Saturday, November 15, 2008

The World in Six Songs

Sharon Dutton

On September 15, 2008, Dr. Daniel Levitin spoke to a full house at Walter Hall in the Edward Johnson Building, which houses the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. With him were eight singers, who performed selections that represented six ways that humans use music. Dr. Levitin’s book, “The world in Six Songs, How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature”, had just been published (by Dutton Adult, New York); Dr. Levitin was introducing the theories that he presents in his book – a justification for the evolutionary function of music.

He has classified Music as having six evolutionary functions: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love. Levitin claims that the human capacity or need to create song provides musicologists with a unique opportunity to study Music’s evolutionary function, based upon his argument that songs, particularly folk songs, are a more honest portrayal of human feelings than other art forms.

Dr. Levitin supports his claim that singing fosters friendship among people, with the argument that singing songs together causes the brain to release oxytocin, thereby creating feelings of trust and bonding. Humans are social beings, and friendship is crucial for the development of community (and safety). He suggests that The First Song was born impulsively, as an expression of joy, and notes that listening to music increases the level of dopamine in the human brain, a substance which causes us to feel good. When caregivers sing to babies, proactin is released in the baby’s brain, providing a sense of comfort. Caregivers would have taken advantage of this to induce sleep in children. Music, Dr. Levetin suggests, preceded Language, and therefore was used to share and communicate knowledge among humans. He claims that Music activates more primitive areas in the brain, and refers us to “The Singing Neanderthal”, by Stephen Mithen, published by Harvard University Press, 2007. Dr. Levitin claims that Music was important in the growth of Monotheism, which emphasized order. Music was used by the Church to create a sense of divine truth. Finally, because Music is meant to impart feelings, Music was used in expressions of romantic love, which, he claims, is unique to humans.


I enjoyed the presentation, particularly the vocal performances. While it is clear that several types of songs serve functional capacities, (worship music, lullabies and work songs for example), I do not agree with his vision of Music as serving an evolutionary purpose. It implies that Music needs an evolutionary reason to exist, that Music has affected the way in which humans have evolved, that in order to exist, Music must serve a practical function, one that contributes to our physical, cognitive, emotional, or social development. Such an assumption grossly undervalues Music’s existence as a natural, phenomenological expression of human spirituality. By spirituality, I mean that ability of humans to care, to trust, to love, and to be deeply moved by something.

I can understand how sharing songs fosters a sense of community; singing and dancing together generates spiritual bonding, and humans are social animals. Dr. Levitin alludes to the function or usefulness of work songs, creating synchrony and lending pleasure to an otherwise possibly unpleasant task; music in this sense is serving a function. Listening to or engaging in music making, causes our brains to release dopamine. Dopamine is thought to create a positive mood, and positive moods are more conducive to good health. Listening to music could thereby have beneficial mental and physical consequences. His argument in support of Music functioning as comfort is plausible; this may even have been the first discovery of music, but cooing to babies to help them sleep is not the same as singing. Music does help to convey knowledge as well; and he demonstrates this with “the alphabet song”. Also, many cultures tell their histories through song. This is different than using music as language. The story is told using words, music adds to the story by providing an emotional or spiritual component. Levitin claims that music preceded language (2006, p 256), but a clear distinction needs to be made between vocalizing and singing. House cats, for example, use many different inflections when they communicate, (rather, demand), but this is not singing. Animals use vocalizations, as much as we include inflections in our speech in order to impart meaning, but this is not Music. What Music does contribute, however, is the creation of mood, a form of emotional knowledge or communication. If music preceded language, as Dr. Levitin suggests, and if this is an evolutionary function of music, then why would speech have taken over as the preferred mode of communication?

Music is functional to religious experiences in many cultures, particularly our North American Aboriginal cultures. Dr. Levitin may be getting closer to Music’s existence in the spiritual realm by linking it to expressions of love, however, this is not the same as sexual selection. Levitin (2006) agrees with Darwin’s argument that music is conducive to sexual selection, but for different reasons. Darwin suggests that “musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex” (p 251), whereas Levitin agrees with Geoffrey Miller, that “music evolved and continues to function as a courtship display, mostly broadcast by young males to attract females” (p 253). Music exists in the spiritual realm as an expression of love, because Love exists in the spiritual realm. Music has always existed, as long as humans have had the capacity for emotive expression, perhaps before we had the capacity for speech.

I concede that while some practical forms of music assisted in our development as a social species, music itself does not need an evolutionary reason to exist, any more than Life, or Energy, or Love needs a reason to exist. To suggest as much, is to suggest that everything that we experience as spiritual exists because of selective evolution, which is to suggest that nothing exists except to advance us as a species, which is to suggest that the human species is or encapsulates all that there is in the universe, known or unknown, which is highly unlikely. Evolution, I thought, only pertained to species development. We generally think of ourselves as highly developed evolutionary beings, and we tend to think of Music as something that is created by us, and from within us. However, if we think of Music as a first cousin to that state of mind known as enlightened awareness, of bliss, if we acknowledge the mysterious element of Music that at once moves and serves every human being in a personal and private way, if we Westerners can acknowledge the mystery of spiritual communication, then Music becomes one with the Life Energy of which we are all a part. We all have the propensity for musical expression, whether it is manifested as a “happy dance”, the communal sharing of folk songs, or as listening to classical music. It is much more easily accessible than Nirvana, to be sure, but comes from the same source. Levitin states “the archaeological record shows an uninterrupted record of music making everywhere we find humans, and in every era” (256). My concern is how far we Westerners will suppress music, as a form of communion with our spiritual selves, and as a unique form of expressive communication between eachother. Aldous Huxley said: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music”.

So far, Music has survived, our evolutionary development, but, while adaptations take as much as fifty thousand years to be manifested (2006, p 256), Levitin warns that “it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. The embodied nature of music, the indivisibility of movement and sound, the anthropologist John Blacking writes, characterizes music across cultures and across times” (p 257). As Westerners do away with spirituality, and as music making moves from away from embodied expression to digital production, as our need to develop social communities is replaced by our fears, when the evolutionary “lag” finally catches up to 21st century human society, perhaps we will have discarded our ability to make music.


Levitin, Daniel J. (2006) This is Your Brain on Music, The Science of a Human Obsession, Plume, Penguin Group, New York

Friday, November 14, 2008

Being-in-the-World: Culture and Biology

Becker, Judith. "Being-in-the-world: Culture and Biology." In Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Judith Becker examines music and emotion, and music and trance, through a combination of cultural and biological perspectives. She develops a theory of trance based on emotion using neuroscience and biology as tools. In this chapter in particular, she redefines culture in a way that allows for a biological component.

In Part I, she rethinks perception. Music, especially through trance, can be subversive to the views that 1) there is a definable, objective world, and 2) that I am a single, bounded consciousness that rationally interacts with that world based on accurate perceptions of it. She outlines recent research suggesting that perception and cognition are embedded in embodied action, neither solely a production of the mind nor possessing pregiven properties alone. Repeated behaviour creates linkages between neuronal groupings which may be triggered in a mapped effect when 'perturbed' by a particular physical stimulus (such as a certain piece of music). These bundles of neurons are not hardwired, and so can be reworked based on further interactions with the environment. Dramatic reconnections of these groups during musical ritual can result in a different (and sometimes very extraordinary) perceptual experience of the world.

Part II is titled Biological Phenomenology, which suggests what Becker sets out to do in this section: to combine the study of subjective experience with its possible biological explanations. Objectivist studies of firing neurons are hard to reconcile with those of the phenomenological experiences of our everyday lives and a strict split has been maintained in this regard. Becker elaborates on studies that have bridged this gap, and constitutes consciousness as bodily and interactive. Perception is dependent on the properties of the individual and their chosen interaction with the world. "The environment emerges from the world through the actualization or the being of the organism" (119). Thus, musical events contain an element of self-recreation in the enactment of reality by participants. What's more, deeply personal and emotional musical experiences of trance are played out in the supra-individual domain. "There must be changes in the neurophysiology of the trancer for trancing to occur, but those changes are not attributable simply to the brain/body of a self-contained individual. They occur through the group processes of recurrent interactions between codefined individuals in a rhythmic domain of music that is intrinsically social, visibly embodied, and profoundly cognitive" (129). For Becker, the nature vs. culture dichotomy in music is dissolved by the view that each individual's biological and emotional interactions with performance are the locus of the evolution of music and trancing. She posits a new definition of culture: "Culture (redefined) can be understood as a supraindividual biological phenomenon, a transgenerational history of ongoing social structural couplings that become embodied in the individual and transmitted into the future through actions" (130).

I found this chapter informative and intriguing. It seemed to answer many questions that I've long entertained about the deep inter-individual dynamics that occur during group musicking. People often have the sense that they are somehow being shaped by and shaping others through their musical activities, creating a sense of community among participants. I am thrilled and relieved to see this most important aspect of music-making being talked about in academic settings, and without sacrificing the subjective intensity of the experience. Becker has a very powerful way of giving legitimacy to both phenomenological and biological understandings of music practice, especially for such an emotionally intimate experience as trancing. She apparently has a firm grounding in both realms that she deals with. I would be interested to know how this chapter (and the rest of the book) stand up to criticism from both ethnomusicological and scientific communities. I believe the book is quite highly acclaimed in ethnomusicology circles. The rest of the book is also highly relevant to music and brain; I intend to read much more and follow Becker's bibliography to other authors such as Maturana, Varela, Thompson, Rosch, Edelman, etc.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Savant Talent.

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Pring, Linda. Savant Talent. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, Volume 47, 2005. 500-503.

Summary: In this paper, Dr. Pring discusses talent and how it relates to people who are savants. In this article she also tries to explain how the talents of savants compare and differ from experts in the same fields. She acknowledges that it is difficult to define talent: is talent innate, or does it develop as a result of practice?

There is a discussion of the various talents of savants, as well as a discussion of intelligence, implicit learning, and the organization of knowledge. The conclusion is that a weak cognitive style – weak coherence-may predispose people to develop certain talents.

Dr. Pring begins by defining what a savant is, before discussing talents associated with savants: music, calendar and numerical calculation, language-related and art.

Cognitive theories of savant syndrome: Is talent merely a manifestation of obsessive practice? In part this may be true, but that does not account for the fact that savants display talent at an early age in the absence of any training.

Rote memory may also play a role in the abilities of a savant: With calendar abilities, this may play a role in that a key date may be learned and then calculations made from that.

As mentioned before, weak coherence may predispose some savants to develop astonishing abilities, in that it may also be an adaptive strategy.

Review and personal response: This article, although short, seems to invite the reader to find out more about the talents of savants. It also made me wonder how many brilliant people there are, who might be borderline savants, or suffer from autistic spectrum disorder. As Dr. Pring states: “Although weak coherence has been linked to thinking
style in physicists and engineers, as well as artists, the experimental evidence has generally been limited to comparing autistic individuals with and without talents…”

This article certainly made me think about “what is normal?” and “what really is talent?”

FIREWALKING:A Theory Based on Biofeedback and Variable Set Point

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

FIREWALKING:A Theory Based on Biofeedback and Variable Set Points by Yu-Wen Shaw

Summary: This is a paper that Yu-Wen Shaw wrote for a class at Bryn Mawr University in 2000. The author theorizes about why people can walk over a bed of hot coals successfully, i.e. not sustain any injuries. She puts forward two hypotheses: biofeedback and variable set points, focusing on the former.

Variable Set Points: The phenomenon of walking on hot coals can be explained by the various set points in our brains. In biology, most processes are governed by maintaining equilibrium. The various points of biological equilibrium can also be found in our own bodies: for example regulating body temperature in the hypothalamus, which varies amongst animals. This also explains why certain animals can survive winter temperatures, while humans may freeze in those same conditions, or why people tremble when they have a fever. A fever causes the body to re-establish lower and higher set points. Thus, perhaps it is possible for firewalkers to reset their body temperatures and not sustain injury.

Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a "a method for learned control of physiological responses of the body" Psychologists use biofeedback to help patients with anxiety, and it has also been applied in pain relief. Generally, people use instruments to monitor body behaviour: EMG for muscle tension, skin temperature, brainwaves (EEG) and respiration (breathing techniques). While these are sophisticate methods, it is thought that perhaps firewalkers developed their own way to combine biofeedback and variable feedback to empower themselves to walk on hot coals. Firewalkers need to be psychologically prepared to endure the heat and raise their internal thermal set point in order to tolerate the heat. Neurologically some input signals may be prevented from firing in the brain, hence not pain. This would also explain why some people feel more pain than others.

Review: I found this paper very interesting, but rather short, both in length and information. The points are set out clearly and logically, however I question the resources the author used. Most of the sources seemed to be internet-based and no longer active.

Personal Response: Having grown up in Durban, South Africa, where one would find a large population of Indians, I was aware of the spiritual practice of firewalking amongst the Hindu Indians. Recently, it occurred to me that perhaps there was something brain-related to this, i.e. the power of the mind (brain). A search online elicited numerous pages, but nothing particularly scholarly in nature, even in the medical databases.

I do believe in the power of the mind, constantly striving to improve it- - even though I probably never attempt to walk on hot coals. In addition to being a spiritual experience, I think firewalking can be viewed as a powerful example of the mind at work.

Feeling the Real World: Limbic Response to Music Depends on Related Content.

Reviewed by Liesel Deppe

Reference: Eldar, Eran and Ganor, Ori. Feeling the Real World: Limbic Response to Music Depends on Related Content. Cerebral Cortex, December 2007.

Summary: Emotions are frequently object-related – whether a person or an object in the world. However the following question has not yet been adequately answered: are the object and the emotional response to it processed in different parts of the brain, or does that part of the brain that processes emotion also process content (i.e. the object)?

The authors used fMRI to demonstrate their findings. In order to keep the variables to a minimum, test subjects were shown 12 short films, which are emotionally poor, but rich in real-world details. Then they listened to emotional music, which although rich in emotional content, lacks details on the concrete world. Finally, subjects were shown a neutral film (poor in emotionality, but rich in real-world details) while listening to emotional music, which is rich in emotion, but does not give details about the concrete world. The first two tests were done as controls, in order to determine where in the brain increased activity takes place, and as mentioned before, to limit the number of variables.

What did they find? Combining emotional music with a neutral film elicited increased activity in the amygdale, hippocampus and lateral pre-frontal regions. The emotional music on its own did not obtain the same increased activity in these parts of the brain.

What does this mean? Since the amygdala is the heart of the emotional brain, this study seems to demonstrate that the brain response to an emotional stimulus is enhanced when there is also a concrete world component. This means that real-world content is important in emotional processing.

Review and Response: The authors set put their methodology well and systematically enough for a lay person to understand. Due to my lack of knowledge, I cannot comment on the methodology itself, or whether they addressed all the possible variables.

I was particularly intrigued by the authors’ assertion that there is a possible neurological link between emotion and cognition (as in perceptual-association content) in the human mind. While humans and animals share the same basic emotions, those of humans seem to have become more sophisticated. They can no longer be seen as meaningless forces that rule human behaviour, but can be mitigated by our increased cognition. To me, this also means that while emotions are valid, we still have choice in modifying/ choosing our behaviour because, or in spite of our emotions.

"Sing the Syllables, Silly!"

Songs as an Aid for Language Acquisition

Daniel Schon, Maud Boyer, Sylvain Moreno, Mireille Besson, Esabelle Peretz, Regine Kolinsky
In Science Direct (2008) 106, 975-983

Review and Response by John Picone

As a long time lover of both music and language, I have recently become intrigued by the possible relationship between the two, specifically, what role music might play in linguistic development.
Previous research studies have shown that adults and infants can use the statistical properties of syllable sequences to extract words from continuous speech. They have also shown that a similar learning mechanism operates with music stimuli.
In this work we combined linguistic and musical information and we compared language learning based on speech sequences to language learning based on sung sequences. We hypothesized that, compared to speech sequences, a consistent mapping of linguistic and musical information would enhance learning. Results confirmed the hypothesis showing a strong learning facilitation of song compared to speech. Most importantly, the present results show that learning a new language, especially in the first learning phase wherein one needs to segment new words, may largely benefit of the motivational and structuring properties of music in song (p. 975).
Indeed, songs may contribute to language acquisition in several ways. First, the emotion aspects of a song may increase the level of arousal and attention. Second, from a perceptual point of view, the presence of pitch contours may enhance phonological discrimination, since syllable change is often accompanied by a change in pitch. Third, the consistent mapping of musical and linguistic structure may optimize the operation of learning mechanisms (p. 976).
The researchers point out that one of the first challenges in learning a new language is to segment speech into words. One becomes acutely aware of this challenge when learning a new language which at first sounds like an uninterrupted stream of meaningless sounds. While word units in print text are marked by a space between the words, the word boundaries in speech are not necessarily marked by consistent acoustical cues such as pauses. So, how is it that we learn these word boundaries?
We accomplish this by discerning, unconsciously, the transitional probability of syllable sequences. In essence, there is a statistical probability that some syllables will follow others in a word, while others will end or begin a word. For example, given the phonological sequence prettybaby, the transitional probability is greater from pre to ty than from ty to ba. Both adults and infants use these statistical properties of syllable sequences to extract word units from continuous speech.
Other studies have shown that this statistical learning ability is not only language related, but can also operate with non-linguistic stimuli such as tones. That is, a similar statistical learning mechanism operates for tone sequence segmentation. For the researchers, this raises the possibility that a common learning device may be involved for both language and music. Given this, the experiments conducted in this study compare learning based on spoken sequences to learning based on sung sequences.
The researchers conducted three experiments, the third being, perhaps, the most intriguing. Each experiment involved 26 native French speakers, a different group for each experiment. The participants in each experiment listened to a continuous stream of speech for a period of seven minutes. The choice of time is significant as the researchers determined that it would be impossible to learn the spoken word units in such a short period of time, but hypothesized that it would be possible to learn them when they were sung. This decision was informed by a previous study (Saffran, Newport, & Aslin, 1996) that determined that participants needed roughly 20 minutes to learn the word units of a spoken stream of speech.
The researchers created a language of six trisyllabic words: gimysy, mimosi, pogysi, pymiso, sipygy, sysipi. The participants listened, in random order, to 108 repetitions of each of the six words, with the only constraint of never repeating the same word twice in a row. The text was presented to the participants using a speech synthesizer. No acoustical cues were inserted at word boundaries resulting in a rather monotone and continuous stream of syllables. The participants were told to listen to the sounds carefully, but not to analyze them in any way.
To test how well the participants learned the word units of the new language, they were presented with pairs of words, one being a word from the new language and the other a part-word made up of syllables from the new language, but not configured as a word. The part-words were comprised either of the last syllable of a “real” word followed by the first two syllable of a word, or the last two syllables of a word followed by the first syllable of another word. In other words, the “marker” syllables – first and last of a word – were placed in an opposite position. The participants had to choose which of the two words was one of the six of the new language. Each participant was presented with 36 pairs of words.
The results of the first experiment showed that the participants’ level of performance was not significantly different from chance: 48% correct. After 7 minutes of exposure to the new language, they were unable to discriminate words from part-words.
The second experiment was identical to the first except that the syllables of the continuous stream were sung by the synthesizer rather than spoken. It is important to note that the testing phase of the experiment was also identical to the previous experiment in that the items were spoken not sung. The difference was that each syllable was associated to a distinct tone and therefore each word was always sung on the same melodic contour.
Correct choices in the testing phase rose to 64%. The researchers concluded that the simple addition of musical information allowed the participants to discriminate words from part-words.
In responding to how language learning may benefit from musical information, the study concludes the following:
First, a general increase in the level of arousal or attention might increase overall performance. Second, the presence of tonal and discrete pitch changes between syllables may enhance phonological boundaries and therefore increase phonological discrimination. Indeed, syllables may be distinguished not only on the basis of their phonetic properties, but also on the basis of pitch information, and may also benefit of the gestalt properties of pitch, especially of grouping. Third, the consistent mapping of linguistic and melodic boundaries may enhance global transitional probabilities, thereby increasing the efficacy of the statistical learning mechanism (p. 980).
The goal of the third variation of the experiment was to sort out which of these explanations best explains the effect of musical facilitation.
While, in the third experiment, the syllables were still sung, linguistic and musical boundaries no longer matched. More precisely, while the second and third syllables of each sung word had consistent pitches, the first syllable could be sung on six different pitches. The testing phase was identical to the previous two experiments using spoken items.
This allowed us to (1) keep arousal constant because music had exactly the same structure as in Experiment 2, and (2) preserve phonological boundaries enhancement, because each syllable was still sung on a precise pitch. However, by decorrelating linguistic and musical boundaries, we eliminated the superposition of linguistic and melodic transitional probabilities. If we were to find the same facilitation effect as in the second experiment, then the effect should be due to arousal/attention or boundary enhancement. By contrast, if the effect were to disappear, then it would mostly be due to superposition of transitional probabilities (p. 980).
The study concludes that the results of this third experiment were significantly different from chance: 56% correct. For the researchers, the implication is that arousal and/or boundary enhancement play a role in learning.
This is in line with previous results with babies showing that infant-directed speech increases infants’ attention to fluent speech and consequently to the statistical relationship between syllables (Thiessen, Hill, & Saffrran, 2005). Moreover, if we were to consider that music is akin to prosody, these results would be in line with previous findings showing that prosodic information is important for segmentation…. Another interesting finding is that our results seem to point to the fact that, in the presence of multiple statistical cues, linguistic statistical cues take precedence over musical statistical cues (p. 981).
The reasons offered for this last finding are that the participants were all adults and not musicians. They concede that different results might be found in musicians and infants for whom prosodic cues are not only relevant but can even be more important.
Overall, our results are clear in pointing to the fact that learning is optimal when the conditions for both the emotional/arousal and linguistic functions are fulfilled. Therefore, learning a foreign language, especially in the first learning phase wherein one needs to segment new words, may largely benefit from the motivational and structuring properties of music in song. Whether this learning gain will extend to language acquisition in infants would be interesting to explore in future work. Indeed, if it were the case, it would support the idea that lullabies and children’s songs may have not only an emotional (communicative and reassuring) function, but would also facilitate linguistic processing due to their simple and repetitive nature (p. 982).
Initially, this study seemed difficult to respond to. Then, considering the study’s findings about music and arousal, I popped a CD of The Hannaford Street Silver Band into the stereo to see if that would help.
First, I do not find the results of the third experiment – 56% correct – to be earth shattering. However, I will give the researchers the benefit of concluding that this is, indeed, significant. It is certainly markedly better than the result of the first experiment.
I must also comment that I thought having the third experiment was quite a responsible undertaking. Prosody in normal speech is, indeed, variable as are the melodic contours of infant-directed speech. It’s not likely that a baby will hear “Time for beddy-bye!” sung the same way all the time. I also have a new appreciation for “baby talk.” It was something I rather loathed when other people spoke to my own children when they were infants in this fashion. What I find intriguing in this regard is the fact that mothers and grandmothers seem to naturally speak to infants in this way. Are maternal brains hardwired – unbeknownst to them – to enhance linguistic development in babies by speaking to them with the exaggerated musical contours of baby talk? Is this another miracle of the brain? Thankfully, my own children didn’t suffer from the exposure of their father’s “adult” talk as I often sang to them, perched on my lap, while I played the piano.
The study points to the statistical probability of syllable placement as significant in learning spoken word units. One aspect of syllabification that the study did not explore was the role of accented syllables. To what degree does the statistical placement of accented syllables contribute to learning aural word segmentation? This also leads me to wonder where accented or stressed syllables come from? Why is it, for example, that French tends not to stress the first syllable, whereas the same word in English does, in fact, often stress the first syllable: Mi - chel’ becomes Mi’ - chael; o - range’ becomes o’ - range. Accented syllables are expressed in pitch contours. Would this make it more difficult for a native English speaker to learn French as opposed to German or another language whose accented syllable placement and attending pitch contours more closely mimic English?
I also wonder if spoken Italian, whose melodic contours are much more “musical” than English, would be an easier language to learn than a language less musical in its sound.
My final response to this study has to do with music and the apparent arousal of pleasure it causes thereby facilitating learning in general. As a secondary school teacher, I often hear complaints by parents that their children insist on doing their homework with music blaring in the background. Is this a distraction or does the arousal facilitate learning the geometry concepts that will be on tomorrow’s test?
I seriously wondered if playing music, as I reflected on this study, would increase the possibility of insights into it, questions about it. Truly, I think it did.
Perhaps I’ve discovered the “Brass Band Effect!”

Music Teachers and Music Therapists: helping children

Music Teachers and Music Therapists: Helping Children Together Author(s): Allyson Patterson Source: Music Educators Journal, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Mar., 2003), pp. 35-38 Published by: MENC: The National Association for Music Education Stable URL: Accessed: 11/11/2008 18:08

This article helps to clearly define music therapy and how it helps clients by using music and sound to improve their mental and physical health. The American Music Therapy Association defines it as “the prescribed use of music by a qualified person to effect positive changes in the physiological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals…”

The author devotes a lot of time discussing the difference between a music educator and a music therapist which most of us music specialists are aware of (educators teach/instruct on the activity of performing music and therapists use musical means to address disease or disorder in clients). Nevertheless, the distinction between the two is crucial.

Much like the article I mentioned in my other blog, music therapists use music as a tool to strengthen a functional area of a client’s life through “participation in musical experiences”. As in the other blog, this therapy uses cognitive rather than a physiological associations to music in order to build skills. It is not that they are exposed to music and suddenly they are cured; it is through performing and listening to music that clients associate the music to a function or skill.
Clients/students use songs to learn and retain information, and therapists address non-musical goals/needs through participation in musical activities. For example, clients may learn the process of tying a shoelace through the use of a song. It is also mentioned that students retained more information from music or song based sources than from regular speech-based sources. This resonated with me if only that I believe most of us can recall a nursery rhyme faster than we can recall what we had for breakfast.

Rhythm Builds Order in Brain-Damaged Children

Rhythm Builds Order in Brain-Damaged Children. Author(s): George A. Giacobbe Source: Music Educators Journal, Vol. 58, No. 8, Music in Special Education (Apr., 1972), pp. 40 -43 Published by: MENC: The National Association for Music Education Stable URL: Accessed: 11/11/2008 18:05

In this article, Giacobbe first offers a palette of definitions or what is considered a brain injury; from internal or biological disorders to injury caused by the individual’s environment, development, and traumatic brain injury, there is a wide range of disorders covered. Examples of what would be biological disorders would be distractibility disorders like ADHD and the like, or perseverative disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The author then devotes a section to explain the importance of rhythm for humans in an evolutionary sense. The rhythm between day and night, the seasons, tides, and migratory patterns of animals, among others are given to illustrate how we are physically governed and surrounded by rhythm. This helps to emphasize the point rhythm helps to give us a sense of order and structure. This is an important part of why those living with a disorder may improve some area of function by doing exercises using rhythm.

With regard to communication, Giacobbe mentions Goodglass’ study of aphasics. People who have lost the ability to speak, yet can sing a song. Roughly, the author of this study found that some aphasic people could communicate using songs – suggesting that problems in the brain regarding language can be solved by the area of the brain governing music.My experience in this area is such that I suffered a moderate brain injury while I was in Norway as an exchange student. I noticed that afterwards, I could not tell you the way home from school, but I would manage by following cues as they came up. At the time, I was playing drums in a rock band, and I had no trouble remembering the sequence of songs because like the walk home from school, there were cues I could follow along the way. However, I often forgot where I put the drums, etc.

Music, Cognition, Culture, and Evolution

Cross, Ian. "Music, Cognition, Culture, and Evolution." In Isabelle Peretz and Robert J. Zatorre, eds. The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

This chapter, in the book The Cognitivie Neuroscience of Music, attempts to negotiate the illusive tie between cultural and biological conceptions of music. Cross acknowledges that musical meanings, uses, and definitions vary drastically between cultures, to the extent that a universal, overarching cultural definition of music is unachievable. Furthermore, he admits the complication in attemps to reduce or even relate culture to biology. He does suggest that ties are there, however, when viewed through the lens of evolutionary theory. This theory provides a common framework from which to examine both cultural and biological musical worlds. The human capacity for musicality becomes the focus, and this competence is where Cross is more willing to make claims of universal human uniqueness. He allows space for multiple definitions of music while examining the evolutionary origins of musical capacity. Cross's three major points are:
1) music is a product of both biology and social interaction
2) music is necessary and integral to human development
3) music may have been highly influential in the evolution of the human mind

Cross includes a lengthy footnote early on that summarizes critical thought on the term 'nature' and the notion of 'natural kinds' as outlined by science. He shows that what seems naturally biological in fact varies in definition as much as music does culturally. Definitions have various levels and depend on the purposes for which those definitions are purported. Cross rightly insists that there is a societal dimension to what constitutes science, but at the same time that scientific procedures are able to offer valuable knowledge.

As an ethnomusicology student, any claim that music is a universal language sends chills up my spine. This may be mainly a matter of definition, but it is nonetheless an oversimplified and idealistic notion. The definition of music varies drastically from one culture to the next, and some cultures don't even have equivalent vocabulary for music as we see it. Music certainly doesn't communicate the same things to members of different cultures, and is used to serve very different functions within different societies. Thus, biological universals in relation to music raise a certain skepticism in my mind. Fortunately, Cross is sensitive to these problematics and makes many of the above points clear before investigating the links between culture and biology. It is a skillful and remedial distinction to focus on the human capacity for music, rather than on music itself. (Also from the point of view as a student in music research, I was happy to see many relevant and substantial names in the bibliography: Geertz, Tomlinson, Abbate, Slobin, Blacking, Merriam...)

The basic premise of this article makes me think of the grand nature-nurture, or more appropriately nature-culture, debate so frequently discussed in psychology. Historically, waves of thought swept academia that leaned to one or the other extreme. Recently, though, it has become more accepted that neither biology (nature) nor culture (nurture) are wholly responsible for psychological brain functioning. I am pleased to see this balance maintained in Cross's paper.

Point number three above is closely related to claims made by Daniel Levitin concerning the evolutionary shaping of the human mind through music. I find Cross's argument much more compelling, however, perhaps due to its more scholarly, rather than popular, setting. This is not 'evolutionary theory for dummies'. I can (and we all must) acknowledge the body behind music and recognize that in doing music, we are biological beings performing very physical acts. Linking culture to biology is very tricky business, however, and naturalizing culture has some potentially dangerous political implications. Nevertheless, almost every member of the community at large will insist that there is something universal about music. Cross tries to balance this sentiment with music's cultural particularity by linking culture and biology through the mind, which does not seem inappropriate. His focus on musical capacity including both production and understanding may be the loophole in the cultural specificity argument against biological universality.

Cross says on 46 that one of the main elements of music's universality is that music is inefficacious. It doesn't appear to have any immediate and evident efficacy. It can't be the material cause of anything. I feel like this can be soundly argued. Do comment on this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Slovak Hospital Plays Mozart to Babies to Ease Birth Trauma

Slovak Hospital Plays Mozart to Babies to Ease Birth Trauma
Or Mozart Makes You Stress Free

(posted by Michael Bellissimo)

At Kosica-Saca hospital in eastern Slovakia, new born babies are fitted with tiny head phones and are made to listen to Mozart in the first hours of life. This is not an attempt to produce super intelligent babies but rather a method of stimulating their mental and physical functions as revealed by music therapy that will reduce stress.
The birth trauma is "enormously stressful for the baby," said Slavka Viragová, the doctor in charge of the hospital's maternity unit, who launched the music project.
The claim is that Mozart helps the infant recall the mother when she is not with them. (this is not clear in the article so I have to assume the these mom’s were asked to listen to Mozart during pregnancy).
"In general, music therapy helps a baby to gain weight, get rid of stress and handle pain better.”
The hospital also uses this method to help premature infants with other health issues stabilize their breathing.
The infants listen 5-6 times a day and it is always a Mozart's classical works, a piano composition by French pianist Richard Clayderman, a mix of natural forest sounds or some other soothing music. Even the nurses can listen to Mozart to help relieve the stress of caring for 20-30 babies every day.
This has been deemed a very successful project for and many women travel long distances to participate.


The article reveals that this is not an experiment but rather a method for stress reduction and it “affects the baby in a very positive way." We should note that this is determined by their behaviour in the hospital as the article does not follow these infants after they leave the hospital. However, Mozart as a stress reducer is plausible. Could we say that Mozart’s music, the tempos, rhythms, perhaps even the sequence of notes have a kind of entrainment effect that calms the babies and reduces the stress in adults? I don’t know but other are taking this seriously in fact Weill Medical College of Cornell University has just finished a study on this and results are forth coming. Although the results from the Slovak hospital are anecdotal evidence has suggested that listening to Mozart may ease stress in newborn babies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Article 5-...Study of Jazz Improvisation, Article 6...comparison of the human corpus callosum in professional musicians and non-musicians..

University of Toronto
Course: MUS 2122H: Music and the Brain - Fall 2008
Instructor: Dr. Lee Bartel
Student: Maddie

Portfolio: reference, review, reflect and report.


Article 5:
Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation.
by Charles J. Limb and Allen R. Braun
PubMed Central, Journal, February 27, 2008
PLoS ONE 3(2): e1679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679

Article 6:
Morphometric comparison of the human corpus callosum in professional musicians and non-musicians by using in vivo magnetic resonance imaging.
by A. Hakan Ozturk, B. Tasçioglu, M. Aktekin, Z.Kurtoglu and I.Erden
American Journal of Neuroradiology, March 2002, 29(1):29-34


Overall objective:
Examine the central mechanisms that give rise to music performance.

Immediate objective:
· Investigate the neural substrates that underlie spontaneous musical performance of
professional jazz pianists as they improvised using functional MRI.
· Provide insights into the neural correlates of the creative process.

1. “Spontaneous musical improvisation would be associated with discrete changes in
prefrontal activity that provide a biological substrate for actions that are characterized by
creative self-expression in the absence of conscious self-monitoring.”
2. “Alterations in prefrontal cortical activity would be associated with top-down changes in
other systems, particularly sensory areas needed to organize the on-line execution of
musical ideas and behaviors, as well as limbic structures needed to regulate memory and
emotional tone.”

Limb and Braun monitored the neural activity of six (6) highly skilled professional jazz musicians as they played an over-learned musical sequence and then, a spontaneous musical performance (improvisation), on the piano. “Both used musical control tasks designed to engage the same sensorimotor circuits but to generate pre-determined, over-learned output.”


Spontaneous improvisation:
· Activations of the prefrontal cortex.
· Increased activity in some to the sensory areas involved.
· Widespread attenuation of activity in limbic and paralimbic regions.

Controlled task:
· Activations during improvisation were matched by deactivations during the control task,
and vice versa.


While spontaneously improvising, there is:

1. Activation of the prefrontal cortex.

The lateral portion of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the musician’s brain that monitors performance (goal-directed behaviours, self-censoring, focused attention and inhibition) shuts down. This gives rise to “defocused, free-floating attention that permits spontaneous unplanned associations, and sudden insights or realizations.” At the same time, the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the musician’s brain that organizes “self-initiated thoughts and behaviors, or self-expression, becomes highly activated.”

i. “This unique pattern may offer insights into cognitive dissociations that may be intrinsic to THE CREATIVE PROCESS: the innovative, internally motivated production of novel material that can apparently occur outside of conscious awareness and beyond volitional control.”
ii. “Creative intuition may operate when an attenuated DPFC no longer regulates the contents of consciousness, allowing unfiltered, unconscious, or random thoughts and sensations to emerge. Therefore rather than operating in accordance with conscious strategies and expectations, musical improvisation may be associated with behaviors that conform to rules implemented by the MPFC outside of conscious awareness.”
iii. “It has also been suggested that deactivation of the lateral prefrontal regions represents the primary physiologic change responsible for altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, meditation or even daydreaming. This is interesting in that jazz improvisation, as well as many other types of creative activity have been proposed to take place in an analogously altered state of mind.”

2. Increased activity in some to the sensory areas involved.

This might be explained by “their role in processing complex stimuli in the auditory modality. However, increases in other sensory areas as well may be explained by “the intriguing possibility that musical spontaneity is associated with a generalized intensification of activity in all sensory modalities… or may be associated with encoding and implementation of novel motor programs that characterize spontaneous improvisation.”

3. Widespread attenuation of activity in limbic and paralimbic regions.

The deactivation of the amygdale and hippocampus was observed during improvisation.
This may be “attributable to the positive emotional valence associated with improvisation” and also because “during perception of music, that is consonant or elicits intense pleasure, thus shuts off the limbic structures.”


“Determine the possible morphometrical difference of the corpus callosum between professional musicians and non-musicians by using vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”.

Brain morphology is prone to plastic changes caused by environmental factors.

The corpus callosum is a large structure of fibres that connects the brain’s two hemispheres. Its function is thought to be “interhemispheric integration and communication”. And while the brain’s structure tends to change during growth, development and aging processes, some also think that environmental factors can also change it. In this study, researchers verified if training before brain development is complete could change the growth and development of the corpus callosum, and compared its anterior and posterior areas.

· Subjects were 20 20-year old professional right-handed string players who all received
musical training under the age of 9.
· Subjects included 20 non-musicians who were never professionally interested in music.
· All subjects underwent an MRI.
· All the lengths and thicknesses of the anterior and posterior areas of the corpus callosum
were measured.

There were significant differences between the two groups, both for the anterior and posterior areas of the corpus callosum.

· Significant differences in the thickness of the corpus callosum were found when they were
compared between the two groups.
· No significant differences were found when the lengths of the corpus callosum were
compared between the two groups.
· Significant differences in the area were again found for both the anterior and posterior of
the corpus callosum.

· “There is a size difference in the midsagittal area of the anterior half of the corpus
callosum between controls and professional classical musicians with an early
commencement of musical training.”
· There are no significant results in the posterior part of the corpus callosum between
musicians and controls.
· During the development of the CC, intense stimulation of the auditory cortices of
professional musicians could also play an important role in the determination of callosal
fibre composition and size in the posterior part of the CC.
· Chronic stimulation of the auditory cortices can be effective and cause plastic changes as
an adaptive structural-functional process in the posterior half.
· The corpus callosum can be manipulated by continuous sensory and motor stimulation,
such as seen in musicians who start training in early ages.
· “The changes are defined as plastic changes which are supported by animal and human

“There is a large variation in callosal size in different groups yet the significance is still being debated. Some recent suggested that larger callosal might indicate a higher capacity for interhemispheric transfer. Yet there are still many questions to be answered to provide conclusive results. It seems that it is still a question whether there is a specialized cortical network or whether it is gained by intensive training in musicians, or both. Brain morphology is prone to plastic changes caused by environmental factors.”


Since listening to music has the potential to heighten our experiences, as it can elicit strong positive emotions, I have often wondered if there were even greater rewards for those who learn to make music?

After reading the first article, it became clear that, in fact, the experience can be greater, especially when one considers that while improvising, the parts of the musicians’ brains that monitor their performance (self-censoring and inhibition) shut down, while the sections that organize “self-initiated thoughts and behaviors”, or self-expression, are highly activated.

How great is it to be able to shut off the dominant left brain and its rationality and allow the creative, imaginative and intuitive right brain, which promotes the free flow of novel ideas, impulses and self expression, those self-initiated thoughts and behaviours which convey individuality, to take over. Finally, through the study of music, we have perhaps found a way to provide serious insight into the creative and the intuitive processes, which have long been deemed too elusive to measure.

Further reflection brought me to review what, in fact, a musician must do to improvise. I‘ve gleaned that improvising in music entails “having to follow the basic structure of a given song while, on the fly, generate a new melody that picks up on and plays off of the individual performances of the other instruments”, all the while not forgetting the other tasks such as feeling the keys and moving the fingers to precisely orchestrate the movement between the right- and left-hand sides of the body, which are comprised of thousands of muscle fibres in the body. I concluded that improvising is multi-tasking at the highest level and involves many brain functions from both the left and right hemispheres.

To shut off the mechanism that monitors one’s self, it would be necessary for musicians to avoid sending negative signals to the brain as the amygdale would surely engage the survival mechanism and initiate the process of scrutinizing itself. Of course, playing music is associated with being a pleasurable activity, which helps in the process of shutting down the amygdale; however, I believe many other factors have to be in check if one is to stay in this positive frame of mind. One must assume that those musicians who are chosen are completely confident in their talent to achieve the task at hand, so to remove from awareness any worries, fears or anxiety they may have about the improvisation. If one is overwhelmed by the task, one will retract.

To ensure a calm, positive and focused state of mind, I believe that these musicians fully master their instrument. They must also fully understand music’s rules and patterns, enabling them to focus not on the mechanics involved in playing the instrument, but on their listening skills and the experience of the improvisational performance itself. If they don’t, the mechanics can break their concentration and hold them back from totally abandoning themselves to the process.

Isn’t it fascinating how musicians haven’t even begun to play their instruments and already need to invest a great deal of their psychic energy, along with the appropriate skills, to ensure that they remain in the right frame of mind, which will then allow them to turn on their right brain, or the creative self, as noted in the article, and shut off the logical mind. Could it be that they completely focus on a desire to create an amazing piece of music, to leave no room in their minds for irrelevant information? Could investing all of their psychic energy in the fulfilment of this goal be the key to deactivating the prefrontal lobe?

Having been involved in the creative process, I know that the challenge in accomplishing something novel certainly engages one’s attention to its fullest and allows one to forget the self and plunge into the art of doing. Could this unusual investment of attention on the task at hand be enough to alter one’s state of mind? I have concluded that the desire to achieve something unexpected is once again another condition to keep the left hemisphere out of the picture. That is, anything that deals with desires, emotions, images, impressions and intuition is ignored by the left hemisphere and delegated to the right hemisphere.

Is it a combination of all the aforementioned conditions that activate the creative process? Perhaps. However, experience has taught me that even though all the right (appropriate) conditions are present, one can never predict with any certainty when and if the creative flow will occur. So, what exactly do musicians do differently that allow them to enter the creative process as soon as an improvisation begins? Could it be music’s rhythmic power, making it possible to access the creative process at will? Or is it the intense physical nature of music that truly makes the difference? Or is it both? After all, the article did mention that sensory areas were activated and the gyri, which are functionally related to the initiation of voluntary movement, were so activated. In fact, music is so intensely physical that it has been proven to so affect our physiology that it can raise our pulse-rate, alter our respiratory rate and skin response, increase muscular tone and thereby influence our emotions and moods.
In retrospect, it was interesting to note that by listening to and concentrating on the different patterns of rhythmic sounds produced by the other musicians to recognize the order underlying the work, there was a “broad increase in sensorimotor activity”. One’s mind begins to partake in an intense sensory experience. Perhaps this heightening of the sensory processing produced by the sound patterns is what initiates the process to “encode and implement novel motor programs”, as suggested by the article. It can also perhaps predispose musicians to reach deeper into self-identity, enabling them to retrieve images upon which to improvise.

And as one responds by providing spontaneous graceful rhythms and harmonies which find their way into the nervous system, given the occurrence of heightened sensory processing, feelings are soon evoked, giving rise to a complete right hemisphere experience. This state can be maintained, because intense feelings are said to give rise to a flow of images in one’s consciousness, images coming from a deeper level of consciousness, thereby allowing one’s expression to be released.

Could this mean that to access any type of creative state at will or to access it more efficiently, assuming the right conditions, some kind of kinaesthetic and rhythmic involvement is needed to help organize or modify our brain’s circuits? How interesting! I will definitely pursue this thought. Furthermore, could these findings also reveal that music is capable in helping us understand the rules by which the brain changes its organization?

The second article certainly points in that direction as the researchers concluded that the corpus callosum, which is responsible for connecting the two hemispheres into a unitary consciousness, is bigger in musicians than in non-musicians because “the brain morphology is prone to plastic changes caused by environmental factors”. We learn the important rule that the brain changes its organization by responding to a person’s life experiences. In this case, the corpus callosum has changed as a result of early musical training, which strengthened neural connections. The significance of a bigger corpus callosum, as this article reveals, “is still being debated”. However, until further research is available, if one adheres to the premise that “a larger callosal area might indicate a higher capacity for interhemispheric transfer”, one might say that since each hemisphere controls movements on the opposite side of the body, rapid communication between the hemispheres would certainly help for coordinating fingering, especially for complex musical pieces.

The findings of the study support that “brain morphology is prone to plastic changes caused by environmental factors.” The bigger corpus callosum developed in musicians is certainly a positive change in the anatomy of the brain, if it can improve motor control by speeding up communication between the hemispheres. How interesting is it that our brain has the ability to change, because it responds to circumstances and to new learning? And, how curious is it, that as we seek to understand the rules by which the brain changes its organization to control these changes, which in turn will enable us to find remedies or cures for what we feel are brain malfunctions or abnormalities, which cripple one’s existence, we learn that the brain has the ability to change its organization and adapt to our changing needs?

To make sense of it all, one must remember that perhaps our greatest challenge lies not only in learning how the brain changes its organization, but also in trying to identify what brain mechanism we want to reinforce. And, as noted in the article, it is best to begin to implement these brain mechanisms as early as possible when the brain is most responsive. With this in mind, I feel there is hope in creating entirely new cultures.

At the same time, knowing that much of our experience is not directly accessible to our own thoughts and reflections, the brain being set up to use many of our experiences without allowing them to gain access to our consciousness, it is quite clear that we also need to learn more on how our consciousness functions to gain better insight into how we can better shape our world. Thoughts?
Seven Ways Music Influences Mood
Located on PsyBlog
Posted by Justine


Saarikallio and Erkkila (2007) investigated the ways people use music to control and improve their mood by interviewing eight adolescents from Finland. The participants may be a small, very specific group, but they actually present a really useful list:
Entertainment - At the most fundamental level music provides stimulation. It lifts the mood before going out, it passes the time while doing the washing up, it accompanies travelling, reading and surfing the web.
Revival - Music revitalizes in the morning and calms in the evening.
Strong sensation - Music can provide deep, thrilling emotional experiences, particularly while performing.
Diversion - Music distracts the mind from unpleasant thoughts, which can easily fill the silence.
Discharge - Music matching deep moods can release emotions: purging and cleansing.
Mental work - Music encourages daydreaming, sliding into old memories, and exploring the past.
Solace - Shared emotion, shared experience, a connection to someone lost.

These seven strategies all aim for two goals: controlling and improving mood. One of the beauties of music is it can accomplish more than one goal at a time. Uplifting music can divert, entertain and revive. Sad, soulful music can provide solace; encourage mental work and discharge emotions. Many of Saarikallio and Erkkila's findings chime with previous research. For example, distraction is considered one of the most effective strategies for regulating mood. Music has also been strongly connected with reflective states. These tend to allow us greater understanding of our emotions. One of the few negative connections Saarikallio and Erkkila consider is that sad music might promote rumination. Rumination is the constant examination of emotional state, which, ironically, can lead to less clarity. On the contrary, however, Saarikallio and Erkkila found that music increased the understanding of feelings, an effect not associated with rumination.

I think that music is a great way for people to slip away from everyday life or to improve it. It is amazing how just by listening to a favourite piece of music our moods can instantly change negative to positive. This just goes to show how powerful music is, almost like a drug, it can change and transform us in no time! This is one of the reasons why I think music therapy is great especially for children who have a hard time understanding their emotions and/or their moods. I think music should be used as much as possible in the class room as a mood regulator and learning tool. Just having music playing in a room can change the ambiance greatly and make people feel more relaxed yet at the same time captivated. Yes, sad music can definitely promote rumination but again I’m not sure that this is always a bad thing. Sometimes we need to let ourselves feel what we really feel and stop trying to suppress it, which we all know how to do really well. We don’t always need to be happy and likewise we shouldn’t always be sad. Music can help create in our minds and our bodies whatever we need. Whether it is happiness, peacefulness or excitement we are sure to find it through the power of music.
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.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Song: Musical and Linguistic Processing

Review: Janet Spring
Schön, D., Gordon, R., Besson, M. (2005). Musical and linguistic processing in song perception. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1060: 71 – 85.

The investigation of the relationship between language and music until recently has been studied as two separate entities in the field of neurocognition: the study of language brain processes and the study of music brain processes. In the past decade, these two have been combined, for singing merges “both linguistic and musical information …. into one acoustic signal with two salient dimensions” (p. 71). Participants in singing studies have therefore provided researchers with important relationships between the linguistic and musical tasks. In the above study, Schön, Gordon and Besson (2005) review pertinent literature to date, discuss the findings related to the comparison of music and language processing. They also present the findings of three experiments they administered on “linguistic and musical processing in song perception” (p. 72).

Research has highlighted evidence that cognitive connections occurring between language and music in song are related and that linguistic and musical priming occurs in singing. Other studies that deal with harmony and semantics, (the study of the meanings of words, phrases and sentences) show that music and language is processed in different areas of the brain. “Results revealed that typical lateralization pattern of left-ear (right hemisphere)… for the melodic task and right-ear (left hemisphere)… for the phonological task” (p. 73). Due to the complexities of musical cognition however (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.), the relationship between language and music and the brain can take on many different cognitive dimensions. Therefore “song perception and production” studies shed some light in the relationship between language and music and brain functions and can prove or disprove their “interaction or independence” (p. 74).

In three experiments, the authors use MRI techniques to observe the brain stimuli in non-musicians when listening to three controlled conditions: words vs. noises, vocalizes vs. noises and sung words vs. noises. Results were projected onto a transparent brain image in three different planes demonstrating that there are areas in the brain involved in language, music and song processing that overlap. In the ERP study, the non musician participants were instructed to concentrate specifically on melody, then on the words. When being attentive to the melody the words would be irrelevant as similarly, being attentive to the words would make the melody irrelevant. Resulting data indicates that processing of the “relevant dimension seems influenced by the irrelevant dimension” concluding that “phonological/lexical processing and pitch processing cannot be processed independently”. In addition, the linguistic and musical aspects of a song are processed by “similar, overlapping brain areas” (p. 78). The authors then conclude that more research must be completed to examine the difference between non musicians’ and musicians’ processing of linguistic and musical aspects through song to uncover further similarities between these two important components.


I found this study interesting in that it highlights the importance between linguistics and music, and the interconnectedness of these in cognitive brain processes. As a strong literacy focus is mandated in all grade levels today, particularly at the elementary level, it would seem that the study of teaching literacy through music might provide educators with interesting data and results. Would it be that teaching language through spoken words and/or song may prove beneficial in raising literacy potentials and consequently those dreaded test results? What a novel idea it would be to teach literacy through music in the early formative years! Perhaps then educators would not be beating their heads against the wall as they are now, where students are ‘chained’ to their desks, with very little education in the Arts, as they produce language pieces that are somewhat below curriculum expectations! Only the research will lead the way!