Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Mindful Brain, the Neurobiology of Well-Being

Sharon Dutton
A CD by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, (2008)

Dr. Siegel identifies three ways in which mindful awareness can enhance our lives:
> improves our physical well-being,
> enhances our relationships,
> develops a sense of deep mental coherence and meaning
In his practice as a family counselor, he has found commonalities in the following three separate fields:
1. Mindful awareness practice
2. Secure parent-child relationship
3. Science of brain
Dr. Siegel defines mindfulness as a state of intentionally paying attention in the present moment without judgment, and describes it with an acronym:
C = curiosity, O = openness, A = awareness, L = love
Mindful awareness is a form of ancient wisdom – present in every culture – and often used to promote health and well-being. This CD explains how the physiology of the brain is changed through the practice of mindful meditation, and will explain how mindful meditation enhances relationships with others.

When mindful awareness is recreated regularly, the activation that occurs in the brain leads to structural changes in the brain itself, which leads to a long-term state of mindful awareness.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction:
Dr. Siegel has developed the following first seven attributes as proven outcomes of secure parent-child relationships. He claims that, as well as developing these first seven attributes, (perhaps through practicing the first seven), having secure parent child relationships promotes the growth of the prefrontal cortex. All nine attributes are factors that can be improved with mindful awareness. He also found that the same first seven are all functions of an undamaged, middle or prefrontal cortex (PFC)

1. Regulating the body – balancing the autonomic nervous system, acting as an autonomic accelerator during excitement, or nervousness
2. Attuned communication with someone, associated with general well-being
3. Emotional balance – The limbic area regulates emotion, affective arousal, and affective states. Below this is the brain stem, or reptilian brain, which is responsible for states of attention, for Fight, Flight, or Freeze response to danger. Brain stem and limbic areas help regulate and create affective states. Combining these with hormonal firing, (the somatic state), these three states are called sub-cortal affective states. The PFC regulates these such that we can be aroused enough to give life meaning, but not too much, nor too less.
4. Response flexibility – the ability to take in various stimuli, and to reflect before acting. The middle PFC area is essential for creating a disconnect between impulse and action, which is crucial to social and emotional intelligence.
5. Insight -- “the capacity of the mind as it uses parts of the brain to create itself and to possibly develop mental time travel, or connecting the past with the present and the future, as we imagine the future to be.
6. Empathy – the capacity to see through another’s perspective – to “see” their mind. Combining empathy with insight = mind sight.
7. Ability to modulate fear -- GABA (gama amino buteric acid), is released to inhibit impulses – calms things down (fear modulation). While it is impossible to unlearn fear, we can grow new neurons from the prefrontal area that allows us to override the fear from the amygdala.
8 Intuition – being open to the wisdom of the body. There are neural networks around the heart and around the intestines, which serve as information processors – parallel distributors between brain and heart. Dr. Siegel defines brain as energy and information flow. The flow is the neural processes and can happen in the skull, or throughout the body. The whole body has information that can be brought to the middle prefrontal cortex in order to gain access to information – to become sensitive to the physiological sensations of the body. S ensations I mages F eelings T houghts
9 Morality – imagining the better social good, developing a deep sense of compassion and concern for others that allows us to feel connected to a greater whole.

A study by Farb et al (2007) revealed that after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, one’s electro encephalogram revealed a left shift. This indicates an “approach” mindset; a shift to the right indicates a “withdraw” mindset. Improvements can be expected in resiliency, flexibility, empathy (relationships), and openness. We get a much deeper sense of well-being, from a fundamental process that is at the heart of well being – the process of attunement, of interpersonal attunement and internal attunement -- observing the self – tuning in to the experiencing self as open and curious, (COAL), resonating with each other, having an open stance, and in the brain, activation of specific circuits that involve the middle prefrontal area.

Mind, Brain and Relationships are distinct
-- mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information
-- brain is collection of neurons distributed in the skull and throughout the body. Energy and information flow can ride across the firing patterns of these neural connections – neural pathways, neural network.
-- relationships are the way we share energy and information.

The brain can be influenced by the information and energy flow of mindful meditation practice – by activating the brain in specific ways, we allow it to reinforce certain connections. By using intentional focus, we sculpt the brain, thereby altering the connections in the brain toward health.

One of the primary functions of the MPC is integrative. The brain is comprised of the spinal cord, brain stem, limbic area, and the cortex. The middle prefrontal area is connected to the brain stem and limbic area – which connects the body to the brain stem, the limbic area and the cortex, and the social signals of other people. Mental coherence emerges from neural integration, and mindfulness promotes integration.

One study demonstrated that meditation led to growth of fibers in the middle prefrontal area. The degree of thickening of middle prefrontal areas and the right insula is proportional to the number of years spent practising meditation in the vipassana tradition.

Architecturally, the brain has a large surface area, but is folded back upon itself. Incoming present experience data converges with prior learning and perpetual judgments, enslaving our ability to see the present clearly. By choosing to release those judgments, and to focus instead on the fullness of the present moment, influences from past experiences are disengaged, enabling a purer form of experience. Using awareness thereby enables us to experience the ordinary as extraordinary.

Certain aspects of the brain are activated during mindful meditation. Mindful awareness is found to use the ancient social circuitry of the brain for internal reflection and for interpersonal attunement, and to develop an open resonating process of our observing self with our experiencing self.

Reflective coherence – how we use the power of reflection in mindful reflection to create states of coherence (created in 3 domains: interpersonal attunement, mindful awareness, and middle PFC function) involves layers of integration – functionally distinct parts of a system linking into a whole. The nine functions (body function to morality) emerge from mindfulness because of neural integration.

Practising mindfulness (yoga, tai chi, prayer, etc.) intentionally for a focused period of time, ultimately stimulates the brain to form new neural connections in the resonant circuits – superiorTC regions -- that interact with mirror neurons, through the insula, and up into the m p f c. The activation of the resonant circuit will reinforce the circuitry as we develop a trait of mindfulness, being observant of everything within and around us.
Mindful awareness, secure relationships, mental health, and the integrative function of prefrontal area are all indicators of well-being and emotional balance.


Dr. Siegel is director of the Mindsight Institute, and the founding editor of the Norton Series on Interpersonal neurobiology. While this CD has a slightly promotional bent, (it is meant to accompany his newest book, “the Mindful Brain”), it speaks to the plasticity of the brain, the separateness of mind and brain, and the ability of the mind to biologically alter the structure of and functioning patterns in the brain through the ancient practice of meditation.

Ironically, it also speaks somewhat to the dissociation that western society still perceives between mind and body, by assuming a need to quantify what the body knows to be true. Fortunately, the studies that he mentions “many studies have shown…” are in support of his interests in the neurobiological connections between brain and mindful meditation practices. He mentions them frequently enough, and repeats himself enough to impart a flavour of western “proof”. However, a quick check with the University of Toronto library reveals that there are indeed, many current studies that are exploring brain activity during meditation, many of which do not seek to quantifiably justify the benefits of meditative practice, but to better understand the brain as a functioning biological organ.

Dr. Siegel includes a brief referral to our western education system, and recommends that children be taught reflective practices from a very early age. This is because of the interconnectedness that is experienced through mindful or reflective practice, and the integrative stimulation that mindful meditation can procure in the middle prefrontal cortex region. Otherwise, he laments, our society tends to think of ourselves as disjunct, not connected to each other, and certainly, not connected to the earth, (not in a spiritual sense, and no longer in a physical sense either).

A study by Davina Chan and Marjorie Woollacott from August 2007 demonstrated
that “meditation produces long-term increases in the efficiency of the executive attentional network (anterior cingulate/prefrontal cortex)”, (but not on the orientation networks). Wouldn’t this be a safer, healthier strategy to help our ADHD children, than medicating them with Ritalin? They would also later benefit from the stronger middle prefrontal cortex integration function that Dr. Siegel refers to, rather than face the increased risk of heart abnormalities that are associated with Ritalin. And, as Dr. Siegel recommends, if administrators called it “Reflection” instead of meditation, they would avoid the western public’s association of meditation with spirituality, particularly Buddhism – not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s the politically correct mentality that I am referring to. Hmm… will that be medication or meditation?

Chan, Davina and Woolacott, Marjorie, 2007 Effects of Level of Meditation Experience on Attentional Focus: Is the Efficiency of Executive or Orientation Networks Improved?” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, August 1, 2007, 13(6): 651-658. doi:10.1089/acm.2007.7022

Virginia Penhume: The Neural Basis of Auditory-Motor Interactions: Auditory Control-Motor Perception

McMaster institute for Music and the Mind (MIMM) Workshop, November 29, 2008
Musical Connections in the Brain: Language, Dance and the visual Arts

Sharon Dutton

The first speaker of the workshop, Dr. Virginia Penhume, is one of the core members at the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. Her primary research interests are in the development of auditory perception, including basic sound perception, and the acquisition of music and language. The topic of her presentation was “The Neural Basis of Auditory-Motor Interactions: Auditory Control—Motor Perception”. Although the research in this field is in its infancy, Dr. Penhume identified four characteristics of the neurological motor response to music:

> it is spontaneous
> it is selective
> it differentiates between metres
> the neural mechanisms that respond are separable (from their brain sites).

She spoke first on the human propensity to “move to the beat”, and defined rhythm as an emergent percept, ambiguous, with no single feature, being created entirely in the mind. She is interested in exploring how the mind forms this percept, and identified three descriptive qualifiers about rhythm:

> Accent
> Beat
> Metre

To answer the question, “How does accent / meter impact motor response?” she created a set of tests wherein musicians and non-musicians would undergo brain scans while hearing a rhythm, and immediately thereafter, while hearing and simultaneously tapping the rhythm. Several progressively more difficult rhythms were used as samples. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), she was able to measure, and then examine brain activity during these tasks; she also measured the amount of deviation in the tapped rhythm from the sample.

Dr. Penhume found (not surprisingly), that musicians were more accurate than non-musicians in their reproductions of the rhythmic samples. Musicians demonstrated less brain activity than non-musicians overall, and their brain activation patterns employed more “top down” function, purportedly because they have much more experience with this task, and have to work less to perform the task. For musicians and non-musicians, she found that the dorsal pre motor cortex (dPMC) is activated by abstract information from sensory cues. Auditory-motor coupling was apparent in other parts of the brain as well, but the PMC was critical for linking sound and action. The pre-motor cortex is critical for linking sound and actions. She referred to studies (Trainor 2005, Elbert 1995) that addressed early as opposed to late musical training; findings are that there is more brain development when early training occurs, (again, not surprisingly). However, in her study, Penhume found that late trained musicians out-performed auditory rhythmic reproduction tasks in deviation scores, while rhythmic perception was equal for late and early trained musicians. Early trained musicians demonstrate better sensorimotor integration and prediction. She noted that musicians are alert to visual cues, and closed with the suggestion that children who are better imitators might make better musicians.

Dalcroze teachers are excited about the fact that neuroscientists have discovered a connection between motor and auditory functions in the brain through fMRI testing. Emiles Jaques-Dalcroze discovered this link 100 years ago through insightful observation, and used his discovery to develop, through trial and error, an approach to music education in and through the body, using movement to musically prepare the student for formal music study. It is cause to celebrate, because this field of neuroscience, hypothesizing about and exploring the musical connection between mind and body. Headline: Listening to music induces motor response! It is exciting because when this field develops, when the questions that are generated by these preliminary findings are answered, then the Dalcroze teachers, (and the Orff teachers, and the Early Childhood Music Educators) will in turn, learn from the neuroscientists, and most of those answers will inform music educators of any level.

Of course any layperson would acknowledge a link between music and movement, can recognize that all music requires movement – there can be no sound without vibration – and all musicians have to move something to create sound (music), with more or less skill, insight, and expression. But, this is not the same thing as what Dr. Penhume addresses. It would amount to putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Dr. Penhume has discovered that by listening to music, the motor function in the brain is consequently activated. She and other neuroscientists have discovered a propensity for the motor functions of the brain to respond to hearing a beat, and fMRI testing allows us to witness this connection.

This is just the beginning -- a very primal beginning of -- an emerging field. The beat – the most essential of all musical elements, if heard alone, is not music. Metre is not music, timing is not music, and accurate reproduction of rhythm patterns is not music. I wonder if brain scans will one day be able to observe the “great musician” in the brain. Is he/she/it even in the brain? While we can measure rhythmic reproduction, pitch reproduction, and attentive listening, there is still the mysterious spark of life that makes music Music. I look forward to all that neuroscience will teach music educators, but my sense is that the “great musician” will dodge fMRI testing, existing, as it will, in the infinitesimal spontaneity of humanity’s most expressive self, wherever that may be.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Music Learning in Childhood: Early Developments of a Musical Brain and Body

Music Learning in Childhood: Early Developments of a Musical Brain and Body
by Flohr, John W. and Colwyn Trevarthen
"Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy," pages 53-99 (W. Gruhn and F. Rauscher, 2008)

With the latest scientific discoveries in infants' brain and body developments in view, the different approaches of pedagogy methods in early childhood music education are compared in this article. Comparable to language, music stimulates the perceptual, motor, kinesthetic, and emotional development in infants' body and brain and also serves as a tool of communication with other people in the surrounding environment. In foetus, infants experience the first contact with environment through sound and movement: listening to mother's heartbeat and voice and being carried around in her womb. Through interaction with caretakers after birth, infants continue to enlarge their repertoire of perceptual, motor, and emotional reponses and develop corresponding areas in ceberal cortex, cerebellum, and limbic system of the brain. Through participation in games of singing and dancing, infants exercise their auditory, vocal, and motor systems by observation and imitation. Also, they experience pleasure and fulfillment in being socially engaged in interacting with other members of the community. The authors also review literatures in which movement, music, and emotion are believed to be developing as an overlapping whole in growing human beings. Pedagogue such as Emile Jacques-Dalcroze advocates the teaching of music in connection with movement and emotion, all three of which have to be physically experienced, first, before they could be internalized. An overview of chronological stages of infants' brain and body development is provided and aims to highlight optimal learning ages and activities on this timeline. This article concludes with citations from principles for early childhood practice by National Association for the Education of Young Children in the States, as well as a table of 13 different musical education preschool approaches and their characteristics. Providing educators with knowledge of the natural learning sequences of human beings, the authors would like to bring educators' awareness to examine the nature of their pedagogic methods (teacher-centered vs child-centered) and explore optimal learning conditions and stimuli for teaching music to children.

Review & Reflection
This article is enlightening not only in music pedagogy for children, but also for adult musicians who dedicate themselves to a lifetime of musical development and growth. Knowing how children naturally develop and learn music helps us to understand our own behaviours and learning path. Experience and tradition in pedagogy gives educators the "what" and scientic discoveries gives the "why." When the content and explanation come together, we are best able to absorb, internalize, apply, and transmit knowledge. Naturally, this article is full of very good information and leans on the overloaded side. It takes several readings to clarify the overall goals of the authors' intention and to keep them in mind while ploughing through pages and pages of information.What puzzles me is the page on why only human brains are musical (pp. 81-82). The authors explain why human brains are musical, but there are no support for why other animal brains are not.The parallel between learning language and music is also interesting - it resonates with Edwin Gordon's music learning theory, which I will be using in my future blog entries.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Music, Mental Disorders and Emotional Reception Behaviour

Review: Janet Spring
Gebheardt, S., Von Georgi, R. Music, mental disorder and emotional reception behaviour. Retrieved October 29, 2008 at: http://www.musictherapyworld,de/modules/mmmagazine/showarticle.php?articletoshow

Music has always played an important role in emotions and mental wellbeing, a fact that has been undisputed since ancient times and across many cultures. In this study by Gebheardt, fifty five patients with varying mental disorders were studied to determine if “the functional-receptive use of music in everyday life on specific diagnostic groups of mental disorders” is viable. Using the IAAM quantitative methodology, the “Inventory for the Assessment of Activation and Arousalmodulation through Music” ( p. 3), the researchers investigate the “functional utilization of music for the modulation of emotional activation processes”(p. 3).

Patients participating in the study were admitted to the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Phillips-University of Marburg, Germany and suffered from mental and behavioural disorders. These included: “schizophrenia, schizotypal and delusional disorders, mood affective disorders, neurotic, stress-related and somatoform disorders and ….personality and behaviour disorders” (p. 3). Two control groups of 1) medical students and 2) adults recruited from companies and clubs was also utilized. The IAAM results were tabulated under the following parameters: 1) relaxation 2) cognitive problem solving 3) reduction of negative activation, 4) fun seeking and 5) arousal modulation. The patients were then tested for these five parameters and results were compared with the two control groups: students and adults. A ONEWAY analysis was carried out and results were reported for the five IAAM parameters.

Listening to music is a complex activity where the brain registers and computes melody, harmony, pitch, timbre, rhythm, etc, where these are addressed in “different cortical and basal structures of the central nervous system” (p. 8). As music can have a positive or negative affect on emotions and mental state, the type of music utilized can also have an effect on a person’s mental state. Results of this study point to the fact that patients who suffer from mental disorders employ music to reduce negative emotional activation, cognitive problem solving and somatic relaxation. On the other hand, music for the control sample of healthy adults and students is used for “positive stimulation” (p. 7), an activity which for persons with mental disorders is difficult to do. It is also noted in the study that, “musical stimuli have been shown to activate specific pathways in several brain areas associated with emotional behaviours and mental disorders, such as the insular and cingulated cortex, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdale, in ventral striatum, midbrain, orbitofrontal cortex and ventral medial prefrontal cortex” (p. 8). The authors also suggest that music could modulate anxiety in patients with this affliction where anxiety is shown in the amygdale or prefrontal cortex. Music therefore may play a very important role in regulating mental disorders. However, the authors point to the fact that more research must be completed in this area and research must be carried out in a larger patient sample size to affect more detailed results.


Music may become an increasingly important tool to affect positive change in patients who suffer from mental disorders. Further research however, must be carried out to investigate the clinical use of music as a positive and/or negative stimulator. As our society becomes more drug dependent, and our lives become increasingly stressful, listening to and performing music may become even more important as an effective agent to improve the emotional state of students, adults and those who suffer from disorders of the mind.

Adaptation to Rhythmic Auditory Stimuli

Reference: Tecchio, F., C. Salustri, M.H. Thaut, P. Pasqualetti, P.M. Rossini. Experimental Brain Research (2000) 135:222-230. Conscious and preconscious adaptation to rhythmic auditory stimuli: a magnetoencephalographic study of human brain responses.

Review: the aim of this study was to identify the degree to which subjects could consciously distinguish and adapt to variations in the rhythmic occurrence of brief tones. The inter stimulus intervals (ISI) varied from 2%-20% from a central value. Subjects consciously detected the 20% ISI changes whereas they never consciously detected the 2% ISI changes, yet they always correctly adjusted their tapping to them. Subjects were required to tap their fingers in synchrony with a rhythmic metronome sequence spontaneously adjusting their tapping to perturbations of the rhythm frequency even when these perturbations are so small as to be undetectable consciously (Thaut et al. 1998 mentioned in Tecchio et al. 2000).
For this study they used MEG to investigate the response of the human auditory cortex to incoming rhythmic stimuli. The aims were to basically measure the response of the auditory cortex to auditory stimuli that were randomly administered in a series with small differences in variations of ISI. This was to identify whether brain responses involved in the sensory stimulus are linked to conscious or preconscious motor synchronization to the dispatched rhythm. (basically tapping to a tone that varied from the steady repetition by 2-20%).
Results: All subjects counted the ISI changes correctly when their variation was 20% of the central frequency. In no case were they able to identify the 2% ISI changes. Yet they were able to quickly adjust (within 1-2 motor responses ) to the new ISI, both at the 20% and 2% variation. Results confirm from other studies which suggest conscious and preconscious tuning to rhythm changes.
The findings suggest that rhythmic discrimination is at least in part taking place at the auditory cortical level and that the auditory cortex may contribute directly to synchronize the motor output ( Tecchio et al.). Also suggested is that the local sensory memory is characterized by a sensitivity of at least 2% in the 2hz rhythmicity (60bpm).
Their findings prove that the auditory cortex identifies changes even when they are not consciously recognized.

Reflection: I found this study and discussion to be fascinating in terms of how quickly and accurately (within a small number of ms) humans can adjust and match pulses which vary from a central rhythm. There was not any discussion that I am aware of that looked for differences between trained musicians’ and novices’/untrained musicians’ responses. It is also fascinating that humans are this accurate at auditory perception. I am referring to the fact that subjects had no visual cues. When a band speeds up or slows down in live performance or live recording, there are usually visual and auditory cues to pick up on. An important distinction is implied between the terms unconscious/subconscious and preconscious: it seems to me that the authors use the term preconscious since there is a physical awareness of changes in the pulses, but not cognitive – high brain - awareness. Also, I am going out on a limb by stating that stimulus-response research at this level was outside the realm of Freudian ideas (I am trying to be funny here).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Effects of Musical expertise on the early right anterior negativity: an event-related brain potential study

Reference: Koelsch, Stefan, Bjørn-Helmer Schmidt, and Julia Kansok. Effects of Musical expertise on the early right anterior negativity: An event-related brain potential study. Psychophysiology, 39 (2002), 657-663.
By Devon Fornelli
Review: This study aims to investigate influences of experience on auditory information processing. Researchers were interested in studying the advantage of long-term training experience in order to study cortical plasticity, primary auditory cognitive functions and auditory sensory memory mechanisms.
The study aimed to determine whether it was possible to identify differences between musicians’ and non-musicians’ brain activity while they listened to and were asked to identify unusual chord progressions. 18 musical experts and 18 musical novices participated in the experiment.
The stimuli were one hundred and seventy-two different chord sequences which were composed according to the classical rules of harmony (Hindemith, 1940). Each sequence consisted of five chords. The subjects were also being monitored with EEG and ERAN technology.
This study exhibits complex mechanisms observable using ERAN methods, and demonstrates links between music processing can be modulated by expertise and long term formal musical training.
Reflection: With regard to what we have been reading about neuroplasticity and how experience can shape the physical makeup of the brain, it is valuable to have a study such as this that identifies the mechanisms and structures that distinguish the differences in behavior or neurological function between experts and novices in music.

Ravel and Right Hemisphere creativity

Reference: Amaducci, L., E. Grassi, and F. Boller. Maurice ravel and right-hemisphere musical creativity: influence of disease on his last musical works? European Journal of Neurology. 2002, 9: 75-82.
By Devon Fornelli
The article begins by saying that in Neuroscience it is thought that language and music are two sides of same coin. Though amusia without aphasia and inverse have been described, verbal and musical impairments often occur together. It is documented that “Ravel suffered a progressive cerebral disease of uncertain aetiology, and it involved the left hemisphere” (Amaducci et al). Also Ravel experienced aphasia and apraxia and became unable to compose. From what is known, Ravel’s diagnosis by those who have analyzed the description of symptoms, it is suggested that his condition was a primary progressive aphasia (PPA), and possibly overlapping with cortico-basal degeneration (CBD).
The author suggests that Ravel’s final two compositions – Bolero and the Concerto for Left Hand include characteristics of “right-hemisphere abilities showing the influence of disease on the creative process.”
Studies suggest that musical functions are not lateralized to one hemisphere to the same degree that language and praxis are (Schlaug et al., Ligeois-Chauvel et al., Peretz).
The signs of decline for Ravel were noted to start ca. 1927 when he started getting lost in the music at a concert accompanying his violin sonata. There were also uncharacteristic blunders in his hand-writing.
Ravel was involved in car accident in 1932 where he injured his face and chest, but likely did not have cerebral concussion. It was shortly after this that his decline started.
The neurologist Alajouanine followed his case from 1933-36. It was noted Ravel was no longer able to write or play the piano, and also had an impairment of production and comprehension of spoken words. He also lost the ability to read a score.
Ravel was operated on and the surgeon found his right hemisphere was sunken. One hypothesis is that Ravel had Alheimer’s disease (AD)– but other studies contradict this based on the fact that he had “semantic and visuospatial memory, which tend to be affected by AD”(Amaducci et al.) up until his death.
The symptoms that were diagnosed by his doctor included aphasia, apraxia, agraphia, alexia. As stated, he was unable to sight-read a score. As well, he forgot most of his compositions except the first few bars. (This was the period when he wrote Bolero and his Concerto for Left Hand).
However, he retained much of his abilities up until his death. Though during the operation, his right hemisphere was seen to be deflated and damaged, this evidently did not affect certain abilities.
This article is valuable in the sense that is ties together the scientific diagnosis of what deterioration was occurring in Ravel’s brain based on the testimony from the doctor as well as accounts about Ravel’s life from himself and those around him.
Mostly, I feel that this article illuminates the likelihood that tasks can be shared between different locations in the brain when damage or deterioration has occurred. This is made obvious by the description from ravel’s surgeon (who opened up the cranium and noticed the right hemisphere was deflated) since it is noted that Ravel was still able to recognize his music up until the surgery. However, the author made reference to several accounts of abilities that Ravel lost, besides his aphasia and other cognitive impairments. For example, he lost other motor function in that he was unable to swim at a certain point, but other motor functions were intact. Ravel’s deterioration was much more detailed and complicated than I can detail in this blog. What is impressive is how much function he retained in light of the damage that was noticed to his right hemisphere.

Neuroplasticity and functional recovery

Baker, Felicity and Edward A. Roth. “Neuroplasticity and Functional Recovery: Training Models and Compensatory Strategies in Music Therapy”. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 13 (1) 2004, pp. 20-32.

By: Devon Fornelli

This article discusses issues regarding recovery of function after neurological damage following a Traumatic Brain Injury. Also mentioned is research in music perception and production, as well as specific music therapy interventions address the restoration of function.
The eventual goal would be to address the timing for introducing each treatment strategy and how this would affect potential outcomes for the client. A problem is that neurological fields and MT fields rarely share information or consult each other. This article focuses on Neuroplasticity and how Music Therapy training affects this. The information addresses how Music Therapy clinicians deal with behavioural compensation strategies versus restoration of function.

There exists a dilemma for therapists: develop compensatory skills based on spared function or focus on restoration of function (reducing impairment to return to normality).
There are instances when focusing on compensatory skills is detrimental to the recovery of a skill if the restoration of function is possible. If the decision is made to develop a compensatory skill then the ability to recover the original skill is lost. An example is if the ability to move your right thumb is hindered and to compensate you develop skills using your other fingers. The result will be that your thumb will not recover function since you are compensating for that injury by developing new functions.

There remains a lot to be studied on effect of Music Therapy on cerebral reorganization/neuroplasticity.
In this paper, studies were identified that report on developing compensatory function which illustrate how MT can be framed in a philosophy of practice.
Again, behavioral compensation is where an individual adopts the use of skills which were not used prior to the injury.
Compensation is a term from the 1930s – coined by Emerson and Goldstein. Goldstein proposed that recovery (based on compensation) occurs as a consequence of change in strategy rather than an amelioration of the deficit. Rehab in a compensatory framework should focus on using intact capacities to perform tasks vs. decreasing the impairments by focusing on restoring function to the injured skill.
For clients with poor memory, MT will use a diary as a strategy and set tasks for clients to complete between sessions.

A clear illustration of compensatory skill development is for clients who are hemiplegic – one side has function – and therefore that side takes over tasks the other side used to perform.

Another situation where Music therapy was useful is cited by Baker: a client needed to remember safety with wheelchair – not go down stairs, put on brakes etc. Baker composed a song that the client used as a cue for safety – music as a cue was the compensation for remembering what to do.

Origins of the term Neuroplasticity
Cotard first makes mention of NP (mentioned in Benton and Tranel) – when he noticed that children with worsening atrophy to the left hemisphere of the brain didn’t become aphasic – because the brain adapted - what he called neural substrate reorganization – now called neuroplasticity.
Kolb and Gibb added to this when they analyzed how glial cells increased in number and size within animals whose brains were damaged after they were exposed to an enriched environment (toys, challenges, etc.). The change in Glial cells is correlated with changes in neuronal morphology – and it is thought that they stimulate neuronal changes.
Further, animals can adapt to cortical injury by using other remaining circuitries (K and G). As well, Elbert, Pantev, Weinbruch, Rockstroh and Taub found that string players showed increase in cortical representations between hands (left thumb vs. other fingers and vs. rh) suggesting that repetitive experience in one area can increase the cortical representation of that function in the brain. This helps indicate that even adults are capable of dynamic reorganization in cortical topography after changes/ injuries in the hand or surgery on webbed fingers etc.
Restoring deficit – using Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) – This article mentions Thaut’s research which focused on the perception and production of music and its effects on brain and behavior: his research tried to link/ parallel musical and non musical processes in the brain. Thaut was interested in research effect of auditory rhythm on simultaneous motor functioning. This all was in order to help build rational hypotheses relating to how music influences non-musical functioning.

Music Therapies used to retrain motor functioning after brain injury or deterioration:
Treatment programs use Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS), Therapeutic instrumental Music Performance (TIMP), and Patterned Sensory Enhancement (PSE) (Thaut). RAS was found to be helpful in treating problems in gait training (walking rhythm)

This article briefly mentions other studies involving recovery of function: Fields (1954 – regain use of affected limbs), Livingston (1996 – recovery of finger coordination using keyboard skills), and others.
Magee (1999) and Baker (2000) used melodic cues for aphasics in memory related tasks. When they could not generate the word, they could self-generate the melody and thus cue an association to the word.

As stated earlier, there are times when using compensatory methods is detrimental to recovering lost function: there are cases where compensatory systems may benefit short term skills, but inhibit activity of damaged circuits for long term recovery.
Conclusions: In general, the goal of utilizing Music therapy is for the amelioration of deficits during the initial stages of recovery from a brain trauma. It is when clients are unable to restore the preferred mode of performing a skill that compensatory skills should be considered in order to train another skill to replace the lost function.
The author stresses that further research is necessary to pinpoint when certain music therapies should be introduced during specific stages of recovery. Also, this timeline needs to address when it is optimal to introduce therapies in relation to the severity of brain injury.

As an individual who has lived through a TBI, I realize that there were some skills that I lost from my injury and there were salvageable. As an example, I used to have a very strong aural memory for memorizing music, lines from dramatic plays quickly. That is a skill I have lost. What has compensated for this is the development of analytical and kinesthetic memory to aide in memorization.

I agree with Baker’s conclusions that therapists - and potentially clients too – must be flexible when organizing a program of therapy in order to determine whether or not to pursue restoration of function or developing a compensatory skill. Also, it will beneficial to determine a timeline or a set of criteria that will help to determine when certain therapies can be introduced to be most beneficial throughout a program of therapy.

By Devon Fornelli

Brain waves shed light on autism

By Lindsay Tanner

Review/Reflection by Richard Burrows

Researchers have recently found unique brain waves that may assist in the explanation of communication issues with autistic children. These “signatures of autism” were found to show a delay in processing sounds. This delay can ‘snowball’ into a major speaking obstacle.
The results still need to be confirmed, but there is hope for advancement in autism detection. This allows for earlier detection, which in turn means earlier treatment. In the past, typically the diagnosis comes from observations of parents
Dr. Papanicolaou, director of the clinical neurosciences center at the University of Texas says, “It gives us a window through which we get a picture of some of the neurological conditions responsible for the peculiar behaviours in autism.”
The treatment involves a noninvasive procedure called MEG. The researchers had 64 autistic children ages 6 to 15 listen through headphones to a series of rapid beeps. The brain wave activity was compared with a control group of non-autistic children. Experts state that 1 in 150 US children have autism, and currently there is no cure. Behaviour treatment and medication can lessen the symptoms.
“Among those in the study was Parker Leiby, a nine-year-old Mount Laurel, N.J., boy with mild autism and sometimes hard-to-understand speech. He said he felt like an astronaut wearing that big helmet, and called the whole experience “cool.””
The author of the study, Dr. Roberts stated these findings substantiate the claim that autism is “a disorder of connectivity in the brain.”

The article is good overview of the basic concepts of autism and the research report. I think it targeted the right audience and presented just enough information to spark interest. I would be interested in reading a more detailed report on the findings.

This notion of advancement in autistic diagnosis is quite exciting. It is always great to hear that millions of research dollars are actually providing results in helping improve society as a whole. I realize this is only a small step for medicine, but this certainly lays a solid groundwork for further research.

Sit back and relax to brain wave music





Sit back and relax to brain wave music

An algorithm can turn brain waves patterns into musical scores. In an interview with TODAY Dr. Galina Mindlin of the Brain Music Therapy Center explains how this can heal

updated 1:53 p.m. ET, Thurs., Nov. 16, 2006



Dr. Galina Midlin is a neuro-psychiatrist with a private clinic in New York City that claims to be able to treat mental disorders with music synthesized from patients' own brain wave patterns.  The process begins with an EKG test to determine relaxed and alert brain-wave patterns which are particular to a given patient.  The patterns are then digitally translated into music using algorithms developed by a group of clinicians, researchers and musicians in Russia.  The music is then given to patients as two tracks, one based on relaxed brain waves and one on alert brain waves.  Each piece of music is meant to bring the patient into the same state as they were when the brainwaves were produced.  The idea is that the music is based on the rhythm of the patients own brain patterns and so will reinforce similar patterns within the brain. Dr. Midlin recommends this type of therapy for patients suffering from everything from insomnia to drug withdrawal to jet lag, and promotes the treatment as an alternative to drug therapies.



This interview, and many others conducted by various news services in 2005/6 Dr. Medlin aggressively promoted the treatment of mental disorders through music based on brain patterns.  The concepts that this technique is based upon are sound; music does affect mood and mental state in profound ways, and a person's brain patterns differ from other peoples' and also depend on their state of mind.  This interview does, however, make many claims that are not adequately supported by research, and the strong academic and financial interest of Dr. Mendlin in the technique give rise to skepticism of the usefulness of "brain music" in treating patients.  Dr.  Mendlin's own website about her research ( links to many media appearances but only two academic papers.  Of these one is a review of the technique which does not directly present results from studies, while the other, by Kayumov et. al from the journal SLEEP presenting positive results from a small study of insomniacs, is notable in that it directly contradicts some of the claims that Dr. Mendlin makes in her interview with TODAY.  A quick search for other supporting studies produced no significant research in this field...  It is quite possible that this technique has therapeutic benefit and some of the early research presented by Kayumov seems promising.  It is clear however that there needs to be a much broader study of the technique before it's usefulness can be determined.


I found this interview very interesting as it introduces a novel way in which an understanding of music and brain function can be used to help people suffering from a variety of disorders.  While the research as presented in this work seems to be far from complete, the possibilities presented by this interview are intriguing.  I would very much like to see how this field matures, and to see results from broader more complete studies.


Science & Music: Talk of the tone

Science & Music: Talk of the tone
By A. D. Patel

By Richard Burrows

“To appreciate how our species makes sense of sound we must study the brain’s response to a wide variety of music, languages and musical languages, urges Aniruddh D. Patel.”
Music involves many processing mechanisms of the brain. Because of this, there is a great deal of interest in finding the relationship of music cognition to complex cognitive abilities.
Areas in research, involving the idea of music and language sharing a sense of sound has just begun. “There are more connections between the domains than might be expected on the basis of dominant theories of musical and linguistic cognition — from sensory mechanisms that encode sound structure to abstract processes involved in integrating words or musical tones into syntactic structures.”
The majority of research in this area has centered on Western languages and musical traditions. Research that has been completed in non-Western musical cultures has found that the structure of Western scales is not universal. The subtle microtones of Asian music can sound out of tune to Western ears, however there is one universality, the octave. Across cultures, there is consistency in using certain pitches and intervals to define the framework for musical perception. This exhibits a connection of sound categories in language. “Each language has it’s own set of distinctive speech sounds or phonemes, which native listeners learn implicitly as part of making sense of the sound stream that reaches their ears.” This connection presents evidence that speech and music share similar brain processes for forming categories.
The next section of the article covers material from his lecture on cross-cultural rhythm perception. Please refer to the “Grey Matters” blog for a more detailed discussion.
Some phenomena fit into both categories. The ‘talking drums’ of west and central Africa communicate with patterns that mimic tones and syllables of their language. The drum messages are embedded in musical performance, and are intended to be understood by listeners who are familiar with the drum language. Although it is not as efficient as spoken word, these drums are able to convey novel phrases.
Another area of interest is whistled language. These languages are based on tone, and used to exhibit rhythmic and syllabic speech patterns. “For example, the whistled language of the Hmoung people of southeast Asia is based on their spoken language and encodes the seven different tones that they use to distinguish word meaning in speech.”
These neurological processes are not well researched, but hold a wealth of knowledge that could lead to a better understanding of language and music. Through examining the relationships between language and music, we will discover a deeper understanding of the power of sound.

This article is intended to be an overview of current research. Dr. Patel just scratches the surface of this topic, but definitely attains a desire for further discovery. The examples are vague but have a strong connection to the discourse. Overall, I feel this essay is a solid abstract of the available research regarding this interesting topic.

Talking drums and whistle language are a very interesting subject. I agree with Dr. Patel’s notion that there is a lot to learn about the cognitive processes of these ‘languages’. I feel that researching these basic structures of communication will certainly benefit our understanding of the relationship between music and language. This area of research is in its infancy and I look forward to further publications.
I am also intrigued by the comparisons of other cultures. Non-Western cultural research is another area that has potential to further our understanding of cognitive processes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Evidence of beat perception via purely tactile stimulation

Brochard, R., Touzalin, P., Despres, O., Dufour, A. (2008) Evidence of beat perception via purely tactile stimulation. Brain Research 1223, 59-64.

By Richard Burrows

Human beings have an innate ability to tap their feet or move their bodies in time to music. This universal behaviour is regarded as the processing of meter. It is unique to the human species, although some animals can produce regular movements. From a perception stand point, meter is experienced in strong and weak beats according to an underlying regular pulse. “More precisely, certain time positions within a metric musical sequence seem to be accented at regular time intervals.” Binary is felt with an accent on every other bear, whereas ternary is felt with an accent on every third beat. “The cerebral response to perceptual changes, occurring on stronger beats, is greater than that to weaker metric positions.”
A recent report from Dr. A. Patel in 2005 presented evidence that showed the inability for humans to detect meter from a visual stimulus. It was again confirmed in Philips-Silver and Trainor’s 2007 research. The same participants had no trouble synchronizing with an auditory stimulus. These findings indicate a relationship between auditory and sensorimotor systems.
Brochard et al questioned whether the process is limited to auditory systems or if the participants could ‘feel’ the bear. The experiment has participants tap their right index finger as regularly as possible in synchrony with strong metric patterns or with weak metric patterns. Their research investigated the potential existence of meter within the somesthetic domain. They found that participants were able to identify sequences in both auditory and tactile modalities. It was found in previous studies that musicians were found to have a more sensitive ear for meter hierarchies, and that nonmusicians process time more sequentially.
“It is still unclear whether meter is a cognitive trait exclusively found in humans. The processing of metric information may be based on widespread synchronization mechanisms shared with non-human species. Consequently, the absence in humans, in the visual domain, of such general capacity of synchronization on multiple hierarchies remains to be explained.”

This experiment is a model for the 5 pillars of research. The constructs were well defined, the design was flawless, the conduct had clear intent with no modifications, the analysis was rigorous, and the interpretation was carefully contrived. Overall, it was a very thorough report.

Research such as this, take my understanding of percussion pedagogy to a whole new level. The ability to pinpoint universal rhythm behaviours is a phenomenon. I am particularly intrigued with this notion of a relationship to auditory and sensorimotor systems. It makes sense when compared to dance, but I am more interested in the effects on hand and arm movement. I am very interested to know the correlation of musicians to nonmusicians and their rhythm perceptions. Is it possible that musician’s sensitivity to meter hierarchy effects other forms of brain function?

Perfect pitch may help babies speak



Perfect pitch may help babies speak

By Jonathan Amos

BBC – Health


Summary: This particular article discusses the concept of perfect pitch. Jonathan Amos, the author, states that it is likely that everyone is born with perfect pitch, and then loses it as they get older because there is no need for such a refined sense of hearing. Researchers typically believe that there is no reason to maintain perfect pitch, unless one plays a musical instrument or speaks a language that uses different tones. For their study, researchers played adults and 8-month old babies long sequences of musical notes. Adults typically could not tell differences in the sequences, but babies would notice. This suggests that babies use perfect pitch as a means to learning language. “The US team said they could tell this because it was well documented that babies got bored if they heard the same thing too often - their attentions strayed.” Unless you are a musician, or speaking a tonal language, there really is no need to maintain perfect pitch.


Review: This is a well written article, and the research is quite fascinating. The data is interesting, although probably only interesting to people in the music profession. Because perfect pitch is such a refined skill, it seems only natural that we lose the ability to determine pitches without reference because it is unnecessary and most likely distracting in a language such as English.


They clearly define their research methodology, but I feel it would be useful to site other literature on the topic for background information. I also thought they could have written a section on where this research would be going in the future.


Reflection: This article is useful, and relates to the idea of prosody, which is important for babies learning language. It’s an interesting concept to think that everyone is born with perfect pitch. I wonder if people are attempting to train babies and young children to have perfect pitch in today’s society. It would be useful to study babies from a young age and determine how to maintain this refined skill of perfect pitch. That would confirm their results that people are likely born with the ability to determine pitches.

Themes within Songs written by people with Traumatic Brain Injury: Gender Differences

Journal of Music Therapy, XLII (2), 111-122, ©2005 by the American Music Therapy Association.
Felicity Baker, PhD, RMT. “Themes within Songs Written by People with Traumatic Brain Injury: Gender Differences.”

By: Devon Fornelli

Review: This paper presents evidence that male and female music therapy clients express themselves in different ways and focus on different topics when communicating their emotions through the activity of composing or re-composing songs. Baker states that in previous research - Simpson, Simons, McFadyen (2002) - “the major challenge for people faced with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is reaching an understanding of exactly how the injury has affected their cognitive and psychosocial abilities”. Felicity Baker describes this in terms of the stages of grieving: where defense mechanisms obstruct the clients’ realization of the event’s effects with stages of retaliation and finally reintegration.

Therapists use song writing as music therapy intervention to address various problems including adjustment issues, and redevelopment of identity.
Previous studies have addressed the methods of therapy by analyzing the content; however, Baker’s research is the first to address differences in lyric content or song themes between males and females.

Baker credits previous research to discovering how men tend to use more problem-focused coping, and women tend to adopt more emotion-focused coping mechanisms. She claims there may be a benefit to problem-focused mechanisms versus emotion-focused coping mechanisms: “men are better off in some ways because of their problem-based viewpoint; however, when the situation is uncontrollable, emotion-focused strategies are more effective” (Baker).
Baker notes a study where Charmaz (1995) found that females tend to focus on (reclaiming?) their appearance more than men; men tend to focus more on reclaiming their past identities. Also, she refers to another study which found that females show more resilience and a greater ability to adapt compared to males, who are more likely to avoid the stressor (Weidner and Collins, 1993). [One possible explanation for this may be that males tend to ignore or are in denial of the existence of new challenges. She also notes that males are probably more likely to refuse help – this is something that I can relate to as a male who has suffered TBI]
Acknowledging the difference between male and female coping strategies, Baker poses the question “does songwriting assist males to access their emotions and improve their ability to cope and adjust?”

Some details worth mentioning is that observers noted that the length of time it took to compose a song varied due to the participant’s physical, communicative and cognitive abilities. This is understood given that clients with more severe trauma will have more obstacles and take more time to complete certain tasks.

In general the activities of songwriting in this research involved situations where clients either recomposed existing songs with different words or freely composed new songs.
The level of input provided by Music Therapists was not recorded, but it was related to the cognitive levels of the client.
The research involved three therapists practicing in different areas of Australia who worked with 31 clients in total. The result was 82 songs. Expressions and themes were categorized and rated on a chart. Data received from males was analyzed compared to the data received from females. The resulting analysis showed interesting trends across genders with respect to which themes were most commonly reported within participants’ songs.
Among the various data retrieved, it was concluded that females (29.54%) communicated messages more than males (29.9%). Also, females expressed more positive feelings towards others (12.29% vs. 7.44%)
For clients dealing with traumatic brain injury, self-expression of emotions is a vital step towards acceptance of their new situation. Therefore, females have an advantage in the sense that they arrive at the acceptance stage more readily than males.

Baker describes the problems associated with this research project: the number of males (21) versus females (11) is not an equal and accurate sample. As well, pediatric and adult clients were not represented in the female sample. Baker proposes that future studies could focus on clients’ psychological processes – stages of acceptance: denial, projection, avoidance…acceptance – to understand how clients deal with trauma. This could lead to understanding about particular stages where song writing would offer the most benefit.

Reflection: Considering the sample size, I am confident that Baker’s conclusions accurate. Though I do not have experience as a client or practitioner of Music Therapy, I can relate the finding presented to my own experiences as someone who continues to make adjustments in my life due to the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) I suffered in 1996.
Though this reflection is based on a mostly subjective experience, I believe my situation parallels Baker’s findings very closely:

I was lucky to find a friend from the opposite sex who had also suffered a TBI and for a period of time we met to discuss and share our experiences. Even though our injuries were quite different as far as the severity, we are functioning at a relatively alert/high level, and that at the time we were at different stages of recovery, I can see now how we were coping differently with our situations. Being male, I definitely focused on the problems (memory difficulties, changes in identity, etc.) and was in denial about my situation of recovery and identity as “Brain Injured”; whereas my friend was well on the way to accepting her new situation and objectively tackling issues that came up. She was also a lot more in tune with her emotional state than I was. Therefore, in my experience I have observed how genders deal with TBI differently.

Music 'makes the brain learn better'



BBC Health


Music 'makes the brain learn better': The hours spent mastering the violin or piano are worthwhile - music lessons boost children's memories.


Summary: In this particular study, 90 boys between the ages of 6 and 15 were tested on their verbal and visual memory. Half of the students participated in the string orchestra at the school and had received lessons for up to five years. The remaining children had no musical training. All the children were given verbal memory tests, to see how many words they recalled from a list, and a visual memory test for images. Results differed in terms of the verbal memory test however, no differences were found in visual memory between the groups. The reasons behind these results suggest that music lessons stimulate the left side of the brain, which also controls verbal learning. Dr Agnes Chan, said giving music lessons to children "somehow contributes to the reorganization [and] better development of the left temporal lobe in musicians, which in turn facilitates cognitive processing mediated by that specific brain area, that is, verbal memory." This is interesting information, however, the researchers point out that children who are involved in music lessons tend to have parents from a higher socio-economic background. In addition, parents are more likely to help their children with homework.

Review: This article is well written and the study looks as if it was properly conducted. They clearly define their constructs and methodology. It was interesting that they went back a year later and retested all the students in the study, as well as some beginner music students who were originally from the non-music lessons group. I also thought their discussion on the socio-economic background of parents useful. In most cases, children who participate in music lessons do come from a higher socio-economic class, where parents are a huge part of their daily life, both at home and at school.


Reflection: I found this article well written and well presented. Probably the most interesting aspect is the fact that these findings could help people recovering from a brain injury as well as healthy children based on the results of this study. If students who are involved in music lessons can recall items better than non-music students on a verbal test, just think what this could do for patients suffering from a brain injury that damaged their verbal memory! Also, healthy children can work towards a better verbal memory right from early childhood, increasing their intellectual ability in other classes as well.


Music as Medicine for the Brain

Music as Medicine for the Brain
Neurologists like Oliver Sacks are prescribing it for conditions from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to stroke and depression
By Matthew Shulman

By Richard Burrows

Neurological conditions have been treated for decades with music therapy. Brain imaging techniques are able to show us what exactly happens when we listen to music or play instruments. Oliver Sacks states, “It’s been substantiated only in the last year or two that music therapy can help restore the loss of expressive language in patients with aphasia.” Music can also release mood-altering brain chemicals and improve memory.
Neurologists argue that brains respond to highly rhythmic music, in turn this could benefit Parkinson’s and stroke patients. The music is thought to trigger neurons into organized movement. “Someone who is frozen can immediately release and begin walking.”
The coordination for playing music, specifically drumming, also benefits patients. This acts as a therapy for a variety of cognitive and physical disabilities, including Parkinson’s. Participants report a greater control of movement; their motion is less shaky.
These group music sessions are proving to be more beneficial than traditional physical therapy.
There is new evidence that shows an area of the brain that processes music overlaps with speech networks. Therapists are able to retrain patients to use existing neuronal pathways and/or create new ones. Concetta Tomaino, cofounder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function states, “As they try to recall words that have a similar contextual meaning to the lyrics, their word retrieval and speech improves.”

Trevor Gibbons, 51, can vouch for the brain's flexibility. A patient at Beth Abraham Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx, where Tomaino heads the music therapy program and where Sacks first began treating chronically ill patients decades ago, Gibbons has been able to restore his speech after suffering a devastating spinal injury from a four-story fall and a stroke in 2000. The former carpenter says that before he began vocal training and playing piano with music therapists at the clinic, he couldn't speak or move and would lie for days in bed, depressed. Following intensive sessions three times a week over several years, Gibbons not only recovered his speech but also has written more than 400 songs, recorded three CDs, and performed at a benefit fundraiser for Beth Abraham at Lincoln Center. (Pre-stroke, says Gibbons, he sang only in his church choir.) His depression has improved, too. "It gave me motivation and a chance to look forward to live another day," he says.

There is new evidence that show an increase in norepinephrine and melatonin, which makes you feel happier. Patients are also reporting improvements in attention and alertness, sociability, and overall functioning following a music therapy treatment. Scientists are suggesting this is due to deep stimulus in the brain in the amygdala and hippocampus. They also note, not everyone will respond, and it may take several sessions to see any effects. She finds that simple relaxation techniques help enhance the effect of “music’s magic.”

This article is well written with solid evidence to back up its claim. They have interviewed key personnel in the area of music neurology and have presented sufficient examples of success. I feel they could have explained a little more about the treatment given to certain patients. This might encourage a sufferer of Parkinson’s or a stroke victim to explore other treatment possibilities.

Music continues to amaze me. I have seen first hand the effects of hand drumming with severe arthritis patients. Elderly people, who couldn’t even hold a pen, were able to write letters to their loved ones after only 20 minutes of drumming. The simple act of movement created blood flow and numbed the pain so that they were able to finally grip a pen.
It seems like I am repeating myself, but I am very excited to see what the future will hold for musicians and therapy. This is certainly not an unknown field, but there is definitely more empirical evidence to prove its validity and benefits for the human race.

Brain Waves Shed Light on Autism and Language

Reference: Brain Waves Shed Light on Autism and Language

Lindsey Tanner

Globe and Mail, December 1st, 2008


Summary: This article discusses a recent study on autism and language perception. 64 children aged 6 – 15 listened to a series of beeps under a helmet that recorded the brain’s response to the sounds. The brain wave study used noninvasive technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG) for short. It measures magnetic fields generated by electrical currents in brain nerve cells, and records brain activity in real time.” Results showed that children with autism took one-50th second longer to respond to each sound versus non-autistic children. Timothy Roberts, the study’s lead author says that ‘“[w]e tend to speak at four syllables per second’ [and if the] autistic brain ‘is slow in processing a change in a syllable ... it could easily get to the point of being overloaded.’” Researchers hope this information can be used to help diagnose children as early as age one, one year earlier then is normal. Although there is no treatment for autism, knowing whether a child has autism a year earlier can help parents understand their children better, and also allow parents to start their children in speech therapy earlier.

Review: This is an excellent article! It is quite fascinating and quite relevant to today’s society. I really liked how the author of this article asked other researchers and doctors not working on this particular study what they thought of the research and the results. It is useful to ask another person’s input as you can see where this research may go in the future. I also enjoyed the story about a young boy who participated in the study. It added a nice personal touch knowing this young boys journey.


Reflection: I found this article quite interesting as I have worked with autistic children in the past and will continue to do so in the future. The most exciting quote I found in this article is as follows…“Finding biomarkers – such as the brain waves – that could enable earlier diagnosis and treatment is the “holy grail” for autism scientists, Dr. McPartland said.” This is exciting news! As of right now there is no treatment for autism. One can merely participate in therapy programs and other activities/resources available. This research could help get the ball rolling in terms of cures and preventative therapy programs for children. It’s great that they are able to diagnose children one year earlier than previous years. That extra year could be crucial for helping children with autism, researching and learning more about how autism develops and what can be done to help people live more comfortably with it. 

Brain Waves

Reference: Gordon, H. (2008). Brain Waves. Retrieved November 25, 2008, Canadian Geographic.


Summary: This article discusses the effects of music on brain development and plasticity. Musical training in children enhances the activity of important neural systems. It talks about the areas of the brain that are stimulated while playing an instrument: auditory cortex, motor cortex, the cerebellum, and the corpus callosum. It also talks about the difference between musicians and non-musicians, stating that musicians use more “complex circuitry in both sides of the brain” compared to non-musicians. Third, the article talks about absolute pitch and tone deafness. Absolute pitch is a skill that is learned, while tone deafness is usually a hereditary condition. “Studies have shown that musical training must take place before age 15 for perfect pitch to develop.” What is interesting is that scientists are still unsure as to what part of the brain is responsible for the activity. The final topic of this article was the concept of a musical hallucination. A musical hallucination is when “music plays in your mind that can’t be consciously stopped, and the sound is so real that you think it is actually playing somewhere nearby.” Dr. Tim Griffiths, a neurologist at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in England, suggests the hallucinations occur because the music-processing regions in the brain are looking for signals to interpret. Here is a direct quote from the article on musical hallucinations.


The beat goes on and on and on...
Musical hallucinations occur in about 1 in every 10,000 people, according to Warner and his colleague Victor Aziz, have looked at what people tend to hear during their hallucinations. Their study, involving 30 referrals from older people with musical hallucinations, found these songs to be the most common:

Abide with me (6 people)

Silent Night (2 people)

Away in a Manger (2 people)

The Old Rugged Cross (2 people)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing (2 people)

Good King Wenceslas

Jingle Bells

Love Divine

O Come all ye Faithful

How Great Thou art

On the Cross, Where I Found the Lord

Cwm Rhondda

Onward Christian Soldiers

The Welsh National anthem

The American National Anthem

I Love You

Three Blind Mice

Show me the Way to go Home

How much is that Doggy in the Window

Yes We have no Bananas

When I'm Cleaning Windows

Stars and Stripes

The Red Flag

   Roll out the Barrel”


Review: This article is well written. Terms are clearly defined and diagrams are used to help illustrate the different areas of the brain being used for different functions. Including a small clip from a study on musical hallucinations was quite interesting. Overall, I found it strange that the title of the article was Brain Waves, when the word waves was only used in the title of the article. I’m not entirely sure what the new title would be as there were so many topics addressed in this particular article.


Reflection: I found this article really neat for the section on musical hallucinations. I’ve had a similar experience to what they term a musical hallucination (imagining music in my head) but I would never go so far as to say I’ve had a musical hallucination.


The second aspect of this article that I found interesting was the fact that musicians who have had early training use their brains differently than non-musicians. The left hemisphere used for processing language and reasoning tasks, lead scientists to believe that musicians process musical information more analytically than those without training. The author states that “for these kinds of brain changes to occur, musical training must take place early on in a musician’s life. If it doesn’t occur until after puberty, there isn’t as much modification.” This information would be useful to share with administrations that are set on removing music specialists in the elementary schools because of funding cuts. 

This is your brain on music

Reference: Fick, S., & Shilts, E. (2008). This is your brain on music. Retrieved November 25, 2008, Canadian Geographic.


Summary: This article discusses the idea that music stimulates the brain in the same way that food, sex and drugs do. The researchers used a mapping mental activity to determine these results. The article is broken down into four categories: hearing music, imaging music, playing music, and reacting emotionally to music. Each category is described in full detail, and with accompanying diagrams. The first category, hearing music, discusses how the auditory cortex is organized. It explains that in the core of the cortex different musical elements such as pitch and volume are analyzed. In contrast, the “surrounding regions process more complex elements, such as timbre, melody and rhythm.” The second category, imagining music, discusses how singing music in your head stimulates the auditory cortex even though you are not actually hearing the tune. The third category, playing music, talks about how your brain is stimulated in many different ways when playing a musical instrument. In fact there are eight different regions of the brain being used. The final category, reacting emotionally to music, talks about reward structures in your inner brain. “These are the same areas that are activated when a hungry person eats, when an aroused person has sex, or when a drug addict snorts cocaine.”


Review: Overall this was an interesting article to read. The diagrams were quite useful and informative. I really liked how they numbered the parts of the brain being used. It made it clear and easy to understand exactly which areas of the brain that were being stimulated. I found it fascinating and had no clue how many areas of the brain were being used when playing music. It was astonishing actually. I think this would be a useful diagram to show to parents at schools, in terms of music advocacy.


Reflection: In terms of the content presented, I find it most interesting that the rewards section of the brain is stimulated when you hear a piece of music that you really enjoy. “If you are listening to a song you find pleasant, activity in the amygdala is inhibited. This is the part of the brain that is typically associated with negative emotion, such as fear.” This is useful information if you are a parent with a child who tends to get scared at night-time. In addition, perhaps this research could be used with trauma patients, or patients suffering from anxiety disorders. 

Brain Waves Shed Light on Autism and Language

Brain Waves Shed Light on Autism and Language
Lindsey Tanner
Globe and Mail, December 1st, 2008

Report by: Shauna Garelick


A new discovery that might help researchers provide parents with an earlier diagnosis for children exhibiting autistic tendencies is explained in this article from the Globe and Mail. Through testing on 64 children with autism from ages 6-15 years old, results showed that children with autism had a delayed response to sound by approximately half of a second. This translates to half of a second per syllable when spoken to. Because so many symptoms of autism are related to language and communication, this could provide an explanation as to why they have so much trouble communicating and interpreting speech and speech patterns. It is stated however that this is no more than preliminary research that looks promising.


This article is an excellent glimpse into the current research that is happening in the field of autism. It shows that new technology is having a significant impact on brain research. The study that was done while still in its early stages goes to show that sound has a profound impact on children with autism and perhaps if the condition is better understood, treatment and therapies could be more grounded in their theories that it is based on. Currently, therapies are all very experimental especially given the broad spectrum of the disorder. A question that arises however is that since there is such diversity among language and communication abilities of individuals with autism, is this reflective of the length of the delay? Furthermore, does the therapy that seems to be working on some level draw any parallels to this new discovery?


It is difficult to state whether or not this could impact my own teaching. However, perhaps it will help me to develop new strategies based on the possibility that this could be true. It does support the research as to the fact that music has a profound impact on individuals with autism. However, I am not sure why they are able to sort out musical meaning, but not speech? Perhaps this is because it is in some ways more difficult because they have to extract the tone and the words. Perhaps if people talked in a monotone manner then it would be easier to focus on just one aspect of speech. It does make me think of possible ideas that I could employ based on this new research. Furthermore it makes me draw a parallel to a different article that I blogged on earlier where Dr. Alfred Tomatis (2006) believed that people with autism had underdeveloped inner ears. Is it possible that these two ideas are related?

Partnering with Music Therapists: A Model for Addressing Students' Musical and Extramusical Goals

Partnering with Music Therapists:
A model for Addressing Students' Musical and Extramusical Goals
Janet Montgomery and Amy Martinson

Report by: Shauna Garelick


This is an article and primitive resource to help music educators begin to address teaching students with learning disabilities within the context of a mainstream classroom. The author differentiates between the role of a music teacher and music therapist, pointing out the common goals and objectives but addressing that the music teacher attempts to achieve this through forming lessons around the musical concept, while the music therapy bases her lessons on what the learner needs. Practical and pragmatic suggestions are made to help music teachers access resources and reevaluate how they approach music education in order to engage all students. Furthermore, the importance of ensuring that the teacher knows and understands what exists in the students individual education plan (IEP) is discussed. Finally, an example of a lesson that employs some of the strategies is provided to put all of the aspects of the article into context.


This article addresses many key ideas that a music teacher must consider when planning lessons involving students with developmental disabilities. Perhaps the most significant part of the article is the discussion of the endless benefits that students with learning disabilities can gain through being involved in music. In recognizing this, music teachers can attempt to get more students involved in music who otherwise would be overlooked because they might not appear to be the most talented. One critical area that the author neglected to discuss was trial and error. Especially when working with students with various disabilities, it is important to realize that there may be some excellent approaches with strategies, they may or may not work. There is no right or wrong, just what works. Knowing the student is perhaps the most important advice that can exist not only for students with disabilities, but for all students. It is critical try many strategies. Every child learns differently.


As a music teacher for students with developmental disabilities, I was particularly interested in the strategies that were offered. I paid close attention to see if they were ones that I had employed in my practice or would attempt. I found both. However, I found that it is important to realize that strategies will not work for everyone and that is the constant struggle in education, particularly when working with students with special needs where repetition is so important. Furthermore, it may take more time for children with disabilities to show improvement, but don’t let that translate into thinking music is not having a profound affect on their learning, cognitive, emotional skills and self esteem. Positive reinforcement and repetition are probably the most important strategies no matter what the approach. In reflecting on my own practice, I realized that while I was quite comfortable and excited in teaching students with developmental disabilities, I did not have a particular strategy. I think that it made me more creative in my approach and accepting as to what worked for each student, recognizing that what seemed good in theory could be completely useless and vice versa. However, I should have spent more time analyzing what worked in order to perhaps have a practical use of strategies and while they may or may not work on another student, it is a jumping off point for the next time.

Montgomery, J. and Martinson, A. (2006). Partnering with Music Therapists - A model for Addressing Students Musical and Extramusical Goals. Music Educators Journal. 92(4). p. 32-39.