Monday, November 10, 2008

Music and the Brain by Laurence O’Donnell
Posted by Justine


O’Donnell’s main idea in this article is to prove all of the many positives and negatives that music has on not only on humans but also animals and plants. He starts his essay by telling stories of how people like Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein were deeply influenced by music intellectually. When Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence he would play the violin to help him figure out the right wording for certain parts. As I’m sure we’ve all heard Albert Einstein did poorly in school and was even called stupid. Instead of taking him out of school Einstein’s parents bought him a violin at which he learned how to play quite well. He himself said that the reason he was so smart was because he played the violin and the way he figured out his problems and equations was by improvising on the violin. O'Donnell gives another example of how music helped an autistic boy who could not tie his shoes. He learned on the second try when the task of tying his shoes was put to a song. The rhythm helped organize this physical movement in time. O’Donnell suggests that rhythm is a very important aspect of music to study when looking at responses to music. Classical music and Baroque music causes the heart beat and pulse rate to relax to the beat of the music. Music of this period with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern activates the left and right brain hemispheres, which maximizes learning and retention of information. The key component of music that makes it beneficial is order. O’Donnell suggests that math is the key ingredient in Baroque and Classical period music, that is realized by the body and mind, which then performs better. One example of this is when King George I of England had problems with memory loss and stress management. King George had read from the bible the story of King Saul and that Saul had over came his problems by using special music. King George then asked Handel to write him some special music to help him in the same way that it helped Saul’s problems. From this came Handel’s “Water Music.” An Australian physician and psychiatrist named Dr. John Diamond found a direct link between muscle strength/weakness and music. He discovered that all of the muscles in the entire body go weak when subjected to the “stopped anapestic beat” of music from hard rock musicians. He also found that this music switches the symmetry between both hemispheres in the brain and is destroyed causing alarm in the body along with lessened work performance, learning and behaviour problems in children and a melancholy in adults. Shrill frequencies prove to also be harmful to the body. Bob Larson, a Christian minister and former rock musician, remembers that in the 70’s teens would bring raw eggs to a rock concert and put them on the front stage. The eggs would be hard-boiled by the music before the end of the concert and could then be eaten. Dr. Earl W. Flosdorf and Dr. Leslie A. Chambers showed that proteins in a liquid medium were coagulated when subjected to piercing high-pitched sounds. Many different people have tested the effects that music has on plants and animals, which has proven time and again that Classical music is much healthier for the organisms than rock or punk. O’Donnell concludes by stating that the top academic countries in the world: Hungary, Japan and the Netherlands, all place great emphasis on music education and participation in music. With all of its proof through the ages we simply cannot deny the power of music.


When I first started to read this article I thought that it was going to be quite straight forward with the same old ideas we always hear about. Yes, it does talk about all those well know ideas but I thought it was interesting to hear about all of the famous people who have used music to help them with their problems and such. Obviously music didn’t make Einstein smart but maybe it did give him the self-esteem he needed to get through school. I believe it probably helped him to become more creative and aided in his problem solving. All the best problem solvers I know are all very creative and love to solve problems because it livens up their minds. I believe self-esteem is a huge benefit of music making. Learning to play any instrument can be hugely rewarding for us because we are instantly creating something beautiful. I love the stories about how Jefferson used music to help with the declaration of independence, how Einstein used improvisation for problem solving and equations, and how King George I had special music written for him so he could relax and calm his brain. This intrigues me to actually listen carefully to Handel’s Water Music and to see the affects it has on me while studying or relaxing. I am very intrigued by how teachers have used music in the classroom to help improve learning time. Dr. George Lozanov who designed a way to teach foreign languages in a fraction of the normal learning time is just one of the many people who have used this technique for quicker learning. Using his system students could learn up to one half of the vocabulary and phrases for the whole school term in one day. He used baroque and classical pieces, which have around a 60 beats per minute pattern. So if this has been proven to work then why are we not forced to use these methods in our Canadian School system???? It has been effective time and time again and yet I have never heard or known anyone in the Ontario school system who have used this to help their students learn. The negative effects that music has on people is also another topic that has always interested me. Often I think how can any genre of music be harmful if people really like it? For instance punk and acid rock are apparently not healthy for our brains and can cause anger in some people, yet people who love this genre of music really love it and you could say it also makes them happy! Is it healthy for them but not for others who may not like it? I suppose this statement can be compared to the effects of alcohol or drugs. Sure, we like how they make us feel but they aren’t necessarily healthy for us. The most intriguing part of this article was the story of the teenagers who brought raw eggs to rock concerts and then were able to eat them after the concert was over because they were fully cooked from the shrill frequencies of the rock music. Is this actually possible? If so I want to try this. I am very sceptical of this experiment seeing as how you need to boil an egg in scorching hot water for at least 10 min to have it cooked. I also think the effects that music has on plants and animals is very interesting and I have no doubt that it affects them since it affects humans so much... then why not plants and animals.

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