Music and the Mind
Aniruddh Patel, Ph.D. The Neurosciences Institute of the University of California
By Richard Burrows
This hour long video is part of University of California Television, which broadcasts on YouTube. Dr. Patel, a pioneer in the field of music neuroscience, presents a lecture entitled “Grey Matters: how the brain responds to music”.
Dr. Patel begins the lecture with some fundamental insights to the relationship of music and the brain. Music triggers the “pleasure zone” of the brain, the basal ganglia, which is responsible for rewards in response to eating and reproducing. Because these are imperative to our survival as a species, there is a driving force to examine why music is related to this area of the brain.
Dr. Patel states that music engages many brain functions such as: emotion, memory, learning and plasticity, attention, motor control, pattern recognition, imagery and many more. There is growing knowledge that music, no less than language, is a defining trait of our species. Music is universal to human beings.
Dr. Patel goes to on to compare human beings to songbirds. He states the difference in songbirds vs. human song resides in the intent. Songbirds use their voice purely for mating and courtship, whereas humans will use music for such things as soothing a baby, or simply for entertainment. Furthermore, music has gone under dramatic changes over time, whereas birdsong has remained the same as long as they have been documented.
For the remainder of the seminar, he looks at the diversity and commonality with music and language. To begin, he looks at linguistic and musical disorders. Aphasia is a disorder where people have the inability to understand words and string them together to form sentences. This disorder affects the fundamental rules of grammar. In music, there is a similar disorder called amusia. This disorder is the inability to perceive pitch, melody and/or rhythm. It is similar to aphasia as it affects the fundamental rules of music.
Dr. Patel continues by asking, “what can music teach us about the brain?, and what can brain science teach us about music?” He feels that language and music are similar because they are built on complex, meaningful sequences by combing basic units according to rules. This intrigues Dr. Patel to ask, “Does the brain use the same circuits to process grammar of music and language? And can you have amusia without aphasia, or aphasia without amusia?” The answer to these questions is yes. The ‘language areas’ of the brain are activated by music.
Neuroscience has a big interest in rhythm as this is a fundamental feature of music. Every culture has a relationship with rhythm through movement. This relationship is a unique human behaviour. He describes rhythm has having features that are anticipatory, robust (syncopation), flexible, cross modal, and auditory.
Dr. Patel shows a slide of where brain areas keep a beat. It is in the STG (superiour, temporal gyrus), l-inferiour frontal, and the putamen within the basal ganglia. The area that concerns the basal ganglia is of great interest, as this is the center for timing and control sequencing of movement.
Dr. Patel returns to the comparisons of humans and birds, and specifically talks about the parrot. He plays an example of a parrot that has learned to bob his head in time to a guitar player, and a clip that highlights a parrot’s ability to sing along with a Mozart opera.
Dr. Patel postulates, “perhaps a key brain structure involved in timing beats is also involved in motor control learning, and because of vocal learning, this same structure creates a strong connection between auditory input and motor output.” In other words, there is a tight relationship between music and movement.
To conclude his lecture, Dr.Patel opens up the floor to some questions and answers.
Again, I found this lecture very interesting. He gets a little deeper into the specifics of brain and music, but doesn’t go too technical, as to lose the average audience. His examples were very thought provoking and beneficial to further understand his discourse.
Once again, I find myself excited at the prospect of where music and neuroscience will lead us. Dr. Patel, as a pioneer in the field, has just begun to unravel the information on this topic. I am very intrigued by the notion of rhythm and the effects of the basal ganglia. My final paper will certainly benefit from this research. These findings, of the affects of beat within the brain, are fundamental in addressing issues with rhythm pedagogy. I am excited to go deeper into this research.
In regards to the parrot bobbing his head, Dr. Patel actually surveyed the audience to ask if they believed that the bird was actually moving in time. I don’t believe it was. I would posit that the bird is actually mimicking the movements of the guitar player creating the sounds. In the video clip, the camera goes back and forth from the guitar player to the parrot and never shows them in the same frame. I would guess that the parrot learned this movement in the same way they learned to sing, through mimic and repetition.
Overall, I feel this video is a great introduction to a brain class. It gives a through overview of the concepts, and could certainly be used as a framework for a course syllabus