My training in classical Indian music helped me to become better at focused listening and recognizing the importance of teamwork in medicine.
When I started medical school, I had trained for 14 years in vocal and instrumental Indian classical music. Here are a few ways this has helped me care for patients.
Focused intentional listening
Studying music, I learned to listen purposefully with undivided attention to the musical phrases my teacher played. I listened to the pace, rhythm, ornamentation, and plucking techniques on his right-hand fingertips. All at once. This helped me become better at listening with an open and fully present mind.
The fundamental concept in classical Indian music is the element of melody called raga. There are hundreds of ragas, classified based on the emotion the piece evokes. Caring for patients involves understanding their state of mind and forming a bond with them as they experience a variety of emotions during their journey with illness. Understanding human emotions as a physician also helps you create soulful music, as they are both delicate and intricate.
I listened to and learned from the different styles of classical music, attended concerts, and explored different styles. In evidence-based medicine, we read the latest research articles, attend conferences, and constantly learn and keep ourselves updated.
Sharing: performances and publications
Music festivals and competitive fine arts platforms were an opportunity to share my music. In medicine, conferences encourage us to share our own learnings with others. In both worlds, feedback from experts helps improve my work.
Saraswati Veena concerts usually have two accompanying rhythm-based instrumentalists; performing together is all about learning from and supporting each other. Medicine is always about teamwork! In academic medicine, I’ve learned tremendously from collaborating with biostatisticians, pathologists, and radiologists, with each specialist bringing their unique perspective.
Classical Indian music provides lots of space for the artist to improvise throughout a composition. My teacher insisted on not memorizing the musical phrases; instead, it should be spontaneous and organic. Sometimes in patient care, we have to improvise.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.