Saturday, November 22, 2008

of backmasking, white christmas and satanic dolls

She's Hearing Voices. Neuroskeptic (5 November, 2008). Retrieved 20 November, 2008.

The author of this blog, a neuroscientist, begins by stating that although Auditory hallucinations often signal or accompany certain forms of mental illness, anyone can hear things that others don't or that, quite simply aren't there.

Several examples of over-interpreting sound follow:
- sine wave speech, initially unintelligible begin to sound like actual words after listening to the un-degraded speech from which they were taken
- a doll that plays recorded baby noises sounds like she is saying 'Islam is the Light'
- the supposed backmasking on rock albums of the 80s

Some psychologists claim that suggestion alone is responsible for the over-interpretation of sound, and the neuroscientist sites the 'White Christmas Effect' experiment of the early '60s as the proof used. The experiment is not exactly up to scientific standards of today but one done in 2001 does seem to show that people hear things that are not there simply because they expect to hear it.

Long and short: the brain is constantly processing sensory data but is not necessarily a reliable source of perception (and yet it's our only source!) as it constructs our perceptions by filtering the raw data through the lens of prior knowledge and context.

I came across this blog while doing some research for an essay topic and thoroughly enjoyed several of the posts. This particular post is interesting not only because of the links (I really can hear words in the sine waves - COOL) but also because of the references to the crazy things people come up with (a Satanic/Islam doll? Really?).

Or should I say, because of the crazy things people's brains perceive?

by Shannon Coates

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dalcroze, the body, movement and musicality: From Movement to Expression

Seitz, J.A. (2005). Dalcroze, the body, movement and musicality. Psychology of Music, 33, 419-435.

Andrea Botticelli

In the journal article entitled “Dalcroze, the body, movement, and musicality”, Seitz argues that bodily movement is the link between emotional involvement and cognitive appraisal of musical elements such as melody, dynamics, tempo and rhythm. The article begins with an introduction to the method of Emile Jacques-Dalcroze. In the early part of the 20th century, the Swiss composer, conductor, music educator and writer created his theory of musical education that centers on the importance of rhythm and body in musical expression. He believed that all musical elements can be learned using physical movements; for instance, consonant and dissonant chords can be expressed with consonant and dissonant gestures (420).

Seitz defends this view by citing current studies about musical expressivity. Recent research has shown that the emotions mostly expressed in a musical piece were ones that did not require a cognitive object, such as joyous, happy, cheerful, calm positive emotions and sad, depressed, sorrowful, and gloomy negative emotions (420-421). It seems that music activates subcortical emotions that are precognitive and intimately tied to the body and bodily processes. Seitz argues that musical expressivity is like physiognomic perception, the attribution of emotional states to inanimate objects seen or heard; physiognomic perception is closely tied to the body. In addition, Stephen Davies maintains that music doesn’t symbolize or represent; instead, “emotions are presented directly in the musical work through dynamic parallels to human movement, behavior, physiognomy, the human voice, gait, etc.” (422). In short, musical motion is inherent in the musical piece; tension and relaxation are experienced and felt as emotions in the listener (422).

The idea that musical elements, including rhythm and melody, should be embodied to create an expressive performance has considerable face validity. I think that any Dalcroze instructor would agree that they have witnessed how this method helps students to have a more intimate, intrinsic understanding of musical motion and its structural processes. It is fascinating that brain research from a century later can support the insight of a very accomplished musician. If music is a vehicle to communicate emotion, embodiment of musical structures may form a link between emotion and cognition. With the body as a link to emotion, the memory of these movements forms a cognitive storeroom of musical structures and expressivity.

Risk Taking, the Brain and Music??

Report: Janet Spring
Speculation: What Implications does Adolescent Risk Taking Have on Music Learning?

Steinberg, Laurence. (2007). Risk taking in adolescence: new perspectives from brain and behavioural science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16 (2): 55 – 59.

Examination of records of police records on crime; drinking and drug abuse, car accidents, etc demonstrate that adolescents take more risks than children or adults. However, psychologists have spent many years trying to understand why this is true, yet they have not come up with concrete, viable answers. Studies have also proven that adolescents are not “irrational individuals” who do not care about the consequences of improper choices, but are as capable to think logically at the age of 15 as any adult. The author remarks that, “many researchers have posited that age differences in actual risk taking are due to differences in the information that adolescents and adults use when making decisions” (p. 55). New ways of looking at the situation have now suggested that adolescents can make informed decisions as well as their adult counterparts only when “the influence of psychosocial factors is minimized” (p. 56).

New advances in developmental neuroscience have found that more risky behaviour in adolescents is “the product of the interaction between two brain networks…the socioemotional network….. and the cognitive-control network” (p. 56). The former network is developed during adolescence with the onset of pubertal hormones and is involved in reward processing, which is stimulated by social and emotional factors. The part of the brain that is involved is in the limbic and paralimbic areas, which include the amygdale, ventral striatum, the orbitofrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, and superior temporal sulcus. The latter is part of the area of the brain that controls executive functions; the lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices which are connected to the anterior cingulated cortex. Steinberg discusses how these two networks interact in competition as the adolescent makes decisions where risk is involved. As the adolescent is involved in risk taking activities, they are looking for small immediate rewards that are emotionally satisfying. These reward stimuli are activated in the ventral striatum, orbitofrontal cortex, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which are “regions linked to the socioemotional network” (p. 57). Steinberg also has found that risk taking where immediate rewards are the outcome; occur more frequently when adolescents are with friends, than when they are alone.

Steinberg concludes that the cognitive-control system of adolescents is therefore utilized less than in adults and that “adults’ brains distribute its regulatory responsibilities across a wider network of linked components. This lack of cross-talk across brain regions” (p. 57) may account for the poorer judgment calls in adolescents as compared to adults. Adolescents are therefore more at risk during their teenage years for it is biologically and brain driven, a phenomenon that will improve over time and experience.

Reflection: Implications for Music Education

I am particularly interested in the occurrence of risk-taking in adolescents for I think that it has many implications for music education. The teenager is one who enjoys immediate rewards and is perhaps less likely to want to begin his or her studies on an instrument that may not produce immediate satisfaction. I relate this to the work of Lucy Green (2002) who examines how popular musicians learn through informal learning practices. Students study popular musicians outside of the school environment by imitating them, picking up skills by trial and error, mostly in a group setting. In this informal learning environment, are they more likely to take risks as they learn by imitation and by continued repetition and practice? Can this learning environment be more pleasing and immediately rewarding as compared to a formal music classroom setting? Are budding adolescent musicians more likely to enjoy this type of ‘musical groove’ due to the learning that is taking place in the regions that are linked to the socioemotional networks of the brain? A very interesting concept and speculation!

Music Reading and the Brain

Report: Janet Spring
Stewart, Lauren. (2005). A neurocognitive approach to music reading. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1060: 377 – 386.

In Stewart (2005), an overview of studies completed to date on the neurocognitive skills of reading music from a printed score is outlined. The skill of music reading is investigated and discussed through studies that have utilized the Stroop task; a task which uses colours and numbers that correspond to the notes on a keyboard. Participants of a Stroop task read music notes through reading mapping which is either horizontal or vertical, using the finger numbers of 1 – 5 or colour coded finger to number tasks.

It has been found that reading music from the printed score for pianists activates the superior parietal cortex. Another study demonstrates that the right superior parietal cortex is activated when music is read and played. It has also been found through fMRI studies that when reading music, and viewing the stimuli on a statistical parametric map, there was a “learning-related change in the left supramarginal gyrus” (p. 384). As the pianist practiced certain passages, a comparison of the brain activity before and after affected a response in this area of the brain.


I find this study interesting for it highlights how complicated and intricately wired the brain is to decode all of the musical stimuli that occur at once when a musician is reading, decoding and then playing. As a pianist is reading both the treble and bass notes, decoding rhythm, melody, chord progressions, dynamics, etc., it would be interesting to compare the resulting brain activity with that of an instrumentalist who is reading one musical line as well as rhythm, melody, dynamics, etc. I also found Stewart’s comment interesting that the supramarginal gyrus “did not distinguish between the musical notation and the nonmusical notation before training but was more active for musical notation than for nonmusical notation after training” (p. 385). Would this mean that the supramarginal gyrus is an area of the brain that is more specific to music decoding and learning?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Music Acquisition: effects of enculturation and formal training on development

Hannon, Erin E., and Trainor, Laurel J. (2007) “Music acquisition: effects of
enculturation and formal training on development” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, November 2007, Vol. 11, No. 11, pp 466-472

Sharon Dutton

In this short article, Hannon and Trainor have outlined a process for musical acquisition, beginning with the brain’s biological, “universal” predispositions, and proceeding from there to enculturation, wherein, through listening to the every-day music of one’s surroundings, the brain develops culture specific structures and patterns of development. They also identify the process of formal music lessons, as a means of music acquisition, through which one attains a high level of performance ability and whereby one’s cortical tissue matter increases, as well as the brain’s attention and executive functioning. The authors differentiate between propensities for musical development that are universal, (natural, or biological), and those that are developed via enculturation, enculturation being defined as, “the process by which individuals acquire culture-specific knowledge about the structure of the music they are exposed to through everyday experiences, such as listening to the radio, singing and dancing” (p 466).

Universal musical abilities or discriminations include:
> sounds with spectral (pitch) and temporal (rhythm) patterning (p 466)
> early sensitivity for consonant over dissonant intervals (p 466)
> inference of a regular beat (p 468)
> metrical interpretation based on movement (p 470)

The authors explain, “sensitivity to universal aspects of spectral and temporal structure emerges early in development, whereas system-specific responses emerge later as a result of enculturation” (p 466).

They suggest that a preference for consonance over dissonance is not only universal, but also unique to humans, and that this preference then develops into culture-specific knowledge of scales and harmonies through enculturation. This preference, they claim, “probably arises from properties of the basilar membrane and auditory nerve, in conjunction with general exposure to spectrotemporally structured sounds” (p 470). As for rhythm, which, they claim, “is more fundamental to music than pitch” (p 468), their findings are that our sense of rhythm is based “in biological rhythms, such as walking and the heartbeat”, and that “enculturation to rhythm and meter begins during infancy” via exposure to music that is commonly heard (p 468). Enculturation of metrical structure, they claim, results from biological connections between movement and auditory areas of the brain.

The authors discuss the effect, (if any), of music lessons on the developing brain, and note, “recent work also suggests that explicit musical instruction, in addition to enhancing music-specific knowledge, substantially affects development of basic behaviors and neural processes in a range of domains and modalities” (p 466). The authors refer to a study of 6-year old children, which found that “consistent gains were made across all four indexes of the IQ, including verbal comprehension, perceptual organization, freedom from distractibility, and processing speed” (p 470). They conclude that a positive developmental correlation found between formal music training and brain development “might occur because music lessons train attentional and executive functioning, which benefits almost all cognitive tasks” (p 470).

The authors explain that “plasticity is affected by … synaptic proliferation and pruning, myelination, and neurofilament and neurotransmitter levels, each of which has its own developmental trajectory” and that “plasticity is also reduced with learning as neural networks settle into more stable states” (p 470). Plasticity is defined by Gruhn and Rauscher (2008) as, “the potential of neuronal networks to adapt to environmental conditions and perceived stimuli in order to accomplish particular tasks in the most economic and appropriate way” (p 293).


The authors make repeated reference to connections between movement and auditory areas of the brain, and claim that these connections, “in conjunction with everyday correlated multisensory experiences with sound and movement” (p 470), affect the ways that we develop encultured knowledge and, in particular, our sense of rhythm. They claim that rhythm or “temporal structure is arguably more fundamental to music than pitch structure, because it forms the basis for virtually all social musical behaviors, such as dancing and ensemble performance” (p 468). While music teachers, especially Dalcroze teachers have known for years that teaching music to children is exponentially enhanced by teaching music through movement, and that our sense of music is connected to our sense of movement, neuroscience is relatively new, and to discover connections in the brain between music and movement is a significant advancement.

The authors credit the vestibular system with interaction between movement and music acquisition. This hypothesis – that people of all ages are better able to understand the metrical organization of music through stimulation of the vestibular system – is of particular interest to teachers who implement the Dalcroze approach to music education, which is based on developing musical sensitivity through movement. Dalcroze discovered, almost exactly 100 years ago, that teaching meter (teaching all aspects of music) through movement increases the likelihood of those students to play their instruments in a rhythmic and musical fashion.

Musicologists have lately decried the common reference to music as the “universal language”. Hannon and Trainor re-introduced the concept of music having universal commonalities, not in the specific ways in which we are moved by music, but rather, with four preferences or abilities that are common to all people as they develop their sense and knowledge about music (see above). Like the ability to learn language, they are inferring that all people have the predisposition to learn music.

Gruhn, Wilfried and Rauscher, Frances H. (2008) Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy,
Nova Science Publishers, Inc. (2nd printing)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dalcroze and the Rhythmic Brain

Review: Janet Spring
Music and Imagination: The Rhythmic Brain
Eric Barnhill Guest Speaker

In his address to the members of the Philoctetes Centre, Eric Barnhill discusses his theories of the rhythmic brain as related to his studies and practical teaching experiences using Dalcroze Eurhythmics. He begins his lecture by outlining the different theories of the brain and music that have existed for many years. He also points out that alternative methods such as the Alexander Technique and Dalcroze Eurhythmics have been very popular for the past few decades because they have been very successful for music educators who have worked with students with special needs. The Dalcroze method has of course been around for a century and is a methodology attributed to Emiles Jacques Dalcroze of the 19th Century. Students that have disorders such as autism, motor perception difficulties as well as adults with Parkinsons and Alzheimers have been able to make progress in musical cognition when movement is involved. Students who cannot organize their bodies in terms of the beat, speech, and who experience language difficulties demonstrate further perception when movement is incorporated into the lesson. Movement activities also enhance language perception as music and speech is so interrelated.

Eric Barnhill discusses the different theories of the brain in terms of structure and process, where the study of the brain in regard to structure has been more popular in the past. He outlines the theory of the grandmother cell where a pyramid structure exists in the brain. All neurological processes are completed then linked to the grandmother cell that processes the final product. He also relates the findings of the 40 hertz hypothesis, first introduced by Francis Crick and the important findings that have advanced brain research today. Mention also is made of James J. Gibson and his work with vision perception as well as Mary Jones’s theory of attention. Communication studies completed by Madeleine Hanes and James G. Martin are discussed. These stress the significance of movement. Today, researchers are investigating brain functions in terms of processes where he feels that movement to music plays a very large part of understanding these processes.

Movement is a very significant part of the understanding and internalization of music: beat, rhythm, and melody. Eric reiterates that through Dalcroze, students are connected to the teacher at the piano who is improvising, to their fellow students who are engaged in a group movement activity, and to themselves: their minds and their bodies. Dalcroze is particularly helpful to those students who have difficulties with rhythm, for the brain predicts what the continuing rhythmic pattern is doing, while the body is experiencing it. The body then can experiment with an action, or rhythm, then move with it. As Eric demonstrates these concepts, the viewer is made aware of the importance that Dalcroze will have with understanding music. The Dalcroze methodology will provide the opportunity for the student of music to feel connected: through mind and body.


As Sharon presented her paper topic last night, and provided us with an excellent demonstration of the Dalcroze technique, I reflected on my use of Dalcroze in my elementary music classes and how this methodology has assisted my own students to understand beat, rhythm, melodic contours, harmony and chord progressions as they listen to and move to the music. I feel that the Dalcroze method has enhanced their understanding of musical concepts and has provided them with opportunities to experiment with sound through movement as they do so in a group setting or individually. For students who struggle with beat and rhythm, they learn from others around them and they do not feel centered out or insecure, for their fellow classmates’ movement responses reinforce concepts that may be difficult for them individually to master.

Where does Dalcroze fit in, in terms of the brain? Dalcroze is significant for brain entrainment, where the body is connected to and is coordinated with the music. In turn, there is a strong link between the muscles, the nervous system, the mind, brain and body, a link that produces a sharp understanding of the musical environment surrounding the student. Movement then becomes instinctive, where all of the above are in synchronization with each other.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Exploring the Autistic Brain's Emotion Processing Through Music

Study uses music to explore the autistic brain's emotion processing. UCLA Newsroom (2008, 5 July). Retrieved 18 November, 2008.

Individuals on the autistic disorder spectrum often have trouble with social interaction because they are unable to recognise the facial cues indicating other people's emotional state. Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a researcher at the UCLA Tennenbaum Center for the Biology of Creativity will research the link between processing emotional music and processing actual emotions to see if children with autistic spectrum disorder ("ASD") who are able to recognise and process the emotion in music can improve their ability to process emotional cues in social situations.

Using fMRI, Molnar-Szakacs will compare brain activity in normal functioning children with that of approximately 15 ASD children, while both groups identify emotions from faces and from musical excerpts. The study should give insight into how the brain of ASD children processes emotion, which will lead to better intervention practices. Also, the study will help "promote the use of music as a powerful tool for studying brain functions, from cognition to creativity."

My nephew has autism but is considered high functioning. He is unable to 'read faces', judge social situations and understand where he stands socially with other kids in the way that most people take for granted. But, as he is high functioning, he knows when other kids don't respond to him in an expected way, which is terribly demoralizing for him. This study is interesting on many levels in that it may help to provide some intervention practises to help ASD kids deal with the cause of one of the primary isolating factors for ASD kids, as well as increase the role of music in further research of the brain. I look forward to hearing the results!

Shannon Coates

Music Medicine. A Neurobiological Approach.

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Hassler, Marianne. Music Medicine. A Neurobiological Approach.

Summary: Music medicine is a relatively new field for most countries in the world, although European countries are probably a couple of steps ahead of the world. (Probably because music plays such a huge role in those societies, and therefore seem to have more musicians, students, etc., who might need help.)

Musicians suffer from stage fright, psychic stress, pain syndromes (e.g. tendonitis) and motor disturbances (e.g. focal dystonia). The physical demands of playing a musical instrument (play a non-symmetrical instrument, e.g. the violin), expectations to perform perfectly, as well as being scrutinized and criticized by conductors and colleagues all place a lot of stress of musicians. While musicians and non-musicians suffer from the same diseases and anxieties, there is growing evidence that the musician’s brain structure differs from that of other individuals. They differ with respect to brain structure and function, as well as some hormonal and immunological parameters. While non-musicians might find calm music relaxing, any music acts as a stressor to the musician. An increase in cortisol while listening to music, event the peaceful variety, can be found in musicians.

Dr. Hassler suggests that, because of these differences, that perhaps musicians should receive different medical treatment than other non-musicians. She does not suggest what diseases might be differently, or how they might be treated differently, but I would think that certain music therapies might not be very helpful to musicians, especially if it stresses them, rather than calms them.

Personal Response: As mentioned above, I would think that music therapy would be one area that would not be beneficial to musicians a s a form of treatment, or if it is, it would have to carefully worked out. The tone of the article sounds a bit as if musicians are pitted against non-musicians in terms of traditional treatment for the same diseases or conditions, i.e. musicians need special treatment, compared to “the rest of them”. While this might not have been the intention, it might have been helpful to include some professions that might also benefit from a specifically tailored treatment plan. Or as another article I reviewed has suggested, that not all treatment may work the same way for everyone. For instance, alpha neurofeedback may actually have a detrimental effect on individuals who suffer from certain types of depression. It seems that especially in the field of neurobiology that every person is different and may therefore need careful evalution before being treated. Just as some people have drug allergies, or may not respond the same to all drugs, the field of neurobiology is also very diverse. While musicians may differ from the rest of the population in the big picture, this does not mean that a blanket approach is appropriate.

Validating the Efficacy of Neurofeedback for Optimising Performance

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Gruzelier, John., Egner, Tobias and Vernon, David. Validating the Efficacy of Neurofeedback for Optimising Performance. Found in Progress in Brain Research, Volume 159, 2006.

Summary: As the title suggests, these researches pursued further research on the question of neurofeedback and how effective it is. Their studies looked at validating SMR (sensorimotor rhythm), beta and alpha-theta protocols for improving attention, memory, mood, music and dance performance in healthy people. A lot of their research was based upon the work of Sterman and Pfurtscheller, trying to see if they could obtain the same or similar results.

In the first study they focused on the training of activity in the 12-14 Hz range (in the same range as the SMR), and the adjacent beta band of 15-20 Hz. The benefit of training in this area could be applied to children with ADHD, who generally produce low levels of beta. The low levels of beta have a detrimental effect these children’s ability to focus and concentrate. Apparently, previous studies, although deemed important by the current authors, had not confirmed a direct association between the ability to learn and enhance the desired frequency band and a consequent improvement in behaviour and cognition.

In the second study, the researchers successfully demonstrated that alpha-theta training enhanced peak performance. It involved increasing the ratio between theta (4-8 Hz) and alpha (8-12Hz) activity. This study was divided into several sub-studies. The first involved conservatory students who were randomly assigned to three groups: (1) a mixed course of beta 1/ SMR and alpha-theta training, (2) no-training control group, and (3) neurofeedback group combined with mental skills training and aerobics. Improvements were found only the first group (neurofeedback only), but not in the others. They improved mostly in quality, musicality and creativity. Somehow the researchers were able to attribute these improvements to alpha-theta training only, not to the beta 1 or SMR training.
The second substudy, but there were six groups: (1) alpha-theta, (2) SMR training, (3) beta 1 neurofeedback training, (4) physical exercise, (5) mental skills training, (6) Alexander Technique. Again only the first group displayed significant changes, while the others showed no improvements. This seems to indicate that alpha-theta training led to improvements in creative and artistic expressions, as opposed to technical skills.

The third sub-study involved applying the same research to competitive dance performance, with the same results.

Response: I was mostly interested in the second study relating to performance anxiety in musicians. Interestingly, all six groups of the second substudy showed and improvement. Reduction in pre-performance anxiety. This seems to indicate that exercise, Alexander technique, or perhaps even little rituals we have before a performance, might be effective in reducing performance anxiety to begin with. However, the key idea seems to be that, although reducing performance anxiety, it may not necessarily have an effect on the actual. What the researchers found, seems to indicate that increasing the alpha-theta ratio has a beneficial effect on the quality of the performance. Reducing stress only is simply not enough. What still needs to done, though, is to determine what role an individual’s personality might play in all of this. Taking personality into account, may give a therapist a more effective way to plan a training program, tailored to the individual. Also, it would be beneficial to do more such studies in other parts of the world, to see whether cultural differences and expectations might alter the results somewhat. During these studies, the subjects received only 10 sessions of training. I hope that with longer training, these results would be confirmed, as this seems to be a non-drug solution to performance

Musical Disorders

1. Reference
Musical Disorders
From Behavior to Genes
By Isabelle Peretz
University of Montreal
Current Directions in Psychological Science
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
Humans are born with the potential to speak and make music. A minority of individuals never acquire the ability to acquire music abilities. This is referred to as note deafness, tone deafness, tune deafness, dysmelodia and congenital amusia. These terms refer to a condition where by a person has “a lifelong deficit in melody perception and production that cannot be explained by hearing loss, brain damage, intellectual deficiencies, or lack of music exposure.”

Approximately half of individuals suffering from amusia also have a rhythm deficit but most cases deal with a deficit in the processing of pitch in a musical context. Speech does not seem to be affected by people with amusia – they are able to understand and communicate using speech with no problems.
Evaluating whether a person has amusia is done using six tests (180 stimuli) that assess the different components in melody processing (pitch contour, musical scales, pitch intervals, rhythm, meter, and memory). People with amusia score two standard deviations below the mean of normal controls.

Pertez believes that the problem with individuals with amusia lays in a lack of pitch-processing normally and automatically acquired by ordinary people. This is called, “tonal encoding of pitch” and people with amusia are missing this system/lacking this knowledge.

Amusic brains do not have any detectable neurological abnormality except that they have less white matter in the right inferior frontal cortex than normal brains and a thicker cortex in the same right inferior frontal area and right auditory area. These regions of the brain have been shown to be important in musical-pitch processing.

Research has also been conducted on the genetics of congenital amusia and whether it is passed on to family members. Findings show that 39% of amusic families have relatives with the same cognitive disorder and only 3% in the control families.

Other areas to study on this topic are the occurrences of congenital amusia in tone languages like Cantonese and Mandarin. Pertez predicts that Western individuals with amusia may have difficulty learning a tone language and congenital amusia may be rare in people who speak in tone languages because of early exposure to the tone language.

3. Response
I chose to read an article written by Isabelle Pertez after completing her on-line music listening test. The musical disorder of Amusia is a fascinating and I decided to do some further research on the condition. It seems that it is indeed a genetic condition that can be passed down through families and it may also be something that only individuals suffer from in countries where the language is non-tonal.

I had a lot of trouble singing pitches to my aural perception professor during my undergraduate degree. My professor would get very frustrated with me and told me that I had a “tin ear” and that there was little hope for me musically. I knew that I didn’t have a tin ear and that I could hear the different pitches quite clearly, I just had trouble producing them with my own voice. I persevered and worked very hard. I had aural perception lessons and singing lessons to help me get through the course. Even though I failed the course the first time (with a C+ - one mark away from the required B -!), I kept trying. I knew that with practice I could improve my pitch recognition and production. Now I feel very confident with my skills aurally. I can sing back a variety of pitches (within reason) quite effectively and almost always in tune. I certainly was not tone deaf or suffering from “tin ear” I simply needed to practice and refine my skills.

I wonder if people who suffer from true tone deafness/amusia could also improve their musical skills with practice. Pertez’s findings seem to be consistent with individuals who removed themselves from music and musical situations. If they become reintegrated into music listening, could they start to improve? With some sort of sound-therapy could these individuals improve their musical perception? Could music be broken down into smaller sections/layers and then reintroduced in larger sections/layers gradually in order to help the individual become accustomed to the sound? I overcame my problematic “tin ear” but that was more than likely simply a lack of exposure to a certain type of musical practice. Could amusics overcome their neurological shortcomings through practice and exposure or are they doomed to a music-less life because of genetics?

Musical Listening Tests

1. Reference
Musical Listening Tests
University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Univeristy of Montreal
Test created by Isabelle Pertez
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

1. Summary
This test was created by Isabelle Pertez along with researchers at the University of Montreal and the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England. There are two tests consisting of 30 pairs of tunes. A test candidate must listen to each pair and indicate whether they are the same or different. The idea is to test the subject’s ability to identify small differences in melody and rhythm. Since first being launched in 2006 the test has been taken 145,073 times and the second test was added in 2007 and was taken 50,470. The average test score is about 25 where most people got five of the listening pairs wrong out of the 30 pairs.

The test was created to study and diagnose amusia and tone deafness. So far results have shown that amusia is a defecit of tune rather than of time. A score of below 22 could indicate that the subject has amusia, however, the test cut-off varies with age.

3. Response
I completed the test twice. The first time I got 28/30 and 29/30 and on the second attempt I got 28/30 and 27/30 putting me well above the average of 25. (I blame the wrong answers on my neighbour’s loud children that distracted me during the test). It was really interesting to participate in the study, though, I have to admit it brought me back to my undergrad days. During my undergrad, music students were forced to complete hours upon hours of interval studies, melodic dictation and other forms of musical torture using the MacIntosh software program called, MacGamut (which the undergrads lovingly referred to as MacDammit - because that's what you would say when you made too many mistakes in a row!). I had to really make myself focus and not think about the the traumatic times I spent listening to intervals over and over again and having to restart the program after too many slip-ups in a row.

It is safe to say that after completing the tests that I have regular music perception and I am definitely not tone deaf or suffer from amusia. The test takes quite a bit of concentration, even for someone like myself with a musical background. I’m not sure my high school students could sit through this test with absolute focus the entire time. The test subject must also ensure that there are no noise distractions nearby while completing the test as this can lead to a skewed result.

I was proud to be test subject 145,073 and 50,470 respectively and was a little nervous to get my test results back. What if I made many mistakes? Would that make me a bad music teacher and musician? Will I have to go back to my undergrad and spend many more hours using the MacGamut software to sharpen my musical listening skills? I was pleased and relieved to see that I was well above average and had nothing to worry about in regards to my own musical perception.

I highly recommend that everyone in the class take the test! Go to to try it out! I am going to ask that my family members also take the test as part of the research is to see if there is correlation between family members and musical perception.

Music to their ears it is not

1. Reference
Music to their ears it is not
Tone deafness may be caused by differences in connections between parts of the brain
September 2007
Harvard Health Letter
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
There are many people who cannot sing well, however, most people that cannot sing still enjoy listening to music. Tone deafness in the true description of the term means that a person cannot perceive music. Only about 1 in 20 people are truly tone deaf, meaning that they have an inability to hear differences in pitch, in even the simplest of melodies.

Serious tone deafness is referred to as amusia. Some people are born with it and it is called congenital amusia. With newer brain imaging tests, researchers are able to compare the brains of amusics against people with normal musical abilities.

Some of the typical problems with tone deafness are pitch problems. People with amusia tend to need a larger distance between notes before they can truly hear a difference. They may not be able to hear the semi-tones in between notes as most people can. People with amusia also do not hear pitch direction or contour, meaning that they cannot hear whether the note is moving up or moving down. Rhythm also seems to be a problem for amusics unless the music being played is monotone. Researchers believe that when a normal piece of music is played the pitch changes throw them off and therefore they have trouble with music’s rhythm as well.

Music processing by the brain is handled by the right side. People who are tone deaf do not have any major anatomical differences from those of normal people. Researches have used a technique called “voxel-based morphometry” to calculate the density of brain tissue. They found that people with amusia tend to have thinner white matter in their brains, suggesting a weaker connection between the frontal lobe and right temporal lobes.

This finding indicates that there may be a “pitch center” in the temporal lobe where simple pitch is recognized and processed. When other parts of music become involved more brain power is required and therefore the frontal lobes become involved. Researchers also found that the cerebellum also becomes activated by rhythm. In other parts of the study the researchers played music that produced “chills” and found that more blood flow went to “reward-seeking areas of the brain.” These areas also become activated in response to food, sex and recreational drugs.

There is much debate over whether musical perception and language processing occur in the same area of the brain. Some people have no trouble with words, but when it comes to music are at a loss. Tests have been done of people with amusia to find the difference between sentences that varied in intonation and they did just as well as normal subjects.

This article also included a small section on musical hallucinations. Musical hallucinations have been known to occur with other types of psychoses; however people with no mental illness or brain injury have also suffered from them. The cause is often hearing loss and there has been a similar occurrence with sight loss called Charles Bonnet syndrome. People experienced detailed “pictures” of familiar places and people even though they are unable to see. A theory about musical hallucinations is that the brain has a memory for sensory input. When people can no longer hear or see the memory of the sensory is experienced as a hallucination.

3. Response
As a music teacher, I try to tell myself (and my students!) that everyone has the ability to make music and that tone deafness is just “all in our minds.” This article has made me realize that it may indeed by all in our minds; however, it may actually be a part of the way our brains are wired and more than just a little bit of mind-over-matter.

I have only come across one student in my classroom that truly could not sing a pitch given to him. He was a bass clarinet player and we were playing a song that required the band to sing for a few measures. I noticed that when we were working on the singing part that he was mis-pitching quite a bit. I decided that I should work one-on-one to help him hear the pitch more accurately. I worked with him for 30 minutes and no matter what, he simply could not sing the pitch. I had the entire class sing with him, and even with reinforcement, he was unable to get the correct note. He could; however play the bass clarinet, usually quite well. I did notice that he would often forget the key signature and would play through the entire piece, wrong notes and all, and would then be quite surprised when he lost marks for so many wrong notes. He really couldn’t hear that the notes he was playing did not fit in with the melody. Perhaps he was simply tone deaf, or maybe he even had a case of amusia. He seemed to enjoy listening to music and could understand the elements of music quite well so I do not believe that he was suffering from true amusia. He did, however, have some hearing issues in one ear that could be contributing to his inability to pitch accurately.

I found this article interesting because it provides clear research and evidence of true tone deafness. As a music teacher it has me a little worried because what can you do with a student who suffers from true amusia? If music sounds like a cacophony of noise and you want a particular student to either sing or play their instrument within this cacophony it is a very difficult and I would imagine annoying task for the student to complete. Young students especially would not be able to articulate the fact that they cannot perceive or make sense of the sounds they are hearing. I imagine it would be a very scary and isolating situation to be in. The student may feel like there is something wrong with them and remain silent on the matter so as not to be ostracized.

It is great to see facts on paper about tone deafness and amusia, however, where do we go from here? Is there any sort of cure for the problem? Is the brain capable of building more “white matter” in order to overcome and possibly cure amusia? What do I do with a child that is tone deaf in my classroom? Are there any sound therapies for tone deafness? Are some cases worse than others? Obviously, all of these questions cannot be answered easily and some questions may never be answered.

Monday, November 17, 2008

When Music Becomes Medicine for the Brain

1. Reference
When Music Becomes Medicine for the Brain
By Matthew Shulman
September 1, 2008
U.S. News and World Report
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
Music therapy has been used for decades to treat neurological conditions. Advances in neuroscience and brain imaging are revealing what is actually occurring in the brain as patients undergo music therapy for their conditions.

Patients with Parkinson’s and stroke have benefited from music therapy because the “human brain is innately attuned to respond to highly rhythmic music.” Patients who almost seem “frozen” can begin moving again when listening to slow, rhythmic music. Playing music has also benefited some patients. Using Drum Workshops patients use percussion pieces as a form of therapy and have reported that their control of physical movement improves after the workshops.

Many stroke victims have been able to speak again through a technique called “melodic intonation therapy” whereby they actually speak through song. The technique helps to activate areas on the right side of the brain, picking up the slack for the damaged left side.

Through music therapy patients also had improvement in their moods. The researchers believe this is because of an increase in the production of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and melatonin. Stress and anxiety relief are one of the main reasons that music therapy is so helpful to patients. Music can also help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s to remember more especially when using music from weddings, religious services or favourite childhood songs. Not everyone responds to the treatment.

3. Reflection
This short article was very informative and interesting though I feel the need to do further research on some of the topics outlined. It was an excellent introduction to some of the ways that music therapy can be beneficial to a variety of patients. I thought it was very interesting that the use of music could help a person with Parkinson’s become more mobile. This makes sense because walking is something we do in an organized, patterned manner. Parkinson’s disease can often cause leg spasms and balance problems. It is amazing that the brain will respond to the music in such a way that a person could once again move in a smooth, steady manner. I found it very interesting that the patient outlined in the paper used “Born in the U.S.A” to move quickly and “We are the Champions” to move at a slower pace. It seems that all that the patient needed was soundtrack to move along with! Amazing! It made me think of what music I might chose to help me if I were in this situation. I have decided on Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmilla” for a fast pace and Grieg’s “Morning Mood from Peer Gynt” when I need a slower pace. A person could create an entire library of “paces” in order to get from one place to another effectively.

The technique “melodic intonation therapy” is also very interesting. It amazes me that even though the part of the brain required for speech may be damaged, a stroke victim could learn to communicate again through singing initially and then eventually re-learn how to speak. The part of the brain that is used for the production of music is different than that of the speech section and as a result the patient could learn to talk again through song.

I think the most beneficial part of music therapy for any patient is the interaction with others and making/listening to music together. Interacting with others and doing something enjoyable almost always helps to improve one’s mood and I truly believe that laughter is the best medicine. Being happy and content will undoubtedly make a sick person feel better. Being alone and in isolation causes a person to feel worse than they might actually be feeling. Music, along with laughter, is a great medicine for the brain and for a patients overall mood.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

They’re bulking up mentally

1. Reference
They’re bulking up mentally
By Denise Gellene and Karen Kaplan
December 20, 2007
The Los Angeles Times
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
Many musicians, academics, corporate executives, students and professional poker players have started using beta-blockers to help clarify their minds, improve concentration and control emotions. Many different types of beta-blockers have been used by these individuals, from Ritalin, usually prescribed to children suffering from ADD/ADHD to Aricept, a drug used to slow the decline of Alzheimer’s patients to Inderal, a beta-blockers used by many classical musicians to help them stave off stage-firght. Many of these drugs haven’t been tested on healthy people but the physiological effects that they cause on the brain are well-tested and understood.

A study completed in 2005 surveyed 10,000 college students and found that 4% to 7% of the participants had tried ADHD drugs at least once to help them focus in academic settings. Many of the people interviewed for this article took the beta-blocking medications in order to help them focus, sometimes, for hours at a time. The drugs block adrenaline receptors in the heart and blood vessels and help the person to focus and not become distracted by their own nervousness.

Sarah Tuck, a flutist in the San Diego Symphony conduced a survey of flutists and found that one-quarter of the subjects interviewed used the beta-blocking pills before performances and auditions. She estimates that three-quarters of the musicians she knows use the drugs occasionally.

This type of “cosmetic neurology” has risks. Many of the medications can cause headaches, insomnia and loss of appetite. Some can make users anxious and bring on headaches, some can cause drowsiness, fatigue and wheezing and even dizziness and vomiting.

3. Reflection
I was surprised to learn that many people, not just professional musicians, use beta-blocking medication to help them focus during high-pressure situations. Just as baseball players and Olympic athletes may seek to enhance themselves physically, there are many people that want to enhance themselves mentally.I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because stage-fright isn’t always limited to a “real” stage. There are many people that have trouble speaking in front of large crowds and the thought of having to lead a presentation could cause them to feel great anxiety. There are countless ads on television now for people that have anxiety, especially in social situations, and for them using a type of medication to help them calm down and focus might be necessary. But should regular, healthy people make use of these drugs? In my opinion; no. We have to learn how to deal with a variety of situations in our lives – from high pressure to high stakes – we have to learn to control our own bodies and our own minds. Turning to a pill to get us through these moments is the lazy way out.

I am worried that our society is too often looking for the “quick fix” to all of life’s problems. Instead of practicing and learning how to control our emotions and anxieties, we want to literally “take a pill” to fix the problem. I think that taking beta-blockers in order to be successful is just as bad as an athlete taking steroids. Beta-blockers can give a musician an unfair advantage in an audition setting because in this situation technique is often more paramount than emotion in the music. Beta-blockers could help the musician to focus more intensely and play with better technique.But you know what? I like the jittery feeling I get just before a performance. It makes me feel alive and I become even more alive through the music I am playing! The thought of taking those sparks away through the use of beta-blockers makes my heart sink, because you would in essence, be taking away the feelings and emotions of the music. The beta-blockers may help me to focus and to play more right notes and rhythms, but if I just want to hear correct rhythmic and notated passages I could listen to a computer generated piece of music.

I believe that medicine should be prescribed to treat an ailment. If you do not have anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADD/ADHD or any of the other diseases that beta-blockers actually treat then you should not be using them. I understand that codeine and morphine can make a regular, healthy person feel pretty good, but I doubt my doctor would give me prescription based on that! Stage-fright is a normal part of being a performer. If your stage-fright is so intense that you cannot possibly get on stage without taking medication, then perhaps you should either get a studio gig or new job. Or you could try working through your stage fright using non-medical means – like yoga or meditation. The same can be said for non-musicians using the drugs.

We need to stop looking for quick, easy solutions to these problems. Doctors need to stop prescribing antibiotics to patients who obviously have viruses or antibiotics will cease to work on the real infections. The same can be said for prescribing beta-blocking medication to individuals who obviously have no real anxiety issues. At what point will these beta-blockers also cease to work?

Music, the brain and Williams syndrome: rare disorder offers insight into the genetic basis of cognition (focus on Genes and Genomics)

1. Reference
Music, the brain and Williams syndrome: rare disorder offers insight into the genetic basis of cognition (focus on Genes and Genomics)
By Brendan A. Maher
The Scientist
November 26, 2001
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
Williams syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by a deletion of about 20 genes of chromosome 7. People with Williams syndrome have characteristics such as pixie-like features, upturned nose, small chin, protrusive ears, stunted growth, heart problems, poor visuospatial cognition, sensitivity to loud noise, gregarious personalities and an average IQ of about 60.

Almost all patients with Williams Syndrome have an extraordinary connection with music. Even though people with Williams Syndrome have short-lived attention spans they will spend hours listening to or making music. There is some research which illustrates a high occurrence of perfect pitch and excellent rhythmic ability among this group of people. For example, one boy with the syndrome was able to tap a 7/4 rhythm with one hand while keeping 4/4 time with the other.

Audrey Don, a neuropsychologist at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Seattle, was one of the first researchers to explore the relationship patients with Williams Syndrome have with music. She administered several musical tests of tones and beats to people with Williams syndrome and found that “musical ability matches verbal ability and was higher than the Williams’ children overall cognitive abilities.” She also found that the patients had very strong emotional connections to music.

Other research done with patients with Williams Syndrome showed that these children did as well as normal musically trained students, however, they were able to offer “creative completion” to some of the test rhythms.

Further to this research, Howard M. Lenhoff, professor emeritus, School of Biological Science, University of California, completed a study linking Williams syndrome to a high occurrence of perfect pitch. This condition normally occurs in one out of 10,000 people in Western populations. In the case of patient’s with William’s syndrome the incidence rises to 1 out of 1000.

Usually, a person has to study music before the age of six in order to develop perfect pitch. Many of the Williams Syndrome subjects started studying music much after this critical period yet have still been able to develop perfect pitch.

In relation to brain studies, research has shown that in patient’s with Williams Syndrome the neocerebellum seems to be connected to their phonological working memory, a kind of “short-term memory for sounds.”

Music for patients with Williams Syndrome seems to be what helps them to have a sense of normalcy and fulfillment in life. There is much to be learned from the connection these children have with music and its affects on their brain function and development.

3. Reflection

The article, “Music, the brain and Williams syndrome: rare disorder offers insight into the genetic basis of cognition,” by Brendan A. Maher was interesting; however, it could have been more informative and specific when making reference to the brain. I felt that all of the ideas about Williams Syndrome, Music and Brain Development were superficially connected and more detail was required. That being said, this article was an effective introduction to the description of Williams Syndrome and the occurrence of music proficiency, including the incidence of perfect pitch in children suffering from the syndrome.

The description of Gloria Lenhoff, the 46 year-old lyric soprano singer who can sing nearly 2500 songs in more than 25 languages in a perfect accent was very effective in setting the tone for the article as an introduction to the disease. It is absolutely amazing that a person can be so incredibly skilful in one aspect of their life can be so deficient in another because of a chromosome deficiency. The fact that 1 in 1000 patients with Williams Syndrome have perfect pitch is an incredible statistic; however, Maher fails to delve into the details of this matter adequately or effectively. He touches on a few musical research projects and studies using MRI to examine patients with Williams Syndrome but the results of these studies seem to be superficial and inconclusive in the context of his paper. The title of the article would indicate that the reader is going to find some hardcore data about Music, the Brain and Williams syndrome, but instead, the reader finds very little concrete evidence about the three topics. Maher gives excellent background information about the syndrome and the affinity the people suffering from the syndrome have for music however; this article is better suited as simply an introduction to the syndrome, rather than a study in regards to music and the brain.

Effects of Music Therapy on Stuttering

Effects of Music Therapy on Stuttering
(posted by Michael Bellissimo)

This study is based on the idea that music can affect those that stutter. Stuttering occurs when the person try’s to say one word fast and then stumbles on the next as a result. Also these people are not always aware of the nature of the problem. It should also be noted that stutterers have difficulty in speaking but not in singing because the neural pathway is different. The attempt is then made to reduce the stuttering through music therapy.

· 22 children 14 boys and 8 girls studying in various schools in the age group of 7 to 13 years
· Children have been stuttering and it has been confirmed by the investigator.
· causes for stuttering seems to be varied; such as emotional disturbance, lack of
freedom in expression, inadequate vocabulary, bilingual parents, and contextual etc.

The speech issues may be related to the lack of coordination of certain muscles implying problem with finer control of the tongue. Classical vocal music training helps to coordinate vocal chords and work on fine tongue control. Basic vocal exercises were used (pairs, triple syllables with twist and speed etc.,)
All the participants have stuttering- impaired fluency of reading at the time of training. The socio economic status was equal in the group the children are normal with no other retardation.

Formula used was -Stuttering - Classical Music + Reading = free from stuttering

Music selected on the basis of:
I Easy to recite,
II Does not require any intricate knowledge in music,
III Simple to follow,
IV Easy to train one self and so on.

Simple reading passages were also chosen.

Findings and Conclusions:-
· The effect of Music Therapy was evident in the case of all participants.

· The problem of stuttering was reduced gradually over the weeks on account of exposure to music therapy.

· There was a corresponding increase in the fluency of reading among children with speech fluency as the therapy progressed over the weeks.

· four boys and seven girls showed improvement in reading fluency and speech fluency. Stuttering has been started decreasing from the fourth week onwards. But for one girl stuttering disappeared on the tenth day of the sessions and reading fluency improved gradually.

· Except for two children the speech fluency increased from the seventh week for other participants.

· These two children also gained fluency in speech by ninth week needed further exposure to therapy sessions.

· These findings suggest that there are individual differences with regard to the improvement gained as a result of music therapy.

· Children were also given a word of confidence and assured, having overcome the problem of stuttering, they need not feel inferior in their class anymore, with regular practice the speech fluency will also increase.

· Further participation in the group developed group cohesiveness and involvement in training.


Although I would have liked to see a study that uses only music therapy and does not use reading as well, this small study is still very positive. However what is the positive may be simple but not evident to the “nay sayers” who don’t see music therapy as viable. First and foremost the positive in this case is that the children were helped. They “need not feel inferior” is the real success here. However music therapy also plays an obvious successful role. Its sound methodology discovered this result that can now be expanded.

We must also ask ourselves that is the case of stuttering since those affected don’t stutter when they sing because the neural pathway is different from that of speech why is it that speech therapy does not help singing but singing does help speech? Music has healing powers that we are beginning to tap into. Music therapy use physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual aspects to help clients, a more holistic approach without the drugs.

Musical Hallucinations - Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod

1. Reference
Musical Hallucinations - Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod
By Carl Zimmer
July 12, 2005
The New York Times
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Reflection and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
Dr Victor Aziz, a psychiatrist at St. Cadoc’s Hospital in Wales researches a condition known as Music Hallucination. Music Hallucination is a form of auditory hallucination in which music is heard. This type of auditory hallucination is a different type of mental disturbance than those auditory hallucinations experienced by people with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia patients often hear inner voices while patients with music hallucination only hear music. Musical hallucinations have been occurring throughout history. It is thought that Robert Schumann suffered from this ailment, “legend has it that he said he was taking dictation from Schubert’s ghost.”

Dr. Aziz and his colleague Dr. Nick Warner studied 30 cases of musical hallucination over 15 years in South Wales. In their research they found that in two-thirds of the cases the musical hallucination was the only disturbance experienced by the patients, one-third of the cases were deaf or hard of hearing and women tended to suffer hallucinations more than men. The average age of the patient was 78 years old. Often patients heard songs they had heard repeatedly during their lives or songs that were significant to them emotional/personally. Two-thirds of the subjects were living alone without very much stimulation.

Dr. Tim Griffiths, a neurologist at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in England performed several brain scans on patients suffering from these music hallucinations. Using a PET, Dr. Griffiths discovered a network of regions in the brain that “became more active as the hallucinations became more intense.” The finding was similar to what you would find in a normal person’s brain while they listen to actual music. The major difference was that the hallucination did not activate the primary auditory cortex, a part of the brain normal activated by auditory stimulation. Even though sound is not coming from the ears the brain still generated occasional, random impulses that were interpreted as musical sound.

Dr. Griffiths also proposed that deafness can cause the “music-seeking circuits [of the brain] to go into overdrive” and this would cause the person to hear music in their minds all the time. There is no cure for music hallucinations though many doctors have tried prescribing antipsychotic drugs and cognitive behaviour therapy. Music hallucinations have become more common and Dr. Aziz suspects that they will become even more frequent in the future because people are becoming more aware of the ailment.

3. Reflection
The condition known as “music hallucination” is very interesting and I had no idea that it existed until after reading the article, “Neuron Network Goes Awry, and Brain Becomes an IPod” by Carl Zimmer. We’ve all experienced a “song that we just can’t get out of our head”, but I could never imagine experiencing a song stuck in my head on this level! It would seem to be a very strange and scary experience for those suffering from the ailment.I found it interesting that many of the patients suffering from the problem were elderly and that two-thirds of the sufferers were people who lived alone and did not get very much stimulation. Growing up I was always told, “your brain is a muscle; use it or lose it!” and there is definitely a correlation between adequate stimulation and music hallucinations. The study even showed that patients that moved out of isolation and into nursing homes where they were able to interact with other people showed improvement in regards to their hallucinations. The only problem is that if the patient had lost their hearing it’s hard to “use it” to ensure that problems like music hallucinations don’t occur. It would be interesting to see what kind of treatment could be available for these people because simply turning on a radio they can’t even hear will not help matters. Could they use some sort of touch-rhythmic therapy (i.e. - rhythm they can feel - by tapping them on the shoulder or leg) in order to get a sense of musical stimulation?

I also found it very interesting that the brains of patients suffering from musical hallucinations had similar brain regions activated as a person listening to actual music. To me, this illustrated the brain’s great capacity for musical memory. It was fascinating that the same parts of the brain (with the exception of the primary auditory cortex) could “remember” what it is to hear music. This leads me to wonder: would the PET scanning technique reveal similar outcomes if a musician thought about a piece of music? I know that I am capable of hearing music in my head – whether I am looking at a score or whether I am just remembering a great song. Would these findings be similar and could a patient begin to control their music hallucinations by thinking of another song, and in turn, drown out the hallucination?

I think that the moral of the story when it comes to the condition of music hallucination is that it is important keep our minds active at all times, especially in old age. Just as completing crossword and Sudoku puzzles, and reading the paper and books will help to keep our minds sharp, we must also keep our musical mind sharp. Listen to music and if possible, make music on a regular basis. This will help to keep the synapses firing in the auditory cortex of the brain and hopefully fend off any music hallucinations looming in the dark corners of our minds.

On a different note, I would be interested to see what kind of songs people start hallucinating in the future, especially those of my students. Will they start hallucinating death metal songs? Will The Red Hot Chilli Peppers come back to haunt them in their old age? Or will it be Britney Spears coming to “Hit them more time?” I think that is the scariest thought of all! Since all of the music hallucinations were songs that the patients knew I think it is important that people surround themselves with good music so that they don’t end up hallucinating “Mambo Number Five” or “This is the song that doesn’t end” in old age. Personally, I would rather have more dignified exit music as I dance off the stage of life into the next.

Effect of Beta Blockade and Beta Stimulation on Stage Fright.

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Brantigan, C .O., Brantigan, T. A., Joseph, N. Effect of Beta Blockade and Beta Stimulation on Stage Fright.

Summary: The researchers have investigated the effects of propanolol, a beta blocker, and terbutaline a beta stimulator, on stressful situations (i.e. performances) for musicians. Physiologically, stage fright is a “fight or flight” response mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, and the researchers wanted to determine what effects beta blockers and stimulators had on performance. These studies were carried out in two different locations: At the Juilliard School in New York and at the University of Nebraska in Omaha in 1980. Participants included both professionals and students in both locations. Two mini-recitals were given on two consecutive days, each with a different drug. 7 participants also agreed to test the effects of a beta stimulator, which then meant that they presented three recitals on three consecutive days. Of course, participants did not know whether they were receiving an active pill or a placebo. Participants underwent a brief medical examination beforehand. Blood pressure was measured before and after performance, while continuous telemetric monitoring of an ECG took place during the performance. They also completed questionnaires after the performance.

In both New York and Nebraska there was a significant improvement in the physical/ somatic manifestations of stage fright when taking beta propanolol. Interestingly though, the musical evaluators in New York favoured the performances of the musicians when they were taking beta blockers. However, in Nebraska, because of the high incidence of random errors, the musical evaluators could not express a preference for one performance over another.

The researchers speculate on whether the whole music training system has caused stage fright. They surmise that the system coerces music neophytes into performance situations that they are not really prepared for, while constant negative feedback in the name of improving performance cultivates stage fright.

The researchers also mention that they suspected that one participant in each location did not take any of the pills before a performance – possibly an experiment conducted on the experimenters. The one in Nebraska, when confronted, admitted to this. The one in New York denied any wrongdoing.

Review: This was an interesting study conducted in the early 1980’s on the effect and effectiveness of beta blockers on performance. Its statistics demonstrate that beta blockers have a positive effect on the wellbeing of the performing musician, if no necessarily on his/ her performance. At least it does not seem detrimental to performance. On the other hand, it also demonstrates that taking a beta stimulator has a detrimental effect on the performer, with one participant describing the pill as “awful”.

Response: In the past there has been a lack of understanding in medical community of what a musician goes through when performing in public. While the public enjoys the performance and possibly finds that listening to music is relaxing activity, it certainly is not relaxing to the musician performing it. Stage fright is more of a somatic anxiety than a neurotic one, thus stage fright can be seen more as a physical disability than a psychological one – which course does not mean that it cannot turn into a psychological problem. When seen as a physical “disability” then perhaps taking certain beta blockers might be appropriate. Psychosis and depressions due to long-term use of propanolol, however, are not desirable for musicians. The investigators also point out that there may be serious withdrawal effects after long-term use. The propose that beta blockers be used as a temporary measure, while learning to use psychological techniques, such as self-hypnosis. I wholeheartedly agree with this. I support the temporary use of beta blockers, but I wonder whether, instead of popping a pill, why do we not try to improve our mental states, and by extension ourselves, through psychological training?

(posted by Michael Bellissimo)

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition where the senses can mix together to create a new experience. The dictionary defines it as:
A sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.
Simply put it is where one can hear, feel or taste a colour, smell a sound, etc…

This video will further explain:

In the article
( written by Susan Gaidos in SCIENCE NEWS, expands on this subject. Synesthetes have specially wired brains, according to the author, and their senses are blended. This condition could be in as many as 1 in 200 people and can be hereditary.

Although science is still working on the reason this is happening a theory is that synaesthesia may be caused by "cross-wiring" between areas of the brain that process the senses. This may occur very early in life where:

“Our brain makes more connections than it needs, and then eventually prunes some of those away,” says Edward Hubbard, a post-doctoral researcher at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research who studies what causes synaesthesia.

Recently in the Netherland scientists used DTI (which stands for diffusion tensor imaging) measures how water flows in the brain, scanning 18 synesthetes, and non- synesthetes. In some brain tissue water flows more freely in one direction especially in an axon (message carrier) referred to as white matter. This method allowed scientist to see how many axons where in each brain region, these area will have more white matter.
The synesthete’s synesthetes had higher levels of white matter in different brain regions; one in the letter and word region of the brain, the other in regions involved in consciousness and awareness.


This video and article got me thinking about those people with perfect or absolute pitch. Are they synesthetes and don’t know it? I remember years ago when a product came out that you could buy for $90.00 that would give you perfect pitch by relating notes to colour. Everyone I know that tried it could not make it happen and that makes sense if the science is correct telling us that this starts in infancy, where you start becoming a synesthete. However what would happen if you started relating pitches and colour during infancy. Do kids who play with the little keyboards that have coloured keys instead of black and white keys, or the xylophones that have different colours develop a better sense of pitch or even perfect pitch? (DO I START THIS WITH MY DAUGHTER?)

More questions came up as I searched. What about people who are colour blind can they have synaesthesia? Well it turn out, yes, in fact scientist Ramachandran and Hubbard have produced many interesting findings, including a subject who referred to colours he could experience synaesthetically, but could not see.
Perhaps as music educators we should be implementing colour and pitch relationships in a systematic way including the instrumental methods book used in band programs. Or would we be adding another dimension to music learning that would slow the musical

When the brain plays music: auditory—motor interactions in music perceptions and production

Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2007, vol 8, no. 7, p 547 - 558

Sharon Dutton

Zatorre, Robert J., Chen, Joyce L., and Penhyne, Virginia B. “When the brain plays music: auditory-motor interactions in music perception and production”

Zatorre et al are reviewing and discussing 175 studies or pieces of literature which relate to music – studies pertaining to hearing, timing, sequencing, motor responses, mirror neurons, auditory cortex activity, and particularly any studies that could link musical activity to motor activity. Taken together, they discuss how these studies demonstrate the existence of interactions between the motor and auditory systems of the brain during listening to music, or performing music. They identify three basic motor control functions that are required during a musical performance: timing, sequencing, and spatial organization of movement (p 547). They are aware of many studies which examine these functions separately, and note that “the study of music production requires these systems to be studied in an integrated fashion, thus making it both a challenging and fruitful model system for research into sensory-motor integration” (p 547). Pitch and rhythm activation in the brain has also been studied separately, and scientists have found that the brain can operate separately in each of these two domains.

Zatorre et al note, “neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies have shown that the motor regions of the brain contribute to both perception and production of rhythms … the concept that is emerging from this literature is that the analysis of rhythm may depend to a large extent on interactions between the auditory and motor systems” (p 550). They hypothesize, “the dorsal auditory cortical pathway (which streams from the primary auditory cortex) is relevant for spatial processing, and tracks time-varying events. Therefore, a link to motor systems would make sense, as movements occur in time as well as in space” (p 549).

Zatorre et al cite studies that have found activation in the premotor cortex region (PMC) during listening to music by musicians and by non-musicians, and conclude, “these findings demonstrate that auditory-motor interactions can be elicited in non-musicians spontaneously, or more specifically when there is a direct learned mapping between movement and sound” (p 551). Studies that manipulate feedforward (auditory system influencing the motor output) , and feedback (auditory system responding to motor performance) interactions between the auditory and motor systems suggest that not two, but one “single underlying mental representation” governs this interaction. The authors “propose that the circuitry linking auditory systems to motor systems may be the neural substrate of this cognitive representation” (p 550).

Studies using magnetoencephalography (MEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) “support the notion that the auditory and motor systems are tightly coupled in general, and more so in trained musicians than in untrained people” (p 552). The authors include neuroimaging studies that have detected activity in the supplementary motor area (SMA) and premotor areas when both musicians imagine performing (musical imagery), and when non-musicians imagine listening to music, and recognize “the tight coupling between auditory cortices and the portions of the premotor and supplementary motor system” (p 552).


As a musician, it is no surprise to me that neurological evidence supports a connection between music and movement. Without movement, music would only exist in the imagination. What surprises me, however, is the evidence of SMA and premotor activity observed in non-musicians’ brains as they imagine hearing musical excerpts. Since they do not consciously associate music with performance (movement), why would this area be activated?

The strongest argument to explain this auditory / motor connection would be evolutionary development. Levitin (crediting Miller) claims, “under the conditions that would have existed throughout most of our evolutionary history … music and dance were completely intertwined” (2006, 252). Using Levitin as a reference for considering that evolutionary lag is a minimum of 50,000 years, and based on Zatorre’s findings, it is safe to say that all contemporary humans possess a hard-wired tendency to connect music and movement. If (quoting Levitin again), “the archaeological record shows an uninterrupted record of music making everywhere we find humans, and in every era” (2006, p 256), then there should be a strong connection between movement and music in our brains. Our brains’ adaptations are suited for necessitating movement when we hear music. We would need this “instinctual” connection in order to partake in music / dance activities, which were important enough to be part of every known culture known in human history. Quoting Gloria from her blog, “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” (Gloria’s blog November 12, 2008).

In any music-making event, whether it is a community celebration, or a personal moment of reflection, creating music involves immediate synchronicity between ear and motor response. Levitin states, “it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity” (2006, p 257). Probably nothing has changed during the past 50,000 years as much as music, and the ways that we use and experience it. Zatorre et al's comment, “therefore, a link to motor systems would make sense, as movements occur in time as well as in space” (p 549), indeed, their whole paper, seems to refer more to present day performance practices instead of the far past. The link between music and movement in the brain makes perfect sense when we take the evolutionary lag into account.

Zatorre et al's suggestion that auditory-motor interactions could be the “link between listening and moving” (p 555) may be true for us in today’s culture, but is less likely a reason for the connection to exist, and more likely a “spandrel”, to use Levitin’s terminology (Levitin 2006, p 248). (A spandrel is a byproduct, an unintentional consequential outcome). If the connection between music and movement is already deeply embedded, and has been for so long, why wouldn’t the brain use it to link music and e-motion, letting us be ‘moved’ by music!? – (metaphors being the more truthful and embodied expressions of our beliefs and feelings).


Levitin, Daniel J. (2006) This is Your Brain on Music, the science of a human obsession. Plume, Penguin Group, New York.

MusicBrainerBlogger, Music, Cognition, Culture, and Evolution, published by Gloria, November 12, 2008