Time Travel (in Music)

Time travel exists.

Well, not physical time travel, but within our heads called mental time travel. It is the combination of our abilities to remember past events and anticipate future events. Without it, according to author Dan Falk, “…there would be no planning, no building, no culture; without an imagined picture of the future, our civilization would not exist”.

There wouldn’t be any music either.

When a composer is writing a Sonata, for instance, she knows that there has to be a return to the main theme in the home key: the recapitulation. The development, before the recapitulation, is written with mental time traveling in mind: a remembering of past events in motifs and an anticipating of the future in finding a way to get lost and yet get back to the home key and main theme.

Performers use mental time travel as well. A musician remembers past events in all the practiced choreography and musicality needed for a piece and anticipates future events in visualizing the parts coming up in a piece as its being performed or imagining how the concert next week will go.

Mental time travel helps us navigate and manage the past, future, and present in music.


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