Saturday, December 20, 2008

Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning, October 2008

Sharon Dutton

Forgeard M, Winner E, Norton A, Schlaug G (2008) Practicing a Musical Instrument in Childhood is Associated with Enhanced Verbal Ability and Nonverbal Reasoning. PloS ONE 3(10): e3566. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0003566

Forgeard et al have presented a summary of significant research studies exploring correlational links between music instruction and other abilities. Research to date has found links between music instruction and closely related abilities, and between music instruction and more distantly related abilities. Longitudinal studies support a causal effect between music instruction and tonal and rhythmic auditory discrimination abilities, between music instruction and drawing melodic contours, and between instrumental training and fine motor skills. Correlational studies support links between music instruction and language skills, although the type of music instruction is not indicated here. An approach through reading and singing, such as Kodaly, may be more likely to effect improved language skills. One study indicates improved phonological awareness after sessions based on singing and rhythm games. Again, no indication as to type of music instruction is indicated; singing and rhythm games form the basis of elementary Orff training. The authors conclude that there is no conclusive causal evidence to support the existence of transfer from music education to language ability, and that studies that explore links between music instruction and mathematical ability, and between music instruction and general IQ are also inconclusive.

The authors present their findings of a research study that investigated a relationship between music instruction and four distantly related areas of cognition: spatial, verbal, nonverbal, and mathematical. Their subjects were instrumental students, and of these there were two types: those who received traditional instruction, meaning learning music through reading notation, and those who received Suzuki instruction, learning music through hearing and copying. The researchers determined the following variables: Socio-Economic Status, duration of training, practice intensity, and handedness. They tested for the following abilities: Gordon’s Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation, Melodic and Rhythmic Discrimination, Motor Learning task, Block Design, Object Assembly, Raven’s Progressive Matrices, Vocabulary, Auditory Analysis, and KeyMath-Revised. Much of the authors’ findings are consistent with previous research, for example, the domain-specific hypothesis. They suggest, “transfer effects may have occurred between music training and a selection of related domains”. They do not commit to agreeing with Schellenberg’s domain-general hypothesis, but rather suggest that further research is needed to verify general transfer based on improved overall intellectual ability.

Because this study is not longitudinal, the authors make note of several possible non-causal explanations for their findings. At present, they are extending this study to a longitudinal study, and these results will rule out these non-causal explanations, and (finally) provide causal evidence either for or against distant transfer effects of music education.

We know intuitively that studying music is good for children. At best, it allows them to access, develop and express their artistic sensibilities; it seems to increase their attention span and develop discipline; and at worst, it helps them learn other subjects. Ever since Rauscher et al published their so-called “Mozart Effect” study in 1993, educators and neuroscientists have attempted but have been predominantly unsuccessful in replicating the effect. Although we suspect that studying music does develop our ability to understand other disciplines such as mathematics and reading comprehension, as of yet, no one has been able to “prove” it quantitatively, and unequivocally. Forgeard et al recognize the inherent faults of the previous studies, and are attempting to produce a longitudinal study which will provide quantitative evidence that music instruction either does, or does not transfer to other cognitive domains such as language, mathematical, or kinaesthetic skills and understanding.

The authors recognize the difference between reading based approaches to music education such as Kodaly, and listening based approaches, such as Suzuki. I suspect that they will likely determine that different music education “methods” will produce different kinds of transfer. I can think of four common methods in North America, each approaching music education through a different emphasis; Kodaly through singing and reading, Orff through rhythm and instrumental improvisation, Suzuki through listening, and Dalcroze through movement. Many more approaches exist elsewhere. Hopefully, as the saga continues, we will eventually know if the different approaches transfer to other domains, and how they each enhance (or don’t enhance) our capacity to understand and perform in different cognitive and kinaesthetic realms.

I refer again to Eric Barnhill’s “Cognitive Eurhythmics”, and to his video. That children would learn to read better because of Dalcroze Eurythmics training does not at first appear to be a consequence of near transfer. However, when you consider that meaningful speech depends upon intricate learned rhythmic utterances, the transfer is not that distant. Furthermore, Barnhill theorizes that when students are actively engaged in a Dalcroze exercise, the oscillating wave rhythms of their brain’s activities synchronize into a sort of controlled harmony, and this “binding” is what enables the brain to synthesize a multi-sensory experience into one perception. There is no perception without rhythmic movement, however subtle or indirect. This rhythmic movement experience is crucial for binding the rhythms of the brain, and this binding effect is in turn crucial for enabling us to form integrated perceptions of our surroundings, and to organize our thoughts in general. In this sense, transfer is a gross understatement. Music is fundamentally crucial for the synthesis of stimuli, and for the organization of thoughts.

singin' in the brain*

"Mental concerts: Musical imagery and auditory cortex." Neuron 47 (2005): pp9-12.
a Minireview by Robert Zatorre & Andrea Halpern


The challenge of quantifying thoughts, feelings and images as they relate to the brain has always been the subjectivity of these inner processes. Cognitive scientists overcome the subjectivity problem by taking an overt measurement that provides evidence of a covert mental process. In other words, one can infer the existence of a certain process by observing the effect caused by that process.

Recent Advances in the Study of Musical Imagery
Imagery is not exclusively visual; most people "intuitively understand what it means to 'hear a tune in your head'". Studies are now being performed to discover what are the psychological and neural mechanisms associated with these processes. The studies seem to "converge on one principal finding: that neural activity in auditory cortex can occur in the absence of sound and that this activity likely mediates the phenomenological experience of imagining music." Of course, there are still substantive issues that need to be researched, including everything from the relative contributions of various parts of the brain to the role of musical training in musical imagery.

Methodological Problems and Solutions
Even with functional imaging techniques, there is still the problem of knowing which neurological process is being observed. One solution to this problem "involves behavioral indices, such that an overt response is measured that either depends on or correlates with the imagined event." Some of the 'cognitive overhead' involved with neuroimaging can be accounted for with appropriate control conditions. fMRI technology poses a unique problem in that it is noisy, which causes an auditory cortical response. This problem can be mitigated with noise abatement strategies.

What Role Does Auditory Cortex Play in Imagery?
Although most imagery studies show that the auditory cortex responds even in the absence of sound and that this "response tends to co-occur with subjective reports of imagining music", there have not been enough studies done to reliably conclude which auditory imagery tasks elicit primary activation. Many questions remain concerning the experience of imagery but studies seem to indicate that the auditory cortex interacts with the frontal cortical areas to initiate imagery.

Auditory versus Motor Imagery
Studies of musicians have examined motor imagery (or the imagining of the kinesthetics involved in a particular action) from the simplest of tapping sequences to complex musical routines and shown high probability of connection in the brain of auditory and motor imagery.

Cross-Modal Interactions
Studies seem to show that processing in one sensory modality can have an effect on processing in another, even if both actions are based on imaginary information.

As musical imagery is important to musicians an understanding of the neural process of imagery might be helpful in educating musicians about optimizing this skill. Musical imagery involves several modalities: visual, motor/kinesthetic and auditory. Although studies are still limited, it seems that mental practice improves performance.

This article provides a really interesting overview of some of the studies that are of particular interest to musicians in regards to mental imagery. It also brings home how much more work there is left to do in order to have the information and concrete numbers that may help musicians to use mental imagery more efficiently. Right now there is very little educational application to these studies. On the other hand, the results thus far seem to concur with and confirm general thoughts of the musicians I know concerning the value of mental imagery.

by Shannon Coates

*As IF I'm not using that for the title of my essay. AS IF.

Friday, December 19, 2008

(heavy metal) music and the (literal) brain

"Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass", BMJ medical publication of the year (2008)
by Declan Patton & Andrew McIntosh
Retrieved 19 December, 2008

So apparently head banging is pretty bad for you. No, seriously; THEY DID A STUDY.

The good folks at the School of Risk and Safety Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia noticed that people at heavy metal concerts often report being dazed and confused. Not only that, but these same good folks put two and two together and realized that being dazed and confused are also symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury. And they thought to themselves, 'you know? it's possible people are actually giving themselves brain injuries from head banging at heavy metal concerts'.

So they went to a bunch of heavy metal concerts and observed people head banging. (They called it an 'observational study'. ahem.) From their observations, they ascertained the most common style of head banging (the 'up-down style') and undertook a bio mechanical analyses from which they constructed a theoretical head banging model. (I am NOT making this up.) Then they figured out the average tempo of a head banging song and they randomly selected three easy listening songs as controls.

Guess what they found?!

Let me put it into plain words for you, folks:

when you head bang, you risk mild traumatic brain injury

So what should we do about this great risk to the headbanging public? Hey! I'm glad you asked! These are some suggestions (I've helpfully highlighted my two favourite suggestions):

To minimise the risk of head and neck injury, head bangers should decrease their range of head and neck motion, head bang to slower tempo songs by replacing heavy metal with adult oriented rock, only head bang to every second beat, or use personal protective equipment.

Awesome, no?

Okay, so this isn't exactly on target in terms of course-related material but I could not resist posting about it.
Because of the sheer awesomeness of imagining head bangers switching in a little Lionel Ritchie or Whitney Houston at heavy metal concerts in order to save their brains.
And because of the sheer awesomeness of imagining an entire stadium of heavy metal concertgoers in personal protective equipment.

Fully BEYOND awesome.

by Shannon Coates

mental practice

"Motor Imagery", Journal of Physiology - Paris (2006) by Martin Lotze and Ulrike Halsband
Part 2 'Training motor skill with imagery' (pp 389-393)


The article begins with a quote from an article by Jackson et al. (2001) that is too good for me to summarize. So I shall quote it in its entirety right here:

... contrary to the conditions in which a motor task can be learned implicitly with physical practice, mental practice with mental imagery requires that subjects have all the necessary declarative knowledge about the different components o the task before practicing. However, as with physical practice, the rehearsing of the task with mental imagery can also give access to the non-conscious processes involved in learning the skilled behaviour ...
... internally driven images which promote the kinesthetical [sic] feeling of movements would best activate the different non-conscious processes involved during motor task training.

It seems that only highly specialized, professional athletes and musicians use motor imagery techniques in their training, implying that only those with a high level of execution training can use the imagery techniques effectively.

Obviously motor imagery training does not lead to increased muscle mass, but increased strength in isometric movements is observed, as well as dynamic motor performance (e.g. movement trajectories) improvements.

The article breaks down motor imagery training effects on three separate groups: athletes, musicians and patients. For obvious reasons, I shall focus on the section concerning musicians.

Motor Imagery Training in Musicians

Langheim et al. (2002) report no cerebral activations in the primary motor cortex during kinesthetic motor imagery of simple movements, but report an "activated network of lateral cerebellar, superior parietal and superior frontal activation", leading to the conclusion that "this network is likely to coordinate the complex spatial and timing components of musical performance". The authors of the article hypothesize that with increasing experience in motor imagery, activation sites may move from the motor-centered internal representation areas of the brain to the more abstract areas.

Pascual-Leone et al. (1995) report that a study of five days of training performers using both motor imagery and movement execution results in the performers who use movement execution to train achieve a greater increase in performance than those who use motor imagery. Except (and here's the interesting part) those trained using motor imagery showed the same increase in performance level as those using movement execution to train when the motor imagery group trained for one extra session. Obviously, this points to the importance of combining motor imagery training with movement execution training for optimal performance results.

A study comparing fMRI-activation maps of professional violinists to those of amateurs during imagined performances of a piece shows the professionals with lower activations and the amateurs with widely distributed activations, regardless of the amateurs scoring the vividness of their imagined movement lower. It's possible this indicates a more efficient retrieval of sensorimotor information by the professionals, as well as a more efficient shaping of the timed motor responses.


Another fairly dense article that answers a few questions but really just serves to show how much more room there is for research on this topic. Until technology exists to monitor brains during actual performance (like, with an audience and everything!), any claim of improvement in performance is not necessarily realistic. Performance in an examination room is missing the very elements that make a performer less likely to perform well (and, it could be argued, those that make a performer more likely to give an excellent performance). Regardless, it seems that there is definitely a place for motor imagery in the practice routine of the professional musician.

by Shannon Coates

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cross-Cultural Musical Phrase Processing

Nan, Yun, and Thomas R. Knösche, Stefan Zysset, and Angela Friedeici. Cross-Cultural Music Phrase Processing: An fMRI Study. Human Brain Mapping 29:312-328 (2008).

Posted by Devon Fornelli

This study used fmri to investigate the neurological basis of musical phrase boundary processing during the perception of music from native and non-native cultures. German musicians performed a cultural categorization task while listening to phrased Western(native) and Chinese (non-native) musical excerpts as well as modified versions of these, where the impression of phrasing has been reduced by removing the phrase boundary marking pause (unphrased). The goals of the investigators was to: 1) specify/locate the neural substrates of musical phrase boundary processing and 2) specify the differences in neural networks underlying the processing of culturally familiar and unfamiliar music, and 3) specify the interaction between 1) and 2) and determining whether and how the processing of musical phrase boundaries might be influenced by the cultural familiarity of the music.
The brain structures the researchers identified as being involved with the tasks:
Bilateral planum temporal was found to be associated with increased difficulty of identifying phrase boundaries in unphrased Western melodies.
Broca’s areas 44 (which is involved with processing musical syntax) and 47 ( which is responsible for linguistic and musical processing)

The networks involved were the frontal and parietal areas since they showed increased activation for phrased condition. The specific structures involved were the orbital part of left inferior frontal gyrus (presumably reflecting working memory aspects of the temporal integration between phrases), and the middle frontal gyrus and intraparietal sulcus (probably reflecting attention processes).
Based on information from other studies, the researchers hypothesize that the right parietal cortex near the inferior parietal lobule and possibly the left parietal lobe and retrosplenial cortex might be associated with familiarity mediated by cultural musical style.
The research participants were 20 female German musicians aged 19-28.
1) Bilateral planum temporal identified as most prominent brain areas for processing of unphrased melodies vs. phrased. Fronto-parietal network consisting of left middle frontal gyri and right intraparietal sulcus was observed in response to phrased melodies.
Listening to unphrased melodies resulted in increased activation in the bilateral supra-temporal plane, comprising the anterior planum temporal and possibly involving the posterior Heschl’s gyrus. In contrast, phrased melodies activated the right intraparietal sulcus, the left middle frontal gyrus, and an area in the orbital part of the left anterior inferior frontal gyrus (which lies in Broca’s area 47 near the border to triangle part and the anterior middle frontal gyrus).

What I was able to gleam from this extensive study was that the subjects displayed that certain structures in their brains showed activity when they were presented with familiar music, foreign music, familiar music with adjusted phrase boundaries, and foreign music with adjusted phrase boundaries.
The observed changes make sense in that the brain would recognize something new or out of place in the phrasing of music it was familiar with. With music that it is unfamiliar with, the brain does not distinguish between changes in phrase boundaries because the music is all new and there is no reference point in order to distinguish whether something is out of place. The perception of phrased melodies in trained musicians is observed by higher activity in the orbital part of the left interior frontal gyrus and lower activity in the bilateral planus temporal.
While observing changes caused by listening to culturally familiar versus culturally foreign music, there was an observed increase in activity in certain parts of the motor system. Basically, there seems to be a connection with the fronto-parietal attention network which is believed to be associated with general cognitive functions when processing differences in phrase boundaries (phrased vs. unphrased stimuli) and familiarity (culturally familiar vs. unfamiliar music).

Sad Classical Music fMRI Study

Reference: Mitterschiffthaler, Martina T., and Cynthia H.Y. Fu, Jeffrey A. Dalton, Christopher M. Andrew, and Steven C.R. Williams. A Functional MRI Study of Happy and Sad Affective States Induced by Classical Music. Human Brain Mapping 28:1150-1162 (2007)

Posted by Devon Fornelli

There were many levels involved in this research experiment. Firstly, researchers had to assemble a list of musical examples they could label as “happy”, “sad”, and “neutral”. Then they had to confirm that these pieces were indeed happy, sad, or neutral by conducting a research survey with a different set of subjects. Once they had designated a number of pieces that were associated with and emotion, they were prepared to proceed with their main study.
In the main study, researchers exposed listeners to pieces that were rated as happy, sad or neutral and took fMRI readings as they listened to excerpts of each piece. Subjects were also asked to rate each excerpt as happy, sad or neutral following each excerpt.
Based on the previous categorization of pieces as being associated to an emotion and subjects’ subjective reporting of what emotion they perceived in the music, researchers were able to localize areas in the brain as they reacted to happy, sad and neutral music.
The researchers raise the problem that the order in which the excerpts were introduced affected how later excerpts were perceived. For example, if a happy excerpt was played first, then there was a slight emotional bias based towards “happy” as subjects rated later examples. The same happened when sad excerpts were played first. This demonstrates how order affects and skews subjects’ later perceptions.
Results: happy musical stimuli were associated with increased activity in the bilateral ventral and left dorsal striatum, left ACC, and left parahippocampal gyrus. Sad musical stimuli were associated with increased activation in the right medial temporal structures.

I believe this research goes a long way in proving how music can influence our emotional states. Though I am not qualified to comment on the details brought up in this exhaustive study, I can estimate that the scientific research undertaken helps to prove what many may have guessed was fact: that music influences our mood/emotions. What is especially interesting in this study is how important listening order is in subjects’ perceptions. This is what I understand from their findings: the music that we listen to first in our playlist will determine how we perceive all the music that follows. In other words, if I were to listen to a driving, energetic piece of “happy” music, all the subsequent pieces I listen to will be perceived in relation to that first piece, and likely “tinged” or “tainted” by the happiness of the initial piece; whether or not the following pieces happen to be sad or neutral, they will be perceived in relation to the happiness from the first piece.

Music Training improves verbal but not spatial abilities

Ho, Yim-Chi, and Mei-Chun Cheung, and Agnes S. Chan. Musical Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children. Neuropsychology, Vol. 17, No. 3 439-450. 2003
Posted by Devon Fornelli

Results from this study suggest that music training systematically affects memory processing in accordance with possible neuroanatomical modifications in the left temporal lobe.
Previous studies demonstrated that people who studied music tended to have enlarged planum temporal compared to those who haven’t. This study observed that those who studied music for 6 or more years did better on verbal tests than those who haven’t. It is also stated that cognitive function is shaped by early experiences. Authors of this study wanted to establish a relationship between the duration of music training and the improvement of memory.
The researchers employed cross-sectional study and longitudinal study.
Method: 90 male right-handed participants from ages 6-15 (M=10.66, SD = 2.39). 45 had musical training in band and orchestra programs on western instruments and studied privately for between 1-5 years. The other participants had no musical training. The subjects went through a test process to recall a word list presented orally and were asked to recall as many words as possible after 10 minutes and 30 minutes. The subjects were also given a spatial memory test that tested retention at 10 minutes and 30 minutes as in the oral test.
The results were that the subjects with music training were able to recall 20% more words than the group that did not have music training.
When subjects went through the testing on visuo-spatial abilities, there was no difference between the two groups.
In the longitudinal study, subjects were contacted after one year. Researchers compared those who stayed in the band program and those who dropped out after 3 months. They also looked at students from the “no music training” group who had started music training after one year. These students demonstrated improvement in their verbal memory ability. The findings support the hypothesis that musical training might improve verbal memory.
This paper also mentions how other research has identified the differences in those who have studied music in their abilities at certain tasks and the observation that certain brain structures are enlarged in subjects who have musical training, and how experiences may shape brain structure (plasticity) and cognitive ability.

The results of this study echo some of the other research we have discussed in the course relating to how experiences shape our cognitive abilities and our brain structure. I imagine that certain points raised in this article may have been disproven. Nevertheless, the researchers were very diligent about eliminating the effect external influences may have had on their data.
From this research, it is possible to gain insight into other studies relating to how training in music influences brain structure and nonmusical skills. The authors highlighting how the number of years of musical training related to cognitive function and how these skills were not lost over time tied in with the reference to the study of how musicians’ brains differ in structure to those of non-musicians. It seems as if musical study opens up certain channels in the brain/mind which remain open for other skills and become strengthened as there is more musical study. (it was mentioned that brain structures and cognitive abilities do not continue to expand infinitely depending on time of study, and there is a leveling off - in terms of cognitive advantage - at a certain level of study)

images and execution

"Motor Imagery", Journal of Physiology - Paris (2006) by Martin Lotze and Ulrike Halsband
Part 1 (pp 386-389)

The initial section of this article is essentially a review of the recent literature on motor imagery.

Concerning the primary motor cortex:
Several non-music-related studies show activation in the primary motor cortex (cM1), which is usually thought to be purely execution-al, when subjects imagine activities. Interestingly, there is no involvement of the cM1 in a study in which musicians perform music mentally, suggesting that subjects who frequently train with imaging techniques (such as musicians) either activate the cM1 too quickly to register or not at all.
All of the recent research concerning the cM1 and mental imagery seems to indicate that while the primary motor cortex is involved in motor imagery, it is not essential.

Concerning the cerebellum:
Cerebellar activations are highly correlated with activations of the sensorimortor cortex and it seems that areas distinct from those activated during movement execution are activated during mental imagery.

Concerning the supplementary motor area:
The posterior supplementary motor area and the premotor cortex are both consistently reported to be activated in all motor imaging studies, indicating that the preparation for movement may be closely related to motor imagery.

Concerning the premotor cortex:
It seems that while both the dorsal and ventral parts of the premotor cortex are involved with mental imagery, the dorsal part is activated in relation to somatosensory imagination while the ventral parts are activated more through visual imagination.

Concerning the superior parietal lobe:
Parietal activation does not usually happen when subjects imagine simple movements. Studies show that activation occurs during mental imagery of activities with higher spatial aspects, leading to the conclusion that the parietal lobe is important for mental imagery training in patients, musicians and athletes. Especially in regard to the coding for spatial qualities of movement and to the access of the storage of the movement trajectory information.

Some conclusions:
  • Visual imagery and motor (or kinesthetic) imagery show different qualities and therefore must be differentiated in studies
  • Imagery quality (or subjects' perception of it) must be controlled as closely as possible
  • Easily performed movement executions are often too fast to imagine for subjects who do not regularly use mental imagery, so frequencies with half the velocity of regular movement should be used
  • Subjects who train using mental imagery techniques (athletes, musicians, etc.) may use images of higher frequency
  • Not only frequency, but the force required for the kinesthetic image must be controlled (mental effort for mental imagery is force dependent)


This is a densely written article that took a fair amount of research on my part to fully understand everything it discusses. Of course, the article is the perfect introduction to one of the areas of my essay, as it gives an overview of the recent research concerning motor imagery and refers to a number of other studies that are also relevant to my essay topic. The main thing I learned from this article is not so much how the brain works but how (a very small portion of) the brain seems to be 'mapped' in terms of motor imagery. (In other words, which parts of the brain are activated during certain activities.) The mapping of the brain is not quite as interesting to me as the function of the brain but some of the insights gained and conclusions drawn from what is essentially 'mapping research' are applicable to the function of the brain.

by Shannon Coates

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

know the score

Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: Knopf, 2007
by Oliver Sacks
Chapter 4: Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination (pp30-40)

When it comes to musical imagery, there is a large variance from person to person. Some people have little or no ability to imagine a song or to listen to a tune in their mind while others can have a virtual internal concert. The author's own abilities in this regard are limited to hearing, seeing and feeling performances of music he knows well.

Studies beginning in the 1990s show that imagining music can activate the auditory cortex almost as strongly as listening to music can, that imagining music stimulates the motor cortex and that "imagining the action of playing music stimulates the auditory cortex."

Most people have had the experience of 'hearing' music after the music is turned off and the role of expectation and suggestion in enhancing a musical imagery experience, although not fully researched seems to be confirmed by recent studies.

The "deliberate, conscious, voluntary mental imagery" crucial to professional musicians (especially to those with physical hearing loss such as Beethovan) not only involves the auditory and motor cortexes but also regions of the frontal cortex involved in choosing and planning.

Some involuntary musical imagery experiences are triggered by overexposure to a piece of music, while other experiences (the musical fragments or tunes that come after years of not hearing or thinking of them) seem to be triggered by (often subconscious) deep emotional or verbal associations.

Personally, I have always been a little jealous of the people who are able to 'read' a score as if it were a book and 'hear' the music in their head. I clearly remember a fellow undergraduate, who was a conductor and composer and who used to bring orchestral scores with him onto the subway to 'read' in his spare time. I have a small ability to read music in that way (although only with piano/vocal scores - orchestral scores are impenetrable to me), but it requires a lot of concentration on my part and simply listening to a recording while watching the score is much simpler. I've often wondered who is predisposed to this skill? And if it's a skill that's more heavily bestowed upon those who studied piano extensively? And how much effort it would require to be able to read a score in this manner? Or if it's a skill that's even acquire-able without early piano training?

Anyway, the questions raised in this chapter are mostly to do with why we have involuntary musical imagery and with what the connections between emotion and meaning and music are, which are not questions I find particularly interesting - it is enough for me that the mind reacts this way to music and it makes sense to me that there are certain associations that will bring to mind specific pieces of music.

I'd really just like to know how to read a score ...

by Shannon Coates

Music: The Magnificent Mystery

O Magnum Mysterium

By Morten Lauridsen

Lux Aeterna
Hyperion Records Ltd. London, England

Response by John Picone

“It’s not often I have to brush away the tears when I’m reviewing a recording…” (Fanfare, USA)
Such was my response when I first listened to this recording. It is, for me, the most beautiful and moving six and a half minutes of music I have ever heard.

And I simply wonder why.

Although I want to resist any kind of analysis of what it is about this music that is so emotive, it is clear that Lauridsen has composed a piece with a broad dynamic range and a melody that, likewise, spans a broad register. Fluctuations in tempo are subtle. Although the overall effect is one of profound serenity and tenderness, the interplay between the voices gives the piece both intensity and excitement. There is indeed, as Bryon Adams writes in the liner notes, a “mystical awe.”

Serenity. Intensity. Tenderness. Excitement. Mystical awe.

Are these in the music? They are certainly in me. But, having shared this recording with others, adults as well as some of my music students, it clearly does not evoke the same emotions in everyone.

I find my response to this music not only deeply wonderful, but also puzzling. I am not a fan of choral music. Other than some Christmas CDs, this is the first choral recording to find its way into my music collection. I did not place it near the opera CDs; there are none. Yet, I love to sing and do so every week at church. Perhaps it is this that affects my response, “O Magnum Mysterium” being a song that is essentially spiritual. The songs I love to sing most, accompanying myself on the piano, are spiritual in nature.

The song, of course, is sung in Latin. It was only after looking at the liner notes that I became aware that it refers to the Incarnation of Christ. The poetry itself made no difference: a simple description of the Nativity scene. Perhaps it’s listening to this music at this Christmas time of the year that makes it more special. I know that sometimes one’s emotional response to a piece of music is prompted by the recollection of a memory cued by the song. This did not happen here.
I have, since purchasing this CD, listened to several recordings of concert band arrangements of “O Magnum Mysterium” on the internet. My immediate response was to secure the score and program it for the spring concert at my school. My students love to play Frank Ticheli’s “An American Elegy,” so I thought it reasonable they would enjoy Lauridsen’s composition. Or, perhaps, my own emotional drive is unfairly into overdrive. I wonder if, for my young musicians, such music simply “sounds good,” or whether, indeed, they have an emotional response to it.

All of my experience this term exploring music and the brain has been no less than fascinating! Still, it has been somewhat clinical in nature, scientific. Even chapters dealing with emotion and music in Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music and Gruhn and Rausher’s Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy are so characterized. Perhaps this is the only way to examine this topic: clinically, scientifically.

Still, it was refreshing to read in the conclusion of Kreutz and Lotze’s chapter, “Neuroscience of Music and Emotion,” quoting from Panksepp and Bernatzky, 2002, “there is an even deeper mystery within brain organization to which all these cognitive issues are subservient” (Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy, 2008, p. 161).

I have come to deeply appreciate the value of exploring, through research, the neurological impact of music, and the many possibilities for pedagogy and therapy. Yet, as much as I want to find a way to help my autistic niece, through some as yet undiscovered way, to learn to read in a way that is facilitated by music, I kind of hope that our emotional response to music remains a mystery.

If there’s every a course on “Music and the Heart,” I won’t take it.

Music Can! Music Can't!

Memory for Music: Effect of Melody on Recall of Text
Wanda T. Wallace
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 1994, Vol. 20, No. 6, 1471-1485

Lexical Learning in Sung and Spoken Story Script Contexts
Theresa A. Kouri and Jennifer Winn
Child Language Teaching and Therapy 22, 3 (2006); pp. 293-313

Review and Response by John Picone

Music and language, it would appear, are inextricably entwined in the development of the child. There are so many “linguistic” elements of music that influence linguistic development. Musical notes are like phonemes; musical pitch and rhythm are like intonation; melody contours are like syllables in words. There are many studies that show how powerfully music influences our phonemic awareness, our sensitivity to emotion and attitude expressed in intonation, our ability to segment spoken words.

These two studies also look at music’s influence on different but related aspects of language learning. In the first study, Wallace hypothesizes “that the melody will facilitate learning and recall of the text above and beyond what is contributed by the rhythm and rhyme present in the text” (Wallace, p. 1472).

For Wallace, “the underlying notion is that the melody provides rich information about the features of the text as well as a direct connection between components of the melody and components of the text. These connections then are access points or cues to memory. Thus, thinking about some component of the melody will cue the parallel component of the text” (Wallace, p. 1472).

Wallace conducted four experiments with the participants asked to recall the text of a ballad containing 80 – 85 words in three verses. The participants, in two randomly selected groups, heard sung and spoken versions of the ballad.

In the first experiment, the participants heard the ballad five times and were asked to recall the text after the first, second and fifth repetitions, then, in a delayed-recall task after about 20 minutes. There was markedly better recall of the sung version.

The second experiment sought to isolate the melody as a recall component. Half the participants were exposed to the sung version of the ballad as in the first experiment. The other half heard the ballad “spoken with a rhythmical intonation, emphasizing the rhythmically stressed syllables. In the background, a metronome tapped in synchrony with the verses” (Wallace, p. 1476). Again, though not as great as in the first experiment, recall was significantly better with the sung version.

In the first experiment, the participants had ample opportunity to learn the melody as there were three verses. That is, the participants heard the melody three times as often as the text. In the third experiment, only one verse was heard by the participants; the melody was heard as often as the text. Wallace hypothesized that “if the melody was not so well learned as in Experiment 1, the perhaps it would not serve as an adequate encoding or retrieval cue and might actually serve as a distraction” (Wallace, p. 1477). This, indeed, proved to be the case. Recall of the spoken text was significantly greater than the one-verse sung version.

The purpose of the fourth experiment was to replicate the findings of experiments 1 and 3 and establish further evidence that music contributes more than rhythm in its ability to facilitate recall of text. In this experiment, there were three groups of participants: the first group was exposed to the ballad as in the first experiment; the second hear the ballad in a spoken version; the third group heard the three verses of the ballad with three different melodies. The recall the text with the repeated melody was significantly higher than the other two versions. There was no significant difference between recall of the spoken text and the three-verse text presented with three different melodies.

Wallace’s conclusion: “The melody of a song can indeed make a text more memorable as compared with hearing the text out of the context of the melody, at least as long as the melody is simple and easy to learn” (Wallace, p. 1481).

The Kouri and Winn study also explores how music might assist in language learning. Indeed, the study refers to the research done by Wallace in the study noted above. Kouri and Winn do not explore music’s influence on the recall of text, but on the learning of new text.

The purpose of this study was to provide evidence regarding the effects of musical input on the quick incidental word learning skills (QUIL) of preschoolers with developmental and language delays. Children were presented with novel vocabulary items in two scripted stories that were presented via sung and spoken input while observing brief story enactments. The first goal of the study was to establish whether young pre-schoolers with mild DD (developmental delay) and SLI (specific language impairment) are able to acquire novel lexical terms after limited exposure to short, sung and spoken story scripts. Then, it was determined if children’s comprehension or production of novel lexical terms varied as a function of exposure to sung versus spoken script presentations over two experimental sessions. It was hypothesized that children in this study would demonstrate increase QUIL in the sing script context, given previous research outcomes regarding the use of music and word learning. (Kouri & Winn, p. 297).

The participants in the study were 16 children between the ages of 3.6 and 5.1 years of age, with an average age of 4.1. They all demonstrated expressive and/or receptive language delays of at least 12 months.

Drawing upon Wallace’s conclusions about the role of a repeated, simple melody, Kouri and Winn set their scripts to the tune of “Down By The Bay,” a well-known children’s song popularized by Raffi. The melody was repeated for each of the three verses of two created story scripts, “The Lake” and “The Playground.” Eight novel lexical items were created for use in the scripts: two syllable nonsense words comprised of early occurring phonemes and syllable types. The four novel words for each story were embedded three times each in utterance positions of emphasis such as at the beginning or end of sentence lines. Novel target objects were created for each neologism and manipulated as the story was acted out with toy characters and other objects, such as furniture, against a hand-sketched backdrop of the setting. Each participant heard each story in both sung and spoken conditions. For example, a child would, in the first session, hear “The Lake” spoken and then “The Playground” sung, and in the second session, this would be reversed.

Child participants were instructed to listen to the story and watch the experimenter as she acted it out three different times, twice with the live voice presentation and once with the audio-recorded version of either the sing or spoken script, depending on what condition was being presented. Then children were allowed to manipulate story characters and objects while listening to two more audio-recorded presentations of the sung or spoken script. If a child diverted attention away from the story context, the experimenter would point to target objects as they were presented in the story line. If this did not regain the child’s attention, the experimenter stopped the story and resumed again after refocusing the child (Kouri & Winn, p. 300).

After a five-minute break, three lexical probes were administered: production, comprehension and generalization. During the production probe, each of the four novel objects were presented to the child who was asked, “Tell me what this is called,” or, “Do you remember the name of this one?” In the comprehension probe, the child was presented with the novel object along with three distracters including another novel object from the story. The participant was instructed to “find the ____.” The generalization probe was similar to the comprehension probe except that each novel object was presented with three distracter foils, objects that closely resembled the novel object, differing in size, shape or colour. Again, participants were asked to “find the _____.”

It should be noted here that there were many instances of unsolicited production of the novel words by the participants. The researchers, however, could not be certain whether these were being used as labels for the novel objects or merely as imitation.

By way of conclusions, this latter phenomenon suggested to the researchers that new lexical items, after limited exposure in both sung and spoken texts, could be acquired by children with SLI and DD. However, “quick incidental learning was not differentially affected in either context. In terms of lexical comprehension, it appears that the melodic input accompanying script enactments failed to facilitate increased recognition or receptive identification of target and generalization lexical items” (Kouri & Winn, p. 304).

In presenting implications for practice, the researchers, with clear reference to some kinds of music therapy interventions, indicate that “a practitioner should not assume that children with language and mild developmental delays will tend to comprehend or name (upon demand) more new lexical items just because they are presented in a sung context” (Kouri & Winn, p. 307).


My first response to the Kouri and Winn study is something of admiration for the integrity of researchers. Without hesitation or qualification, they concluded that there is something that music cannot do: assist in learning new lexical items – words! My admiration, though, is qualified in that I believe there may be some significant flaws in the design of their experiment. Such an experiment, it seems, would need the prerequisite of a sound understanding of linguistics, specifically language acquisition. It is questionable whether the researchers brought such knowledge to this experiment. Did they consider, for example, how a child learns any new word? What is the context that facilitates this phenomenon?

The researchers truly extended themselves in enhancing the opportunity for the participants to learn the new lexical items: repetition, enactment, redirecting attention. In fact, one wonders to what extent these elements of the experiment distracted from the learning rather than assisting it. However, an essential element to learning a new word – or genuinely learning anything, for that matter – is not present in this experiment: need. Consider what one might reasonably assume to be the first lexical items any normal child learns: “mommy,” “no,” “mine.” Such words are useful tools to the child; learning them is important.

The context in which these children are potentially learning new words is artificial, much the same as grammar drills, vocabulary lists and phonics exercises. There may certainly have been a “fun” factor which may have enhanced learning, but this is not accounted for by the study.
The Wallace experiment is likewise artificial. The real context of recalling the text of a ballad would take us back to a pre-literate society when passing along the stories and legends of a society through song was part of the culture and, as few could read or write, this was the only way to preserve such stories. But in the Wallace experiment, where music is used to facilitate the recall of text rather than the learning of new text, is done with adults. There is a deliberateness to their recall of which, perhaps, only an adult is capable. These same two experiments may have yielded interesting results had the two groups of participants been reversed.

Kouri and Winn make several references to the Wallace study and, it would appear, the findings of the latter lend integrity to the hypothesis of the former. However, even though Wallace states in her hypothesis “that the melody will facilitate learning (emphasis mine) and recall of the text” (Wallace, p. 1472), there is no actual “learning” in this experiment. In the three ballads used in the experiment, there is only one word that might be foreign to the participants: “knocker,” as referring to the brass ring tapped against a door to announce one’s presence. How might the Wallace study have turned out had there indeed been some new lexical items to “learn”?

Another question I have about the design of this experiment is what seems to me to be an inherent contradiction in the QUIL method, especially with children with DD and SLI. I agree that all genuine learning is, indeed, incidental: we’re not aware that we’re learning at all! The problem here, it seems, is in the concept of “quick.” Aside from the issue of meaningful context, how many times does a child need to hear a word to “learn” it? Growing up in an Italian home, “pasta” and “sugo” (my mother’s word for spaghetti sauce) were words I heard often and in a real, “whole language” context. But how often did I hear them before they became “learned”? This leads me to question whether or not the children in the Kouri and Winn study who, through the lexical probes, gave correct responses, have genuinely learned the new lexical terms. What if they were asked the same questions a week later? One would speculate they would have completely forgotten such terms as they were unlikely to hear them again outside the experiment situation. So, what, in fact, constitutes “learning” a new word?

There is much research that strong suggests that, if the mechanisms for learning language and music are not the same, they are at the very least significantly intertwined. I don’t feel that the conclusions of this study are credible enough to suggest that there is a distinct neuromechanism for lexical comprehension.

As always, there’s much more work to be done.

PS – It was through “Down By the Bay” that my own children learned the word “watermelons.” Four syllables! But then, it was summer and we had it for dessert a lot and were growing some in the garden.

Monday, December 15, 2008

EEG Biofeedback Training for Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety

EEG Biofeedback Training for Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety
From EEG Spectrum International
Posted by Justine

According to this article, our brains are capable of learning how to control the state of being anxious. The usual way this is done is called biofeedback. Much of this work deals with controlling anxiety states, which are worsened by stress. Anxiety states include panic attacks and phobias at one extreme, and such problems as performance anxiety and stage fright on the other. When the person is challenged to perform in some way, the brain reacts by overly heightened caution that actually undermines the ability to function well. This problem gets worse and worse, as the person becomes anxious, observes him or herself becoming anxious, and becomes even more anxious. At a time of future challenges, the anxiety response can be more readily kindled because of the memory of earlier failure to perform. Recently brainwave training has become available as a new option for doing biofeedback for stage fright, performance anxiety, and other anxiety states. This kind of learning is based on information derived directly from the brain's electrical activity, the EEG, which can reveal anxiety states. In this way, anxiety is seen as one manifestation of diminished self-regulation by the brain. If we challenge the brain to regulate itself better, it will likely later also function better under life's normal as well as extreme challenges. Once the brain has been trained to self-regulate, it is no longer as vulnerable to the disabling effects of anxiety. During EEG training for stage fright or performance anxiety, the person is shown information copied from his or her EEG in real time, and is asked to bring certain aspects of it under control. This training repeatedly challenges the brain to improve its own internal regulatory processes. The therapist adjusts the level of difficulty to the situation. This process is largely accomplished at a subconscious level. However, there may be some conscious awareness of changes taking place as the training proceeds. Eventually, the person may visualize situations in which they may have previously become anxious. They will see their brain waves change, and will actively bring them back under control.

I have to admit that I have a love hate relationship with performance anxiety. I personally believe you can’t put on a great performance without being somewhat anxious. Some people will even go further and say that when this anxiety stops happening, then you know you’ve become too comfortable with yourself and whatever you are doing. Some people who perform frequently and become used to performing have to create self-induced anxiety so that they have that little bit of adrenalin that will give the performance more spontaneity and pizzazz. Most people who are in the performance field probably experience a normal level of anxiety regularly, which helps some of these people get used to it and learn how to deal with it. On the other hand there are a number of people whose job requires some sort of performance aspect and their anxiety is often at times unbearable for them. For instance I have seen many musicians suffer from extreme anxiety before a show and it seems hardly worth it to put oneself through this. But what should these anxious people do when they actually love music so much that they have to perform it for others? I suppose this is where beta-blockers come into play or if possible the EEG biofeedback training. I’m not fond of beta-blockers because they take away that edge that one might need for a successful performance and they also don’t teach you how to deal with your anxiety they just block it. EEG biofeedback training on the other hand is harmless and will teach you how to deal with every situation that brings about anxiety into your life. I’m not quite sure how many sessions are required but in the article they say that once the brain has taught itself how to deal with anxiety, the brain tends to retain the skill it has learned, and follow up sessions are usually not required. This is a lot healthier than having to take a pill every time you perform. It seems as though this biofeedback training teaches one a lot about him or herself and what might trigger the anxiety. One of the first steps to treating anxiety is to acknowledge it and to nip it at the source. Biofeedback training seems to be a very effective and healthy step towards dealing with performance anxiety.

Processing emotions induced by music

Trainor, L. J., and L. A. Schmidt.
Processing emotions induced by music.
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music: 310-324, edited by I. Peretz and R. Zatorre, 2003.

This article compares the neurological and physiological responses to emotional experiences induced by music and other stimuli. The authors' additional area of interest leads them to examine the role music plays in the development of emotional communication between infants and their caretakers.
Instead of inducing emotion directly, music communicates emotion and activates the same brain circuits that function when emotions are induced in other contexts.
Physiological responses to musical emotions include changes in heart rate, respiration rate, blood flow, and skin conductance, which are mostly autonomic and subconscious activities in our body.
As for responses from the central nervous system, listening to music activates both 1) auditory cortex and frontal regions, which are connected with music processing, pitch contour, interval, and pitch memory; and 2) central nervous system including the limbic and sensory areas, as well as those related to cognition and consciousness. There is greater left frontal activation in response to the emotion of joy and happiness. In fear and sadness, greater right frontal region is activated. The result of this study shows that music activates the same emotional circuits as other stimuli.
From the developmental point of view, caretakers use infant-directed playsongs and lullabies to express emotional information to infants and regulate infants' state. Infants respond to these infant-directed songs and learn about social interaction and self-regulation before acquiring language skill.
Interestingly, infants display the same frontal EEG activations as adults (greater right frontal activation in fear and distress), but they do not show the same emotional response to the same orchestral excerpts to which adults listen. Possible explanation includess 1) those orchestral excerpts are too complicated and not enough infant-directed; and 2) sufficient frontal lobe maturation for cognitive appraisal of musical stimuli is yet to be developed after the first 12 months.
Exposure to infant-related musical experience provides infants with tools to express their feelings and communicate with their caretakers. After the development of their language skill and behavioural regulation, music remains a lifelong and powerful channel for communicating emotion without overt action.

Review & Reflection
I had contact with a very cheerful 6-month-old baby for several days during the summer of 2008 and it was most interesting to see how he "learned" different emotions. For example, both happiness and distress were generated by familiarity and repeated activities with caregivers.
After he and I got to know each other and got along reasonably well, I experimented by singing to him. When I first sang to him, he listened with a most concentrated expression ("What is this? Let me find out!"). When I repeated the same song to him in the following days, he started displaying recognition and pleasure.
He had an allergy and took medication for several days. The first time, he tasted and swallowed it. The second time, he took it, but he realized that it didn't taste that good. The third time, he recognized the bottle and flavour and showed resistance to repeating the experience. When he couldn't avoid taking it, he was upset and started crying. It was the first time he displayed signs of distress and cried during the week I spent with him.
Yes, I can see how it's possible for infants to accumulate experiences and develop a repertoire of emotional expressions. It is a combination of instinctive and learned behaviours and music is a very important source of auditory stimulants for infants' interaction with the world.
For adults, listening to music and recognizing emotions communicated by the music is like a recall experience. Most frequently, we recognize a musically induced emotion when we have already experienced that emotion in another context. For that reason, it may be less easy to understand a very sad piece if a person has not experienced much depression nor distress in life. From a performer's point of view, performing music with different emotions can be a way of reaching into our emotion repertoire and expanding it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Facilitating flow experiences among musicians

Bloom, Arvid J and Skutnik-Henley, Paula.  "Facilitating Flow Experiences Among Musicians."



By Megumi Okamoto



The article begins by explaining the notion of flow. Flow is a state of mind that has no easy shortcuts, but is experienced in various activities. It has analogous terms in other fields, such as "state of chi" "being in the zone" in athletics, "being in ecstasy" in religious mysticism, and "being in aesthetic rapture" for artists. It shares much in common with the well-known concept of mindfulness, which is defined as involving creation of new ways of organizing experience, and openness to new information and awareness of various perspectives. From such wide ramifications of this concept, the author pins down the experience on musicians. His intention in this study is to identify some elements that promote flow among instrumental musicians, and to explore how characteristics of flow can be identified.

The method of this study was to collect the qualitative data based on surveys that were completed by ninety adult classical instrumental musicians. And from the respondent's descriptions of flow experiences, five basic themes were extracted: This includes heightened awareness, emotional involvement, sense of connection with others, and sense of everything "clicking into place," and sense of transcendence.

12 percent of respondents felt that the flow experience resulted from sight reading. 45 percent occurred in ensemble situations (flow experiences occur much more frequently in small ensemble situations rather than when playing alone, possibly due to the challenge that is involved in coordinating one's playing with others and listening mindfully). 62 percent occurred in non-performance situations. Interestingly, the type of music that produced flow the most was of romantic era (38 percent), followed by classical, contemporary, baroque, and then others.

A surprising fact was that some individuals, including both professional musicians and non-musicians, had never experienced flow while playing their instrument. This seems to be resulting from low self-confidence, the lack of openness of discovery and new experiences, and the lack of explicit goals. To solve this, the author lists numerous pointers that can promote the experience of flow. He strongly feels that experiences of flow make a major component in enjoyment of music-making. He comments that there is still far to go with the research, and that next step in his studies is to include non-musicians, improvisational players in fields other than classical music, and composers.  



                 This is a highly practical source, depicting the notion of flow and relating it to musicians. As this article is taken from a website that belongs to the association of American music teachers, its ultimate aim is to search for ways to make the experience more attainable to students, and to enhance music education.

                 I do not need to mention the description of the flow itself from this article, since it is basically the same as what I have encountered in my previous readings. But this article offers information that is new to me, which includes the insights regarding the kind of musical activities that induces flow. The effectiveness of small ensemble situations was particularly interesting, because that is also related to various dances that require partnership. When we reflect on just how many dances incorporate this element, it is easy to understand that there are profound causes behind this. If not for these reasons, people would be dancing alone much more often.

Regarding the types of music that tend to induce the effect of flow, I think the percentage is highly related to the familiarity of the music. The order of frequency in the given music to produce the state of flow was stated as follows: music of the Romantic era, classical era, contemporary, baroque, followed by other styles. This makes sense considering that Romantically-inclined music is prevalent due to the frequent usage in films and other mediums. Perhaps, the use of melody-dominated homophony (in contrast with complicated polyphony) is preferred, since the mind is able to grasp it easier than with baroque or contemporary styles.   

  Another important aspect to remember is that the relative balance between challenge and skill is much more relevant than having an absolute level of skill. This means that at no matter what level, one can enjoy a profound experience. One does not need to pressure him/herself to create this special experience, as this feeling is not meant to be separated from our everyday life experiences. I think that this article communicates this important idea very convincingly.



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Toward a Theory of Profundity in Music

White, David A. "Toward a Theory of Profundity in Music." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 50.1 (Winger 1992): 23-34.


By Megumi Okamoto



            This is an article that relates philosophical concerns regarding the profundity of music (a notion that is discussed in Peter Kivy's book, Music Alone) with insights in theoretical analysis. It discusses some explanations on what some people hear in music and think is profound, which inevitably produces an interpretative, subjective discussion; the individuals who experience it cannot account for the reason for such experience. However, according to the author, this is "not a wasted philosophical enterprise."  

The author elaborates on the importance of "passage of time" and repeated hearings, depicting the indispensable role of memory and anticipation in listening. The linear experience of the work works in the way that the understanding of the present listening experience depends on the memory of what was heard from the beginning of the work to that moment. Also, on subsequent hearings, the consciousness of what is being heard in the present moment is inclusive of the memory of the entire work. Furthermore, the more we listen, the more the details within the work become interconnected to one another, thus delineating the unity of the work. And these understandings that are brought to us by memory and anticipation help to justify the "profundity" of a given piece of music. Thus, aesthetic experience is highly reliant on memory.

The author feels that the sense of profundity is incomplete until the work as a whole is finished, where the listener is presented with the matter of profundity. He opens a discussion regarding the content of Beethoven's Op.131, picking apart various elements that may or may not be accountable for being able to cause a "profound experience."




Bennett Reimer's article that I previously read, called "The Experience of Profundity in Music," concludes that it is impossible to describe any particular musical features that cause profound experiences. Rather, the aspect that contributes to this experience is familiarity: For instance, if the music is very foreign to the person, then there is a very little chance that they would have an optimal experience.

David White's article elaborates on this point by explaining the importance of "passage of time" and repeated hearings. I feel that this issue is related to the well-known effect in social psychology called the familiarity principle. This principle is based on the findings that simply exposing subjects to an unfamiliar stimulus leads them to rate it more positively than other stimuli that have not been presented. This principle is a foundation to commercial advertising, but seems to be applicable in music as well, to some extent.

Also, it is interesting that there are no particular musical features that cause profound experiences, and that any type of music can become a profound experience to those who are familiar with them. This concept is related to the Mozart effect, in which we discovered that the music does not necessarily need to be Mozart in order for it to produce positive effects.

When discussing the unity of work in regards to aesthetic experience, the issue of whole and part is raised. The author feels that repeated hearings can strengthen the memory and anticipation, thus revealing the overall unity of the work. I think that this is not only the metaphysical concern, but also a highly practical one, as we can see in scholarship such as "How Children Learn Music" by Eric Bluestine: This book depicts the whole-part-whole process in which 1) introduction (overview of the whole), followed by 2) application and specific study of the parts, which is then followed by 3) reinforcement and the understanding of the whole, can greatly enhance learning. I think that the active, repeated listening that the author of the article discusses is based on such concept of the whole-part-whole process.



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