves as a powerful means of affecting emotion. A recent study conducted by Dartmouth researchers points to this being a universal and cross-cultural trait. Prior to the Civil War, American slaves relied upon field songs to lift their spirits during their difficult work and to also communicate coded messages.

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The beginnings of music as a form of communication can be traced back to the first shamans who used their songs to request spiritual intervention or predict the future. Shamans also used their power songs to induce a trance or heal the sick.

By varying the pitch of talking drums, such as the portable dun dun, African tribes were able to communicate entire narratives. Larger drums made from hollowed-out logs, called slit gongs, were the basis of an elaborate long-range communication system.

Music played an important role in forging a sense of unity and determination as armies marched into battle. In the earlier days of warfare before radio was invented, drums were used to signal battlefield commands. The musical sounds accompanying advancing armies were also intended to terrify their enemies.

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