Why Do We Play?

why do we play

By Nicole Douglas, owner of Nicole Douglas Music Studio

Reasons why we dream can help us discover the reasons why we play

I love hearing people tell their stories--“aha” moments, the ups and downs of life, the latest and greatest thing they’ve discovered. Because at the heart of all of that is a story about learning. And learning is meant to be shared.

So it’s no surprise I love TED talks. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and as stated on their site, “TED is a nonprofit [organization] devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks.” As the organization grew, categories were created for specific groups. One of those subsets created was TED-Ed, which is geared towards educators. TED talks have now morphed into podcasts, books, and articles and are reaching a huge audience around the world.

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Back in January 2016, Lisa LaBracio of the TED-Ed Blog, wrote an article about Amy Adkins TED talk called, “Why do we dream?” As I read this article, it struck me how much the given reasons aligned with my reasons for playing my instrument.

I play to fulfill my wishes.

This is one of the most fun reasons to play. I can pretend I am a concert pianist on a huge stage. Or I can pretend I’m Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys playing on top of a mountain or in the Amazon Rainforest. None of those things will happen in real life, but I sure have fun pretending.

I play to remember.

Music creates powerful memories. I remember singing with my dad. I remember performing with my college acapella group. I remember listening to an amazing, world-famous pianist on a historic stage. As I play and sing, I remember and relive those experiences.

I play to forget.

Sometimes life is really hard and I play to get a break from it all. Need I say more?

I play to keep my brain working.

The more I read about neuroscience and what happens in the brain while listening to music and also while performing music, the more I am amazed at the brain’s power. The more we use our brain in new amazing ways, the more neurons are fired. The more neurons fired, the better our memory. Playing music, whether by reading music or improvising on the spot, is a multi-sensory experience that definitely keeps our brains active.

I play to rehearse.

This might be the first reason we think of when we’re asked, “Why do we play?” Because we will perform at some point, we must rehearse performing. Role-playing and rehearsing have been shown to help us keep our cool when we are under pressure. And how we practice determines the kind of performance we are capable of.

I play to solve problems.

I love math. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it, but I still find it satisfying to see a problem, figure out what strategy to apply, and then solve the problem. It’s neat and tidy--usually. (Okay, I know there are lots of areas of math where this doesn’t apply, but stick with me.) Music is no different! If we are stuck in a certain passage, finding the solution lies in identifying the problem and applying the strategies our teachers teach us. And apart from solving musical problems, I also believe music can solve a lot of other problems in this world, too.

I play to heal.

“Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch.” – Debasish Mridha

Healing the soul is a very personal thing. And it’s not easy to explain because it happens through the language of music. You have to experience it to know what it feels like. And how it feels is different for each person. But the healing is real. Most often it heals me. But sometimes I get to witness it heal someone listening to me play. And that is sacred ground.

Going through each of these reasons helps me reconnect with my purpose for playing. I find when I connect back to that greater purpose, that bigger picture, I feel a renewed connection to myself, to my instrument, and to the world.

I play to dream. And I dream to play.