Saturday, January 3, 2009

Why Musicians Make People Weep- and Computers Don’t
Public Library of Science, August 28, 2008

By: Michelle Minke


A recent study in PLoS ONE proved that music is more able to soothe if played by a musician compared to a computer. At the University of Sussex, England, Neuroscientists looked at brain responses of people who listened to live musicians compared to computerized music. They found limited emotional response to the computerized music, especially when there were unexpected chord changes.

A study by Stefan Koelsch, Phd in Psychology completed a test on 20 non musicians that consisted of playing excerpts of piano sonatas. These participants were measured for electric brain responses and for skin conductance as a result of emotional response. Brains responded with clear electrical activity to musical changes when performed live and in computerized music, however activity was much more evident when performed by a musician. This indicated that the brain understands the “musical grammar” despite having no musical ability. This study also revealed that the brain was more likely to search for musical meaning from a musician whom they had an emotional connection to when compared to the computer.

Experience is affected by emotional response as well as an understanding of a musician’s intent, even if someone has not received any formal musical training. It is apparent that a listener enters into a relationship with a performing artist and is stimulated to higher degree with the activity of creation than associating with a computerized sound.


The main affect of this neurological response is obviously the element of emotion. I believe much pop culture music lacks this element. Much of the sound is derived from computerized instruments and has the reason effect of noise, or manipulated sound as noted above.

During the 9/11 ceremonies at ground zero the choice to hire opera singer, Renee Fleming, as opposed to a contemporary pop idol sound, was in fact reflective of the emotional attachment, the organizers of the event wanted to create. They accurately believed that there was nothing more emotional than the sound that comes from natural human artistry. Manufactured or amplified instrumentation is altered to create sound. When sound comes from a musician naturally as opposed to manipulated, true emotion is experienced by an audience.

I think that classical music would probably be more appreciated if a greater number of people experienced it live instead of a mechanical system. The emotional affect is then the judgement of that experience, opposed to just hearing sound.
Sound Stimulation and Its Effect on Dental Sensation Threshold
Sidney Carlin, W. Dixon Ward, Arthur Geshon and Rex Ingraham
Science, New Series, Vol. 138, No. 3546 pp. 1258-1259

By: Michelle Minke


Auditory Analgesia may be successful in dental operations because of distraction, suggestion, cross-sensory masking, or the use of all three at the same time. The threshold of sensation was analyzed in each of these three areas by measuring sensitivity to electrical stimulation of the teeth by having white noise present or no noise present.

It was found that cross-sensory masking, or covering up the white noise, did not affect the threshold level. There were no differences in the “tingle” threshold when presented with or without noise.

Distraction and suggestion did affect the threshold considerably. Reactions were both negative and positive when given the chance to prepare, but the threshold level was higher in all patients. The use of both distraction and suggestion is the most effective for creating a high threshold in a clinical situation.


I was drawn to this article right away because of my recent visit to the dentist. I had cavities to be filled, and I completely despise the sound of dentistry tools that exude white noise. I brought along my Ipod for distraction. Music in this case, acts as cross-sensory masking and as a distraction.

As soon as the drilling instrument would become louder than my music, I felt much more uncomfortable and reacted with tension in my body language. My dentist asked me if I was ok, and I was, but I definitely felt more stressed when the instrument was at its loudest. I have to agree that my “tingling threshold” did not change although there was a negative response in my reaction.

Is music from my Ipod just a distraction in this situation, or also as a tool to mask the sounds around me that create uneasiness and discomfort?

Music is the combination of cross-sensory masking and distraction in our daily lives as well. For example, how many people listen to music on the subway? Music masks unpleasant sounds and confrontation of our environment by distracting us. Perhaps music has the ability to increase other thresholds such as tolerance or pain.

Friday, January 2, 2009

“Music’s impact on the brain” Autism:The Musical
Elaine Hall, interviewed by John Shaefer
SOUNDCHECK, New York Public Radio, Oct. 30, 2008

By: Michelle Minke


Elaine Hall is an acting coach, mother of an autistic son, and is the founder of
“The miracle project”, that celebrates dance, music, film and theatre for autistic children. The students of this program inspired, co- wrote and performed a documentary musical theatre piece called “Autism, the Musical” which received two Emmys this past year. Elaine Hall has seen great response, involvement, enthusiasm and change in the children in her program. Because of the community that music can offer, she believes that is why there is such a strong link between autism and music.

In school, autistic children are taught to minimize their physical movements, to reduce disruptions. However a natural communication tool of autism is flapping of arms and extreme body movement. The miracle project designs programs for the music teacher to follow their flapping movements with music, and to play music inspired by their movement.

Some of the children that first participated in the program would hide under tables, be unable to enter a room, or work in a group. As they began to work with musicians and actors who were singing, they connected and responded more efficiently and more calmly than they had with speech. Within eleven weeks the children were participating, singing and interacting with fellow students, music directors and actors. It quickly became a community of normalization for them without isolation.


This program is probably the first of many to come. The treatment of the neurological disorder, Autism, is proving to be greatly influenced by music.

Projects such as “The Miracle Project” are creating a way to communicate with a disorder not fully understood. I find it exciting research for the world of autism and for musicians who are now being trained to teach individuals with autism.

The most memorable thing that Elaine Hall said, was in regards to the community that music creates. That music offers a non threatening environment so that autistic children are able to be themselves, be free to express, and free to emote without fear or judgement.

This interview was inspiring, as a mother came out of her personal struggle with her son’s autism, by creating this beneficial program. I also enjoyed the following interview with Oliver Sacks, discussing music as a treatment for autism.

Neuroscience for Kids - The Musical Brain

Dr. Chudler -


The Musical Brain is one chapter from an excellent website called Neuroscience for Kids.

In it, music is defined as sound vibrations with the various types of instrument groups and their methods for producing sound vibrations described.

We then follow the sound waves from the ear and through the cranial nerve to the brain. By clicking on the highlighted words one can access all kinds of extra info. By clicking on The Ear one is able to access more than 75 pages of excellent resource information, games, experiments, lesson plans, videos and also a complete textbook full of information about neuroscience for young people! Each highlighted word throughout the website produces similarly excellent information.

The Lobes for Music section talks about amusia and right vs left brainedness. This is followed by a description of an electroencephalogram.

The section explaining the infamous Mozart Effect study is followed by a discussion of the failed attempts to recreate the results and then by some suggested activities relating to this study. There are three audio files which can be accessed relating to Music and the Brain and a list of research paper summaries.

The excellent Neuroscience for Kids site is referenced and attached in several places to the information in this specific website. At the Neuroscience umbrella site one can access such interesting material as Women in Neuroscience, How Much do Animals Sleep and Yawning: Why we Yawn and Why They are "Contagious".


The Musical Brain provides some excellent information and superb links for kids and for big kids who like to learn about things without having to look up every other word in the dictionary! There is some great information about the musical brain specifically but the pages of resource material on the ear and the brain are really invaluable.

There are about 75 pages of information on the ear and accompanying activities and experiments alone and many layers of information. Often there are links given for even more detailed information. The age range for using this website could range anywhere from the very young through to high school age young people. The pages of experiments on hearing, for example, list experiments for all ages, from K to grade 12.

The site is just jam-packed with tons of info. Anyone checking it out can choose to pick up a little information or a LOT!

This website just a fabulous resource for anyone wanting a refresher on neuroscience and as a resource for teachers and students. I highly recommend it.

Brainwave Music Therapy

Brainwave 'Music' May Soothe a Troubled Psyche
Fox - April 26, 2006
by Catherine Donaldson-Evans,3566,193085,00.html


An intriguing kind of treatment is available for those suffering from anxiety, insomnia or attention deficit disorder. With Brain Music Therapy (BMT) a person's brain waves are recorded via EEG and converted into piano music on a CD. The patient listens to their own brain waves in musical form and the brain is quieted to the point of alleviating stress, attention deficit disorder and promoting sleep. A separate CD of energy boosting sound waves through music is also available with the overall cost coming in at $550. After three months the process should be re-done as brain waves change as a result of the treatment. Thereafter, the CDs should be good for about four years.

Brain Music Therapy is a form of neurobiofeedback and treats the brain through entrainment, teaching it to retrain itself with its own brain waves. The treatment was pioneered in Russian and was brought to the U.S. by New York City Dr. Galina Mindlin.

A similar treatment is called Holosync Audio Technology in which various tones and sounds calm the brain and get the two sides of the brain working together. Some problems such as depression, anxiety, anger and substance abuse have been shown to be alleviated through this treatment. Caution must be used not to overuse the CDs as listening too frequently can over-stimulate the listener.

As of 2006, when this article was written, there was no empirical evidence of the effectiveness of either of these treatments. Patients did seem to find relief but, other than one clinical study which showed that insomnia suffers did benefit and indicated that therapy may help anxiety and depression sufferers, results from ongoing studies were still pending.


This all sounded very promising to me. Listening to CDs of brain wave music sounds like a much better way to overcome issues that by taking drugs. I wondered what research had been done in the two and a half years since the article was written so I looked online to see what I could find that had been written about BMT more recently. See below.

Is Brain Music Snake Oil?
January 6, 2008

Brain Music Video:
Sleep-deprived Houstonians are listening to their brain music to help them catch their Z's.
Video by Johnny Hanson and Alexis Grant
Brain Music provided by Ann Byrd


The video above shows a subject having her brain waves recorded by EEG. She discusses her depression and hopes for assistance through BMT.

As of January 2008, a clinic in Houston had started to use BMT. The director of the sleep centre at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center had doubts about the treatment. He said "When I put on my science hat, I'm skeptical. When I put on my clinical hat, I'll do anything that works."

Teen Autism - Brain Wave Therapy: Update
November 11, 2008


Nigel is a 14 year boy with autism. He had a great deal of difficulty getting to sleep at night and was consequently groggy and irritable. After using a BMT CD with Delta brain wave frequencies (those governing healing and sleep) there was a profound difference in his ability to fall asleep more quickly. He was thus able to get up more easily, was more alert and functioned better generally. Because of Nigel's sensitive hearing he listens to the CD via speakers rather than through headphones.

Ending Anxiety with BMT? Q & A
Ask Dr. Weil - December 22, 2008
Andrew Weil, M.D.


Someone wished to stop taking anti-anxiety medication to avoid potential side effects and asked Dr. Weil if he would recommend BMT as an alternate treatment for anxiety and depression considering the approximate cost of $500. Weil answered that it was unclear how a musical interpretation of an EEG would be helpful. He said he was aware of only a few published studies on the subject and recommended instead, at a fraction of the cost, "Breathing: the Master Key to Self-Healing", a method of accessing the autonomic nervous system through breath work.


There is still some skepticism in the medical profession about the positive effects of BMT although clinically, many people do seem to have found relief from using it. In time, research will no doubt prove or refute the effectiveness of BMT but until the results of studies become available, it seems to me that, if the cost were not prohibitive, it would definitely be worth trying it to avoid having to rely upon drugs.
Universality in the Brain while listening to Music
Joydeep Bhattacharya and Hellmuth Petsche
Biological Sciences, Vol. 268, No. 1484 (Dec. 7,2001) pp. 2423-2433

By: Michelle Minke


An electroencephalogram (EEG) measures neuroelectrical activity when there are changes in the physiological and chemical interactions in the brain. The EEG detects dynamical patterns that are either linear or nonlinear in the brain. By adjusting the gamma band of the EEG over specific areas of the brain, it measures the signals of brain activity during different cognitive states. The different cognitive states analyzed were: the brain at rest, listening to music, listening to text, and performing spatial imagination. Listening to music was found to be the only cognitive state that created universal and homogeneity in the brain by exhibiting only linear interaction among many cortical regions.


Books such as “New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle address the fact that there is always an inner dialogue and some type of mental noise in our consciousness. I think it is amazing that our brain is busy even while resting and that music has the ability to place our brain in a more linear and calmed state.

In this study, spatial imagination had the least linear patterns. This made me think of the importance of other activities that encourage a unified cognitive state, such as Yoga. In these practices of meditation, you are encouraged to use spatial imagination. Thousands of people are finding benefits to these sessions beyond physical awareness, flexibility and overall health. Music is often present in Yoga, and perhaps the influence of music is what creates a greater feeling of well being besides the usual benefits.

I am amazed in the power of music and the effect it has on our brain. It is easy to sense the effect music has on us emotionally, but this article opened my eyes to what it does physically.

How Music Affects Emotion, Intelligence and Health

Socyberty - March 28, 2008
by Kellie Stewart


Socyberty is "a user powered website dedicated to providing the highest quality society oriented content on the web."
No biographical information was given for the author.

The introduction of this article states that, music moves us. It means something to us. It effects us physically.
Dancing and music have been part of the human culture possibly even before language evolved.

Stewart begins with notes about how babies relate to music they have heard in the womb and in their very early lives (with reference to various studies) then mentions the effect of a musical education on young people. She continues with comments on the effects of popular music on today's youth.

In the section about Music and the Mind, Stewart quotes William J. Cromie in an effort to briefly explain how the brain listens to and interprets musical sounds. She briefly touches upon the various areas within the brain and their functions. The last paragraph in this section deals with music triggering emotional responses.

The section entitled Music and Intelligence mentions that music at 60 beats per minute activates both the right and the left sides of the brain. In this section Stewart talks about music as a tool for learning. She talks about the Mozart effect study and the reactions to it. She also writes about Lozanov's Bulgarian study of learning a foreign language to classical music at 60 beats per minute and the Texan study of vocabulary memorization using Handel's Water Music.

The Music and Health segment details the history of music therapy and the many areas where it is making significant difference in many lives.

In the section on Music and Physical Activity Stewart talks about the effect music has on runners and how she feels it is unfair that runners are not allowed to use music players during competitions.


Even as a very inexperienced reader in the field of Music and Brain studies, it appears to me that this article is contains many generalizations, unsubstantiated claims and inaccuracies.

As the parent of a teenage girl who listens to pop music (although certainly not as long as the 40 hours per week average as given in the article) I don't agree that the music and or lyrics of the songs she listens to are, so far, having a negative effect on her. Just because one likes the beat or the melody of a song doesn't necessarily mean one is going to subscribe to the meaning of the words. Often the words are not all that intelligible anyway.

Stewart proposes the question of whether music in a minor key "naturally sounds bad or undesirable" or whether we have merely been socialized to think this in our particular cultures. I was not aware that this is an accepted opinion. I have often heard people refer to music in minor keys as being "sad", which is in itself questionable, but I don't recall hearing music in a minor key being called "bad".

I found the discussion of learning vocabulary and language with the assistance of music to be quite interesting and would be interested in reading more about this.

In the section on Music and Health, when discussing the therapeutic aspect of music, Stewart mentions environmental sounds such as chirping crickets and ocean waves. These may be therapeutic, perhaps, but they are not strictly musical sounds.

Stewart's personal opinions about the use of iPods etc. for runners might best have been omitted.

It's interesting to me that of the 10 comments posted after the article, none are critical of it.

It occurred to me that this article might not even compare favourably to an entry in the online source Wikipedia, so I checked it out and, in my opinion, a reader would do better to select the Music and the Brain article in Wikipedia for a general introduction to the subject.

Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation

Limb CJ, Braun AR 2008 Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation.
PLoS ONE 3(2): e1679 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679

This is Your Brain on Jazz: Researchers Use MRI to Study Spontaneity, Creativity
Science Daily, Feb. 28, 2008 - http://www.


Charles J. Limb and Allen R. Braun, researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland (Limb is also connected to Johns Hopkins University) conducted a study to how the brain adapts when jazz pianists improvise music.

Prior to this study the neural processes controlling creativity were largely unidentified. For the purposes of this study musical improvisation was exemplified as a very typical type of spontaneous creative behavior.

The hypothesis was that changes in prefrontal activity would accompany improvisation, with change also occurring in the sensorimotor areas needed to organize the execution of musical ideas and behaviors and in the limbic structures regulating memory and emotional tone.

They asked six male jazz pianists to each play two learned (memorized) sequences and two improvised sequences while lying with the keyboard on their knees in the fMRI machine. The musicians were instructed to use their right hand only and not to move any other part of their bodies. Their playing was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a scanning technique whereby various areas of the brain are illuminated, showing stimulation, in response to certain actions. A special keyboard containing non-metallic materials was constructed and the participants listened during the recording with electrostatic ear speakers.

Researchers found that central processes in the lateral portions of the prefrontal cortex which typically inhibit and self-censor behavior were turned off, while, during spontaneous production of new musical material, or improvisation, the area of the medial prefrontal cortex which governs self-expression and individuality became activated. The creative process of improvisation, while based upon rules and structures, can occur outside of conscious awareness and beyond conscious control. Basically, jazz musicians improvise by internally turning off inhibitions and turning up creativity.

The researchers plan to study others types of creativity such as the visual arts and poetry to see if the same findings are seen.


Creativity is a personal thing. In expressing one's own thoughts or artistic endeavours it is necessary to ignore the expectations of others. Jazz artists sometimes play or sing with their eyes closed. It may be their way externally of doing what the brain already does. By closing their eyes and shutting out the outside world, they are delving deep inside to find new avenues of expression and new ways of manipulating the materials at their disposal - melody, rhythm and harmony.

Personally speaking, I found reading this study to be challenging because of the use of technical terms and the amount of detail involved. Science Daily's synopsis was a helpful addition to me.

Make Music, Boost Brain

David Bradley's Sciencebase - Science Blog
TED - ideas worth spreading
Tod Machover and Dan Ellsey


David Bradley is a science writer who has a website called Sciencebase. On May 23, 2008 he wrote a piece about his own experiences with a lifetime of guitar playing and his recent foray into choral singing. He claims to have had problems all his life with remembering names but after less than a year of choral singing, he suddenly finds he is much more able to easily retain this kind of information. He feels that the brain activity required to read music, as opposed to the way he would normally play guitar mostly by ear, has resulted in this new skill. Others who have commented on his observations feel similarly.

Bradley included the YouTube piece from TED at the end of his column.

Tod Machover is a big-haired rock musician-looking type who starts by saying that music means a lot to us but it is even more powerful if you don't just listen to it but you make it yourself.

His MIT music media lab is involved with "active music". He believes that everyone in the world has the ability to make music. He started by creating "hyper instruments" for expert musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Peter Gabriel. These are instruments that "know" how they are being played.

Machover's team created "Brain Opera", an interactive composition piece performed with a series of instruments that everyone can play. This toured worldwide and is now permanently housed in Vienna. This concept preceded the creation in his lab of the widely popular "Guitar Hero".

He believes that music is transformative, that it can change your life.

"Toy Symphony" is a composition and performance vehicle for children. It includes easy instruments children can make music on right away. For example, there are squeezy shapers that make music by measuring the electricity in your fingers. The hope is that this will propel kids to want to keep learning about how to create music.

"Hyperscore" is software that uses lines and colours to make quite sophisticated music. By pressing a button, the lines, colours and shapes can be transformed into a traditional musical score.

Current work at the Media Lab is on music, mind and health. Knowing that music is so useful in working with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients, stroke victims and others, the people at the Media Lab are working on ways to build activities which will help to better people's health. Machover and the Media Lab are interested in the "personal instrument" to allow any individual, regardless of their ability or challenge, to be able to create their own personal music.

In the video, a 34-year old man with cerebral palsy named Dan Ellsey comes onstage in a wheelchair. Unable to speak on his own, through the use of a brain scan device, his thoughts are translated through a computer generated speaking voice. Using his own "personal instrument" Ellsey is not only able to compose but perform his own music. A PHD student from the lab explains how their newly adapted technologies have allowed for the unique creative expression of the individual.

At the end of the video, Dan Ellsey performs his compostion "My Eagle Song" created with "Hyperscore" and using computer generated graphics that reflect the man's expressive movement.


In response to what David Bradley wrote about his newfound ability to retain detailed information, like names, I can only add that I have always been quite good at remembering names, dates and phone numbers. I wonder if the fact that I started formal music lessons as a child and have been playing or singing every since has had some effect on my ability to retain such information.

I tend to agree with the narrator of the YouTube posting. I think that music can be life altering. Performing is addictive. For me, having had a taste of it in my youth, it has been something I have wanted to do ever since. I also sense that performing music is contributing to my daughter becoming a poised, outgoing and capable individual.

Such creativity as has been exemplified in the work of the MIT's Media Lab is extremely inspiring. The creators, having the philosophy that we all need to be able to make music, have continuously found novel ways to make this happen for a broad spectrum of ordinary people. Having played Rock Band with the Wii this Christmas with non-musician family members was a fun and creative musical experience for all of us, for example. It occurred to me that it might not be a huge step for my niece who is extremely expert at Guitar Hero, to become interested in taking up guitar playing for real.

The performance by Ellsey of his composition was truly remarkable and for me, very moving. To think that this man, otherwise mute in his chair, is able to communicate and express his musicianship through his thought processes and the small movements that his body allows, is just a wonderful thing. I am so glad I located this video. Check it out.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Music and the Brain

Professor Daniel Levitin
Science interviews February 2008
The Naked Scientists: Science Radio & Science Podcasts


Writer Daniel Levitin was interviewed about why music can make us happy or drive us crazy. He talked about what effect music has on the brain.

Levitin gives a thumbnail sketch of the basics of how and where the brain processes music as sound. The auditory cortex is the first place that music is processed followed by the different parts of the brain where pitch, rhythm, timbre, melody and harmony are analyzed. The frontal lobes try to predict what will come next. That is what causes us to be pleasantly surprised at what does or does not follow. The visual cortex can be activated if a listener is imagining movement or watching a performer's movement.

He talks about the ability of the brain to fill in the blanks in music. We may not completely remember all the lyrics or the whole melody but our brains can come up with probable or plausible links to what we do remember.

Music can make us feel good, he says, because, as it does when other pleasurable things happen, a network of neurons fire in the limbic system changing the chemical makeup of the brain. Likewise, if a person is listening to music they don't like, the neurotransmitter dopamine is not released into the brain and the amygdala, or the centre of the brain that governs fear or flight, is activated. People's reactions to music they don't like can be quite severe and be manifested in either agitation or anger, for example.

If music is too simple, too predictable, we likely will become tired of it quickly whereas, something more complex that may we may not care for upon first listening, may become pleasurable to listen to as the brain begins to understand the structure of the music.

Levitin concludes by responding to the question of whether listening to classical music makes you smarter by saying there is no evidence to suggest that brain regions are engaged in a different way when listening to classical music than when listening to any other genre of music that one may prefer.


Levitin is an engaging speaker who is able to communicate the basics of how the brain processes music in intelligible terms to the lay listener. This interview served as a good review and reinforcement for me of some of the things we have talked about in class this term. I like the thought that, with repeated listening, our brains can learn to make sense of and begin to enjoy the unfamiliar, be it difficult classical repertoire or some kind of popular music.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Via 'Musicophilia', Sacks Studies Music and the Brain

NPR - All Things Considered, Oct. 21, 2007
An 8 minute segment broadcast on National Public Radio

Excerpt: 'Musicolphilia' - Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia - by Oliver Sacks


In the segment from the NPR's All Things Considered program, interviewer Andrea Seabrook talks with neurologist and author Oliver Sacks about his work exploring the relationship between the brain and music. Sacks writes in his book 'Musicophilia' about the stories of some of his patients. One of his first books, 'Awakenings', written in the 1970s, deals with patients who suffered from sleeping sickness. He says he is constantly amazed by the human ability to move in syncronicity to music. He recounts being at a Gratefull Dead concert and marvelling at the thousands of people all moving together in unison. Music's ability to stir up various moods and emotions interest him as does the human ability to hear music in our heads. Sacks mentions Gottfried Schlaug's research at Harvard University in imaging the brains of musicians. He says that, unlike many other professions, a musician's brain can be recognized as such just by looking at the brain patterns.

Sacks talks about his work with patients with Tourette's Syndrome and how their involuntary compulsive movements can be calmed through music therapy. He cites the example of a drum circle in New York and how 30 people's bodies can be jerking spasmodically then, after following the lead drummer, they fall into syncronicity and are no longer subject to sudden jerky movements. He fondly remembers when he first started working in New York City in the 1960s, seeing a group of 80 Parkinson's patients who had been frozen, unable to move, suddenly upon hearing music becoming 'unlocked' for a while.

In the excerpt from 'Musicophilia' entitled 'Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia', Sacks tells the story of an orthopedic surgeon who, having been hit by lightening, suddenly became obsessively interested in piano music and composition. The man who formerly had little to no interest in music, was now engrossed heart and mind in the performance of and love for music.


Having listened to Oliver Sacks interviewed and having read this excerpt from his book, I am inspired to read more of his writing. His writing seems accessible to this unscientific mind and while I have found the many of the subjects connected to the study of Music and the Brain very interesting. It has been difficult for me to process some of the ideas because of the technical language used. I suspect I would not be intimidated by and would enjoy reading more of what Sacks has written.

The changes in behavior as exhibited by the doctor whose brain became keenly interested in music subsequent to his accident, sound as if they almost bordered on the obsessive. As one who lives with a partner who is also deeply engrossed in a hobby, I was not hugely surprised to note that the marriage did not survive the newfound musical passion!

Emotions Evoked by the Sound of Music: Studies 3 and 4

Zentner, M., Didier, G., & Scherer K.R. Emotions Evoked by the Sound of Music: Characterization, Classification, and Measurement. Emotion, 8, 494-521.

By: Andrea Botticelli

The purpose of study 3 in this ongoing investigation was to extend the findings by using a larger and more representative sample of listeners. This round of tests examined emotion ratings provided when listeners were exposed to actual performances. Confirmatory factor analysis examined the structure of musical emotion ratings (496). Study 4 attempted to replicate the results with a different sample of listeners and musical excerpts. It also compared the differential validity of the framework in comparison with basic emotion and dimensional emotion models (497).

In the validity test, there was a good fit result for a more parsimonious 9-factor model. Subesequently, the model was reduced to include 9 factors. Also, the total number of emotion terms was reduced to 40. The 9 factors of musical emotion are: Wonder, Transcendence, Tenderness, Nostalgia, Peacefulness, Power, Joyful Activation, Tension, and Sadness (503). The results provide a domain-specific taxonomy of musically induced emotions. They make up the Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS) (506).

In comparison with mainstream emotional models, such as the discrete emotion model, most musical emotions in the GEMS model are positive. Also, emotion categories such as wonder, nostalgia, and transcendence are prevalent in the model, whereas these emotions are not central in any other emotion model. There are some other more subtle differences in the emotion terms. For instance, joy in music implies a tendency to dance, which is unlike the common emotional meaning of joy. In music “joyful activation may be best seen as a form of joyful entrainment” (506). Also, musical sadness may not be like the basic emotion of sadness because respondents rarely reported feeling gloomy, depressed, or unhappy. The nine emotion factors can be classified with three larger terms: Sublimity, Vitality, and Unease. While the intercorrelations of these facets seem disturbingly high from the point of view of statistical procedure, they reveal the blended nature of musical emotions (506).

In study 4, the method to replicate the results in study 3 used only absolute music. There were some added variables gleaned from repeated suggestions by participants in free response categories of questionnaires (508). Therefore, the final taxonomy has 9 factors and 33 subfactors (509). Significantly, results using this model showed that listeners preferred to describe what they felt in these emotional terms. It also enhanced agreement across listeners in emotional ratings of music excerpts (511). Hence, the musical emotion model reflects more discrimination between musical excerpts (512). It is a step closer to developing a reliable method to evaluate musically induced emotions.

The final discussion in this seminal article makes the point that even with this more sharply discriminating model, there was still significant interindividual variability in emotional responses to a given excerpt (512). My question is what causes this variability? It is clear from this research (and my own experience as a music teacher) that not all individuals react emotionally to music. In this case, less than 50% of the sample reacted to the most common musically induced emotions. There has been research that illuminates other factors that moderate emotional reaction to music, such as performance variables, listener variables and contextual variables (516). In my opinion, there must be a domain-specific musical ability or awareness that accounts for this variability.

Emotions Evoked by the Sound of Music: Studies 1 and 2

Zentner, M., Didier, G., & Scherer K.R. (2008). Emotions Evoked by the Sound of Music: Characterization, Classification, and Measurement. Emotion, 8, 494-521.

By: Andrea Botticelli

Empirical research has shown that music can be an effective means of mood induction. It is influential in mood manipulation to alter consumer behavior and it can also be used as a tool for treatment of emotional disorders. A pervasive element, affective reactions to music have been observed in infants as young as four months old. Moreover, brain regions activated by emotional music are similar to those activated by strong rewards such as sex, food, and drugs of abuse (494).

At present, there is no empirically derived taxonomy of musically induced emotion. This line of research strives to answer these questions: Which emotive states are most (and least) frequently induced by music? Are these “states” specific emotions? If so, how can we adequately classify and measure them? Also, how do these “music emotions” relate to extramusical emotional experience? Do music-induced emotions differ sufficiently from everyday emotions to warrant a domain-specific classification? (495).

The goal of the first study was to create a comprehensive list of suitable words to describe felt emotion. Researchers compiled a list of 515 terms of felt affect in French. They subsequently narrowed the list by using words that the majority of participants selected, eliminating unpopular words as well as repetitive, synonymous words. They reduced the list to 146 affect terms (497).

The second study examines which of these terms would be relevant in relation to music. As a basis, the researchers used 3 rating conditions, namely emotions perceived in the music, emotions induced by music, and emotions experienced in day-to-day contexts. Participants rated how often they felt a particular emotion versus how often they perceived it in music of their personal musical preferences. They also rated how often they felt these emotions in their everyday life (498).

Factor analysis yielded 10 broad factors: Tender Longing, Amazement, Tranquility, Joy, Activation, Power, Sensuality, Transcendence, Dysphoria, and Sadness. Moreover, the study demonstrated that ratings of perceived emotion differed greatly from ratings of felt emotion. Also, emotion ratings differ significantly with musical genre (499). On the whole, emotions were more perceived than felt, particularly in negative cases of sadness or dysphoria. Interestingly, tender longing and amazement were just as often perceived as felt (500).

Frequency ratings of felt musical emotions and everyday emotions differ significantly from each other. Emotions that were reported only rarely in music (despite the frequent occurrence in everyday life) were guilt, shame, jealousy, disgust, contempt, embarrassment, anger, and fear. Furthermore, the induction of positive emotions depended on the music. For instance, amazement and peacefulness were experienced more in classical music and jazz than in everyday life. In contrast, activation was more experienced with Latin American and techno music. Finally, emotions were less frequently felt in relation to music, than to be perceived as expressive properties of music

The empirical study of music and emotion is made more difficult because there is no general agreement as to what an “emotion” is. Accordingly, rather than use models from emotion research that may be too primitive to encompass the breadth of musical emotions (such as the basic emotion model), the researchers have decided to create a domain-specific model of musically induced emotions. I wholeheartedly agree that analyzing emotions in music should go further than discussions of angry, fearful, surprised, happy, or sad emotions. These cut and dry classifications cannot encompass the nuanced interplay of musical elements or the richly descriptive emotional experience induced by music.

Liking for happy- & sad-sounding music: effects of exposure

Schellenberg, G., Peretz, I. & Vieillard, S. (2007)
Liking for happy- and sad-sounding music: Effects of exposure.
Cognition and Emotion, 22:2, 218-237

This study recruited 108 undergraduate students from University of Toronto in Mississauga and Universite de Montreal to observe their favorable/unfavorable response to music in relation to the emotional status of music, frequency of exposure, and type of exposure.
Eighteen musical excerpts (equally divided into two groups of happy- and sad-sounding) from 17th to 20th century Western European art music were selected and recorded using MIDI software. These excerpts were presented from zero to thirty-two times. The participants were assigned to two listening conditions: focused (listening attentively to each musical presentation and identifying its emotional status: happy or sad) and incidental (listening to a narrated story in the right ear and tracking certain words while listening to musical excerpts at a reduced volume in the left ear).
The findings of this study showed that: 1) participants in the focused condition preferred happy to sad music, but those in the incidental condition displayed the opposite; 2) while the liking ratings in the focused group increased between second and eighth exposures and declined steadily from eighth to thirty-second exposures, the liking ratings in the incidental group increased as the number of exposures went up; 3) the recognition ratings for happy and sad music were similar in the focused group, but the incidental group showed lower recognition ratings for happy than sad music.
The researchers brought up several existing theories to explain the findings of this study: Bornstein's perceptual fluency/attributional model (220), Berlyne's two-faced model (221, 232), and Whittlesea & Williams' discrepancy-attribution hypothesis (232). As a result of exposure, the inverted U-shape in the liking rates reflected the process in which musical challenges were recognized, met, and reduced to boredom as participants from the focused group listened to the same excerpts repeatedly. The incidental group might have preferred sad music because of their non-musical task and consequent negative mood. Sad music and its frequent use of slower tempi were linked with calming effects while the faster pace of happy music might have been too quick for processing by the incidental group, whose attention was diverted.
The researchers would like to address the following issues in their future studies: 1) how musical expertise and listeners' pre-existing preference for one genre over another may affect responses; 2) whether the observed response patterns may extend to unusual types of music, or other art forms, with or without temporal organisation; 3) how lyrics or vocal quality affects liking for music; 4) how social and cultural determinants (such as gender, ethnicity, and education) may influence effects of exposure.

Review & Reflection
As the researchers stated in this study, their interest was to observe how one's musical preferences might reflect the same individual's personal identity. What we choose to do, eat, wear, see, and hear makes up our identity and outlines who we are. While some choices are conscious, some are not. This study displays the various elements of one sample, music listening, from our everyday routine and brings to our awareness the many variations of outcomes, made possible by slight changes in the circumstances.
While the effects of exposure can be seen in many fields of life, the existence of goals helps us focus our attention and discover new sides of the same substance. This reminds me of Csikszentmihalyi's description of flow experience: one reaches this optimal experience when one focuses on the task at hand and one's skill level meets the challenge level of the task. For attentive audience, the complexity of good music offers challenges, as well as opportunities of many discoveries and rewards. The quality of our listening activity does not solely depend on the music itself, but mainly on how we listen to it and what we want from this experience, which is our attitude and motive.

Blind man 'sees' a path

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Blind man 'sees' a path
Benedict Carey. The Globe and Mail. Toronto, Ont.: Dec 23, 2008. pg. A.2

Summary: This was a brief report I encountered in the Globe and Mail on December 23rd, 2008. The original study was published in the journal "Current Biology". The subject of this study was a doctor who was left blind by two successive strokes. In the experiment he was required to navigate an obstacle course without help. He did so successfully, managing to avoid a garbage can, a tripod and several other onbjects.

Review: Scientist have previously reported on cases of blind people with partial damage to their visual lobes. However, this is the first study to show that there is something else at work, since both visual lobes were destroyed in this patient; or in more technical terms: where there is an apparent total absence of a striate cortex(where visual processing takes place.)

This study seems to suggest that we have a sub-conscious visual system; one where we have the ability to sense things by using the brain's primitive, subcortical system.

This seems to suggest that there are various forms/ degrees of blindness. This experiment might not have worked one a patient who was born blind or on one who had damage to the ideas. In the experiment, the patient suffered from damage to the brain, not the eyes. This means that his eyes couls still see, but that the processing took place in a different region of the brain, as well as in a different fashion. To ensure that there was no activity in the cortex, researchers took brain scans and magnetic resonance images of the brain, making sure that nothing was actually happening. Researchers also ensured that the patient was not navigating by reflected sound - the way bats navigate.

The fact that our brains process information from our eyes using two sets of circuits is not a new revelation to researchers. Apparently, cells in the retina project to the visual cortex, as well as to the subcortical areas. These subcortical areas include the superior colliculus (crucial in eye movement; possibly in other sensory functions as well). It is also suspected that information is also sent through the amygdala, which registers emotion.

Response: I was able to locate some footage of the experiment, which can be viewed here:

This experiment seems to demonstrate the amazing capabilities of our brains - I think that we are actually not aware of how much it can do, or how it can adapt. It would be interesting to know what the role of light played in this experiment. Would he perphaps have been less successful had it been dark? This reminds me of a blind student I taught for a while. She was born blind and it was obvious from her eyes that she could not see. I was amazed at how well she navigated her apartment and how she was able to cook us a dinner without help. She did mention however that she could sense whether or not there was light in the room. Therefore, I think it would be interesting to experiment further with levels of light in the obstacle course.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Music Structure and Emotional Response: Some Empirical Findings

Sloboda, J.A. (1991). Music Structure and Emotional Response: Some Empirical Findings. Psychology of Music, 19, 110-120.

By: Andrea Botticelli

This study examines the emotional experiences of “thrills” while listening to music. This experience is divided into two categories. The first example can be described as a pleasant physical sensation, often felt as a “shiver” or “tingle” running from the nape of the neck down the spine. The second example of strong emotion involves tears or weeping. From the scientific point of view, it is advantageous to study this response because it is clear, stereotypical, memorable, clearly differentiated, and easily identifiable (110). Moreover, the “thrill” response reflects felt emotion, not judged musical mood (111). Thus, this research focuses on emotional “peaks” by analyzing their nature, frequency of occurrence, and the precise musical events which evoke them (111).

The sample of 83 respondents (the number of replies received from a pool of 500) answered a questionnaire that asked them to rate the occurrence of peak experiences during the past 5 years based on physical criteria. Participants were asked to rate their experiences using twelve physical variables: shivers down the spine, laughter, lump in the throat, tears, goose pimples, racing heart, yawning, pit of stomach sensations, sexual arousal, trembling, flushing/blushing, and sweating. Notably, the most common responses were shivers, laughter, lump in the throat, and tears (112).

Participants were also asked to nominate the works for which they had strong emotional responses. Of the pieces that were nominated, 65 were classified as classical vocal, 28 were popular vocal, 67 examples represented classical instrumental, and 6 were popular instrumental music. (It is important to note that the imbalance toward classical music may have reflected the sample, not necessarily the occurrence of strong emotions). The top five works were: Bach St. Matthew Passion, Mozart Requiem, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, Bach B minor Mass, and Tchaikovsky Overture to Romeo and Juliet. Interestingly, respondents reported that even after listening to this music upwards of 50 times over 5 years, they still felt strong emotional reactions to the music (113).

Respondents were also asked to try to pinpoint the musical event that elicited the strong response. 57 people responded to this question and all responses except 2 were from performers. 38 musical passages were chosen for structural analysis (all were from classical music because the score had to be available to study). 19 excerpts were examples of purely instrumental music and 17 examples were of vocal music. Content analysis of these emotional moments summarized ten broad groups: harmonic descending cycle of fifths to tonic, melodic appoggiaturas, melodic or harmonic sequence, enharmonic change, harmonic or melodic acceleration to cadence, delay of final cadence, new or unprepared harmony, sudden dynamic or textural change, repeated syncopation, and a prominent event that came earlier than prepared for (114).

The results of the study demonstrate a clear differentiation between musical structures by the physical reactions they provoke. In general, it was shown that tears are most reliably provoked by melodic appoggiaturas and shivers are induced by relatively sudden changes in harmony (114).

The article concludes with the point that these physical responses are part of the innate autonomic response system of all human beings. I’m wondering why all 500 people in the sample did not respond? Perhaps they simply didn’t have experiences of that nature to report?

Similarly, why don’t all of us have these responses to music? One of the possible answers could be the role of learning in music appreciation, even in emotional reaction. Since meaningful musical moments may likely be the result of disturbed expectations, musical syntax must be internalized to appreciate these features. Research has also shown that emotional responses can grow during repeated exposure as one discovers more subtle expressive features in the music (119). This point may demonstrate that music (or we) may always have more to express with each experience of listening or performing it.

My Cell Phone Rings in A Minor

How do people with absolute pitch glance at black-and-white squiggles on sheet music and hear the melody in their heads?
by Alissa Poh


Musician Alissa Poh is a research scientist turned science journalist. She says she would rather be a storyteller of science rather than its slave.

The author has perfect pitch or absolute pitch (AP). She hears the everyday sounds around her in musical terms. Her cell phone rings in A minor. Her car horn is somewhere between an E and an F and her refrigerator hums in B flat. As long as she can remember she has been able to recognize and name the pitch of any note.

Oliver Sacks, the noted neurologist and author of Musicophilia, writes that to those of us who don't possess AP, it seems like an uncanny other sense but to those with are born with it, it seems perfectly normal.

Researchers are looking at the genetic hereditary basis of absolute pitch and how that combines with hereditary influences. Researcher Joseph Profita published a paper in 1988 in which he shows that the AP ability clusters strongly within families.

Poh spent time with absolute pitch genetic researchers Jane Gitschier and Beth Theusch from the University of California in San Francisco. Gitschier and Theusch were joined in the study by Iranian grad student Siamak Baharloo whose was interested in also examining the role of musical training on AP development.

First a survey was sent to 900 musician. Then an online test was devised where participants had to distinguish pure fundamental frequency pitches and piano tone pitches, each within three seconds. All survey and test participants had to have received formal music lessons. The results of the testing helped to produce a "relative risk estimate", the prediction that sibling were 10 times more "at risk" for AP than individuals within the general population. Children of a parent with AP were found to have a 50/50 chance of having it.

The researchers compiled data and collected DNA samples in search of genetic evidence of AP. The compilation of information continues with the team eventually hoping to find the one genetic variant linked to AP.

So far, the ACSF researchers have noted that as people get older their pitch perception tends to shift towards the sharper or higher side. Their hypothesis is that just as our eyes change with time, so do our ears. They also noted that most people with AP tend to slip up in their pitch indentification around G sharp and A. This is likely because A is the usual pitch used for tuning. A is often tuned at 440 Hertz, but depending on the type of music and geographic location, the tuning pitch can vary.

Research into AP is shedding light on the question of neuroplasticity (how the brain changes with experience) and on how long-term memory works.

Some scientists are skeptical about the genetic correlation of AP. One of these is musician turned neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. Levitin feels that without an evolutionary advantage to AP, it is unlikely to be inherited genetically. Likewise, he doesn't think the AP researchers will be able to separate "nuture from nature".


Alissa Poh's story traces the development of the various stages of the study, which I found captivating. Rather than just listing the findings of the study, it is interesting to follow the various steps involved in the evolution of the project.

It is intriguing that many of the scientists involved in this research have a musical background.

It seems very appropriate that this article is written from the perspective of someone who does possess AP. It must be a tremendous advantage as a musician to possess absolute pitch, with the exception that musicians who regularly perform early music frequently must have to get very good at mentally transposing!

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
Posted July 17, 2008


Oliver Sacks, a noted neurologist and professor at Columbia University, who explored the link between music and the brain in his book Musicophilia, says music can not only improve movement and speech in patients who have suffered the loss of these, but also trigger the release of mood-altering brain chemicals and help to recover once-lost memories and emotions.

Because the human nervous system has the unique tendency to go into "foot-tapping mode", the brain naturally responds to highly rhythmic music. This innate response benefits Parkinson's and stroke patients helping to initiate movement and to encourage more smooth movement, says Concetta Tomaino, cofounder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function in New York City.

Rick Bausman is a musician who founded and directs the Drum Workshop in Martha's Vineyard. He reports that after playing in his drumming workshops, participants have increased control over their physical movement, becoming more fluid in their movements and shaking less.

Research shows that Parkinson's patients who received music therapy in group improvisation sessions experienced a more significant improvement in motor control than those receiving traditional physical therapy. The positive effects tapered off after two months if the music therapy was discontinued.

When a stroke has damaged speech control centres in the left brain, "melodic intonation therapy", or singing song lyrics, can help to transfer existing neuron pathways or create new ones in the right brain. Singing existing lyrics can progress to speaking the lyrics and to creating new lyrics with similar meanings, thus aiding in the recovery of word retrieval and speech through the use of music. The case of a man whose speech was lost after a fall and a stroke was cited. Through music therapy, Trevor Gibbons, was not only been able to recover his speech and discover a talent for song-writing, but had his
depression alleviated as well.

Research at the University of Miami's School of Medicine in 1999 into the effect of music on establishing more positive moods, indicates that music increases the production of the neurotransmitters norepiniphrine and melatonin. A Spanish study showed that listening to music prior to surgery decreased anxiety, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as much as the anti-anxiety drug diazepam. A 2006 study showed that after listening to music, anxiety levels were reduced in Alzheimer's patients. They then experienced enhanced memory recall and were able to communicate better. It is suspected that music stimulates areas deep within the amygdala and the hippocampus where emotion and long-term memory are processed. Both of these areas are less prone to the degenerative effects of Alzheimer's than the outer cortex, the centre of complex thought. Music Therapist Suzanne Hanser cautions that not all patients will respond and in those that do, it may take multiple sessions to see any effects.


With the body of research being done that shows such positive physical and psychological effects of music therapy, one would hope that health care facilities will be spending more money to hire trained music therapists. If patients can recover lost mobility and deal with pain, loss of memory and speech while experiencing a reduction in levels of stress and anxiety, all without the use of drugs, it seems like a win-win situation all around.

I would expect to see more music therapy training facilities emerging as a result of current research. It seems a shame to think that many people in chronic care facilities are not presently being offered music therapy and that their quality of life could be greatly enhanced if the therapy were more universally available.

Music & Emotions: Can Music Really Make You a Happier Person? from


Article author Duane Shinn formerly worked in the field of music therapy and currently compiles educational musical material. He submitted this article in June 2005.

We listen to music to uplift us further in happy times and to comfort us, or to brood to, when we're down.

Research has shown that music can affect how our brains, and therefore our bodies, function. Although music therapy is not new, we are still working towards understanding music's healing power over the body and the spirit. Music can reduce anxiety and stress and relieve pain. Music can positively alter mood and emotional states.

Music can impact the brain causing one not only to feel better, but to heal faster.  In one study, researchers found that people with physical impairments progressed more quickly in their rehabilitation when their therapy involved listening to music than those who didn't. Another study showed that cancer patients who played drums for 30 minutes per day had more strengthened immune systems and an increase in cancer-fighting cells. 

A 2001 study by Blood and Zatorre of Montreal showed that certain music stimulated the same area of the brain as that which is stimulated by food and sex. With music activating the part of the brain that makes us happy, this suggests that it can benefit our physical and mental well being.

Studies have been done to show that music (or acoustic therapy) can lighten anxiety in those undergoing medical or dental surgery.


Shinn states that although music prompts powerful emotions within us, no one yet knows why these emotions are so powerful. He says that we can quantify some of music's emotional responses, but we can't yet explain them. He says that he does not have to understand electricity to benefit from light and likewise, that he does not have to understand why music makes him feel better emotionally in order to actually feel that way. 

I can use relaxing music to soothe frayed nerves or listen to something to inspire me further when I'm feeling really happy. I can personally attest to an emotional connection to music dating back to my elementary school days. Some of my fondest memories from school days are associated with music classes and choir performances. I remember the swirl of adolescent emotional angst entwined with the experience of listening to certain very sad songs!

Music's emotional appeal can also have physical repercussions for me. This year I'm having my blood pressure checked frequently because it has been on the slightly high-ish side. If I go into the doctor's office and lie down listening to some soothing music on my iPod for a few minutes first, my BP is much lower than if I don't do this.
I'm not certain if music can make you a happier person but it can have very positive effects.

With all of the excellent research being done to show the positive effects of music on physical and emotional health, one wonders why music and acoustic therapy is not more common place.
Last year, when accompanying my daughter for surgery, my ears were assaulted by the sound of the screaming of television sets blasting video games. How much more soothing would it have been for all of us in the waiting area to hear some calming music.

Music: A Link Between Cognition and Emotion

Krumhansl, C.L. (2002). Music: A Link Between Cognition and Emotion. American Psychological Society, 45-50.
By: Andrea Botticelli

The study of musical emotions is currently an active field in psychology. In this article, Krumhansl summarizes research in the ongoing investigation of how musical emotion relates to the cognition of musical structure (45.) A fundamental question is: what is it in the music that causes emotion? Also, are musical emotions like other emotions?

Background research in this field includes the classic study by Hevner (1936). The study was an attempt to precisely describe the musical structures that produce musical emotions. There was a remarkable agreement when listeners had to choose emotional adjective descriptions for musical excerpts. Leonard Meyer, a pioneer in the field of music cognition, theorized that expectations play a central psychological role in musical emotions. Subsequent research uses the concept of musical tension to link cognition of musical structures with musical emotions (46).

It has been shown that music can be reliably described at the level of basic emotions. For instance, there is general consensus that sad excerpts feature slow tempi, minor harmonies, and fairly constant ranges of pitch and dynamics. Fearful excerpts display rapid tempi, dissonant harmonies, and large variations of dynamics and pitch. Finally, happy excerpts employ relatively rapid tempi, dancelike rhythms, major harmonies, and relatively constant ranges of pitch and dynamics (46).

Krumhansl conducted a comparison of these descriptions with points of tension in the music. Tension correlated most strongly with fear ratings, but also with happy and sad ratings. Thus, tension is a multivalent quality, present in music expressing all three of these basic emotions. Physiological responses of the subjects were also recorded. All musical excerpts produced the same direction of change compared with base levels, indicating that music has an overall effect on emotion physiology. Sad ratings induced changes in heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance and temperature. Fear induced changes in the rate and amplitude of blood flow. Happy music showed changes in respiration. However, the correlations were fairly low (46). The greatest correlation with nonmusical emotions in other studies was seen when the manipulation was extended over time, as in the musical excerpts (47).

In yet another study, listeners heard 8 minutes of the 1st movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in E-flat major, K. 282. Physiological responses to the music were recorded. Another group made perceptual judgments such as how the music is segmented, when new musical ideas are introduced, and the degree of perceived tension. Significantly, tension ratings correlated with heart rate and blood pressure. Also, a number of features covaried with tension, such as pitch height of melody, density of notes, dissonance, and dynamics. More cognitive features included key changes, appearance of chromatic tones, interruption of a harmonic process, and denial of stylistic expectations (47).

Musical theory has always discussed the role of structure, harmonic progression, and non-chord notes to understand musical expression. It seems that the sheer existence of these organizational systems makes each departure from them special and meaningful. For example, in every theory class students are taught how to analyze and compose binary pieces or how to identify symmetrical phrasing. Gifted composers continually break these “rules”, but if they weren’t there as a framework, would the pieces that extend these systems and violate their cohesive structure be as meaningful?

It is fascinating for me to read about methods to assess these qualities scientifically. Also, I am happy (and relieved) to find that psychological testing often confirms theoretical thinking. I think an interesting direction for future research would be to investigate the connection of musical emotion with emotion in other areas of life. Results in this direction might strengthen the importance of music therapy.
The Biology of Music
Luis Benítez-Bribiesca, Patricia M. Gray, Roger Payne, Bernie Krause and Mark J. Tramo , Science, New Series, Vol. 292, No. 5526 (Jun. 29, 2001), pp. 2432-2433

By: Michelle Minke


Two scientists, P. M Gray and M.J Tramo, discuss the biological and evolutionary origin of musical creativity.

The diatonic scale that arrived more than three centuries ago, consists mostly of an imperfect sequence of notes that are an old, natural division of the octave. The diatonic scale has been compared to the music of whales, birds and the physiology of the human cochlea by analyzing and researching the series of musical notes. Whales might have chosen the same music intervals to communicate, and are known to compose compositions as long as symphonies. Gray believes that the roots of music lie closer to our ancient brain than our neo cortex, as opposed to Tramo who believes that music involves great cortical activity.

For many cultures still living close to a natural environment there is no separation between music and nature. In places such as Bayaka or Jivaro,there is no need to analyze equal tempered or well tempered scales. Perfection of sound is not the goal. There is no limitation of musical influences, as they use inspiration from mammals, birds, insects, fish and amphibians. In the west there is limited “acoustic expression” due to lack of unique animals in our environment. Our ears are limited by always wanting a perfect sound. The sounds that are acceptable and natural in other countries may then come across as imperfect to our western ears.
Music perception in the brain, according to Tramo, is an emotional response occurring because of phylogenetic ancient structures.


I acknowledge the musical intervals of birds and whales but never considered it to be a primal reasoning of how we began to organize music. Music of course began as sound before it was every notated, but how can music be analyzed as beautiful or not? Are western ears less likely to appreciate Indian or African music simply because of the surrounding we were brought up in?
When I analyze music purely from the natural environment it is derived from, I can hear why there is different rhythm in African music than Canadian, or Brazilian music compared to European music. The animals, trees and waters of these countries have shaped the internal ear of the people. Perhaps if I researched animals, and the natural surrounding of every piece of music that I studied or performed, It would broaden my horizon of appreciation. I find it amazing that our brain recognizes beauty and familiarity based on our personal origin of nature, and that our idea of a perfect sound is established by the environment we are a product of.

I can relate to this when I visited Ireland for the first time. My Grandfather was born and raised in Ireland, and I am Irish, third generation. When my family and I were sitting in a pub in Dublin listening to an Irish band play traditional music, I looked across the room and saw a woman who had exact physical features as mine.I remember thinking to myself, this is where I have come from. The music also had the same affect on me. Each beat of the drum resonated in my body, each harmony echoed in my ear and I emotionally responded with feelings of belonging to this culture. Although I don’t live there and have only visited on few occasions, the sound of an Irish band, flute or harp, inspires my ear to recognize it as “perfection” to me. I can hear the Irish sea, and the wind of Irish Gales. My grandfather played music for me when I was young, and my mother always has Irish music in the house, and I am a product of my environment. Phlyogentically,through musical structures, I feel a great connection to my cultural heritage.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Emotions in Strong Experiences with Music: The SEM Project

Gabrielsson, A. (2001). Emotions in strong experiences with music. In P. Juslin & J. Sloboda (Eds), Music and emotion. Theory and research (pp. 431-449). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Music listening or performing can elicit physical responses such as thrills, shivers, and changes in heart rate. Hence, “music may be a common trigger of extraordinary experiences” (433). The strong experiences of music project (SEM) collected multiple descriptions of strong emotional experiences with music for content analysis. The data collection was from over 400 people from different gender, occupation, age, and musical preferences (434).
The emotional aspects of SEM were divided into four categories: intense emotions, positive emotions, negative emotions, and mixtures of emotions/conflicting emotions (435). Physical responses included uninhibited crying, shivers/chills, changed breathing, and heart rate (441). “Quasi-physical feelings” were also described like feeling weightless, as if the music took command of the body. Other descriptions included living for what is happening right now, or feeling like the universe is in perfect harmony (442).
The factors influencing SEM have been divided into three categories: musical, personal, and situational categories. Musical excerpts that elicit strong emotional experiences can come from any genre including classical music, pop/rock, jazz, and folk music. Negative reaction factors include high volume, heavy drumming, a screaming saxophone, or a monotonous and howling song (442). For example, a report described an extremely dissonant fortissimo chord in Mahler’s 10th Symphony that explodes unexpectedly (443). Moreover, participants described more general musical elements such as timbre, loudness (dynamics), tempo (such as accelerando), mode (like the transition from minor to major), rhythm, beautiful melodies and harmonies, thick texture, and building tension followed by relaxation (443).
Personal factors that influence strong musical/emotional experiences include physical state, such as whether or not a listener was feeling well, rested, tired, or ill. Also, cognitive factors include expectations, attentiveness, receptivity, sensitivity, open-mindedness, having heard or performed the music earlier, or whether or not the listener was familiar with musical style. Emotional state was also an important factor, namely whether the person was in low or high spirits, calm, relaxed, nervous, depressed, or in crisis (444). Finally, personality-related variables such as temperament, maturity, and disposition all affected the probability of strong emotional experiences with music (445).
Situational factors included the physical space and acoustical conditions of the location of listening or performing. Also, the social aspect of performing alone or together with others influenced these experiences, along with the size of the audience. Additionally, strong emotional experiences with music were more likely to happen on special occasions, such as vacations or performing in another country. Performance conditions that influenced peak experiences included whether or not the music was well rehearsed or under-rehearsed.
Hence, musical factors are only part of the equation that can influence strong experiences in music. The researches concluded that “in many cases….personal and/or situational factors are in fact more important than the music in question”. Moreover, they argued that it may be more accurate to describe these moments as “strong experiences of and with music or strong experiences in connection with music”. Finally, the “link between cognition and emotion is blurred” because one can’t determine if SEM is a direct, immediate emotion or the result of a situational appraisal (447). It is equally difficult to make the distinction between emotions expressed in music and emotions aroused by music. Nevertheless, the “power of music” has considerable validity (448).

I can vividly remember the musical peak experiences of my life and, looking back, I can see that they were a combination of strong musical factors combined with many other physical and situational influences.
One experience was when I visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when I was 20. I am not particularly religious, but I love visiting churches and I have often felt that their beauty and awesome architecture must have really inspired belief in churchgoers! While gaping at the marble, gazing upward toward the heavens and reflecting on the strength of belief that made possible the building of these monuments over hundreds of years, a choir entered singing Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. The sublimity and religious faith that I felt in the music moved me to my innermost depths and I started to cry uncontrollably. I will always remember that moment.
Another musical moment was at a music summer festival when I was 16 in Whistler, B.C. I was so honoured to have been accepted to this small program of 10 pianists and I worked and prepared harder than ever before. I was in a state of heightened alertness and nervousness. We had daily coachings (like performances) and master classes. I was pushed and inspired by the other pianists. We formed intense friendships in a short time. Finally, on the last three days we took a funicular up to the top of a mountain and performed chamber music together. The hall had vast windows that overlooked the mountains, stretching as far as one could see. I will always remember the natural light in the hall and the uplifting feeling of the panorama that lingered with me when I played.
I think in both of these circumstances, I was already in a heightened state of excitement and anticipation, but I don’t think I would have experienced such strong emotions without the accompaniment of the music. It was as though music infused these moments with a deeper layer of meaning, making the experience infinitely more sublime.

Strong experiences with music: Review of past research

Gabrielsson, A. (2001). Emotions in strong experiences with music. In P. Juslin & J. Sloboda (Eds), Music and emotion. Theory and research (pp. 431-449). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Past research on strong emotional experiences listening or playing music suggests that these experiences may have many properties in common with other types of strong experience, such as mystical experience (431). Notable psychologists have studied the descriptions of people who have experienced these transcendent emotions.
Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, coined the term “peak experience.” Characteristics of peak experiences include total absorption, disorientation in time and space, transcendence of ego, and fusion of the perceiver and the perceived. People who have had these experiences report a complete loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defence, and control. In Maslow’s words, “the emotional reaction…has a special flavour of wonder, awe, of reverence, of humility and surrender…[it] may be described as sacred”. Significantly, Maslow found music to be one of the easiest ways of having peak experiences.
Panzarella’s analysis of reports describing musical or visual art experiences revealed four major factors. ‘Renewal ecstasy’ is characterized as an altered perception of the world. ‘Motor-sensory ecstasy’ includes physical responses, including change of heart rate and breathing, and quasi-physical responses such as feeling “high” or “floating”. ‘Withdrawal ecstasy’ is a loss of contact with the physical and social environment. Finally, ‘fusion-emotional ecstasy’ denotes merging with the aesthetic object. The study showed that motor-sensory ecstasy and fusion-emotional ecstasy were more pronounced when listening to music (432).
Csikszentmihalyi’s influential concept of “flow” can be described as an intense, yet effortless involvement in an activity. The experience is ‘so enjoyable that people will do it…for the sheer sake of doing it’. Similar to the former descriptions, the state of flow also includes loss of self-consciousness. It can be felt in connection with many activities, such as rock climbing, chess, games, dancing, as well as making music. In musical terms, this concept seems most applicable to performance (432).

Many musicians have experienced these golden moments when their performance (or parts of it) seems to flow effortlessly from them. They play spontaneously, sometimes not consciously remembering the details, but feeling free and open and in harmony with their instrument and their environment. I think many would feel that this is an ideal transcendent state when musicians play with their most free and sincere expression.
Can this peak state be actively pursued? Or isn’t it a result of purposeful practice, conscious polishing of musical details, and then when these obstacles are overcome, a surrender to the rapture of the moment? I would like to paraphrase some advice from a former teacher: “freedom on stage can only be achieved when there has been enough structure in the practice room”. I also feel that other factors, including personality states, location of performance, and audience can also influence the state of mind of the performer. Then in the lucky (unsought for) moment when all of these influences come together, emotions can well up from within and stimulate peak experiences.

Perfect Pitch in Humans Far More Prevalent Than Expected

1. Reference
Perfect Pitch in Humans Far More Prevalent Than Expected
Science Daily
August, 26, 2008
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response
Lani Sommers

2. Summary
Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences have developed a unique test for perfect pitch. Tests for perfect pitch have in the past require that the subjects have already had some musical training, this new test can be used on non-musicians and is based on a technique used to discern how infants would recognize words in a language they are learning. Because of this new test, non-musicians can be tested for perfect pitch and prevalence in all humans can now be measured. The researchers have found that perfect pitch is widespread in the animal kingdom and is very rare in humans. Previous studies have shown that animals like birds can identify a series of pitches based on relation to each other. The test created by the researchers requires the participants to listen to groups of three notes with the groups played in a continuous stream in random order for more than 20 minutes. The team also transposed some of the original note groups to a different key with the knowledge of the test subjects. Students who used perfect pitch to identify notes heard the transpositions as a new group of notes they’d never heard before and students who relied on relative pitch heard the notes and automatically recognized them as familiar – seeming to sound like the same group heard before. The test results showed a number of non-musicians who used perfect pitch to identify groups of notes but did not know they had perfect pitch.

The researchers are not investigating the other cognitive abilities of the new group of listeners with perfect pitch and are trying to determine what might distinguish them from the more numerous listeners with relative pitch.

3. Reflection
This new test to determine perfect pitch is very interesting as it now can include people who have not had any musical training. I was surprised to hear that the researchers found that many more subjects without musical training had perfect pitch. I would be interested in knowing the correlation between people with perfect pitch and genetics and cultural background. Studies have already been conducted on the prevalence of perfect pitch in people who speak using tonal languages, I wonder if there is a connection with genetics and perfect pitch as well. Perhaps there is a perfect pitch gene out there somewhere?

Study Identifies Part of Brain Responsible for Tone Deafness

1. Reference
Study Identifies Part of Brain Responsible for Tone Deafness
Science Daily
September 29, 2006
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response

2. Summary
A new study has discovered that people suffering from tone-deafness have brains that are lacking in white matter. Tone-deafness is a disability that prevents normal-functioning individuals from developing basic musical skills. MRI data from a group of tone-deaf people were compared with images from people with normal musical ability. The results showed that there was a reduction in white matter concentration in the right inferior frontal gyrus or amusic individuals. The study used a technology called “voxel-based morphometry” which is a procedure that allows one to search throughout the entire brain for structural differences in terms of brain tissue concentration. The participants in the study were considered tone-deaf on two criteria: difficulty recognizing familiar tunes without lyrics and the inability to detect when they are singing out of tune.

3. Reflection
This short article was very informative and interesting. As I stated in a previous blog entry, I had never come into contact with a tone-deaf student until this year. I had always assumed that tone-deafness was something that was all in somebody’s “head” and that they could overcome it if they really tried. It seems as though the research reveals that it is indeed a real problem with the white matter of the brain. This article was a great general introduction to the science behind tone-deafness and I feel the need to do a little more research on the finding and maybe even seek out the actual study that was performed. As someone who is passionate about music and music education, it breaks my heart that some people are unable to hear and understand the world’s music and are unable to make music themselves. I think that my poor student that is struggling with the clarinet would be pleased to know that her struggles are caused by a real problem and that it is not her fault that she has troubles with music class.

Music on the brain: Researchers explore the biology of music

1. Reference
Music on the brain: Researchers explore the biology of music
By William J. Cromie
March 22, 2001
Harvard Gazette
For Dr. Lee Bartel – Music and the Brain 2122H
A Summary, Review and Response

2. Summary
This article outlines the innate capability humans have for music. Babies respond to music while inutero, and scientists believe that certain rules for music are hardwired in the brain. Culture plays a key role in this innate development.

Mark Jude Tramo, a musician, songwriter, and neuroscientist at the Harvard Medical School believes that studying the biology of music can lead to practical applications associated with learning, deafness and personal improvement like lowering blood pressure and easing pain.

No one has found a “music center” in the brain. There are sections of the brain that respond specifically to music but there does not yet seem to be any sort of center where music perception solely occurs. Both hemispheres of the brain are needed for perceiving music in regards to melody, harmony, timbre, rhythm, and memory. Tramo notes that music is just as much motor related as it is auditory related and this would explain why there isn’t just one center of the brain that deals with music comprehension.

There have been some practical applications from the study of the biology of music. For example, following heart bypass surgery patients often require blood pressure medication; however, those patients in intensive care units where background music is played require lower doses of drugs than those in units where no music played.

Music-like games have also been used to help people suffering from dyslexia. Some hospitals used soft background music in intensive care units for premature babies – this in addition to a nurse’s or mother’s humming helps these babies to gain weight faster. Music has been used to calm Alzheimer’s patients and music has been used in nursing homes to help reduce confusion. Music can also help lower blood pressure in certain scenarios and can increase the efficiency of oxygen consumption by the heart. Music has also been said to help athletes enhance their performance as well.

Tramo also believes that music and dancing came before language. Flutes made from animal bones were found in Eastern Europe and are believed to have been made more than 50,000 years ago.
Tramo realizes that there is still a lot of work to be done on how the brain processes music like how the brain decides if music is consonant or dissonant, whether music helps people master other skills like math or if listening to Mozart in the womb improves IQ.

Music therapy has been used for decades to treat neurological conditions and advances in neuroscience and brain imaging are revealing what is happening in the brain. Patients with Parkinson’s and stroke have benefited from music therapy because the brain is, “innately attuned to respond to highly rhythmic music.” Patients can move again when listening to certain types of music. Stroke victims have been able to speak again by speaking through song. Music therapy can also help improve moods of patients and can help Alzheimer’s patients remember more when using music from weddings, religious services and favourite childhood songs.

3. Reflection
This short article was very informative and interesting though I feel the need to do further research on some of the topics outlined. It was very similar to other articles I have read about the benefits of music on the human brain. It was an excellent introduction to some of the ways that music therapy can be beneficial to a variety of patients. It would be interesting to learn more about how music is interpreted by babies because culture plays a key role in how music is interpreted. I wonder if a child is adopted from a different culture and is raised in the Western culture if music perception differs for that child. Would they be hardwired to the types of modes and melodies of their biological parent’s culture or would their preference change in their new culture?

I would also be interested in learning more about the music-like games used to help treat dyslexic people. Reading and writing is essentially pattern recognition so it would make sense that music could be a tool to help a person with dyslexia. I wonder if these same music-like games could be used to help non-dyslexic struggling readers as well.
This article introduced many interesting aspects of music and the brain, however, failed to delve deeply into any of the topics outlined and I felt that it was a great introduction, but I really didn’t learn anything new and exciting.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Adapting Music Instruction for Students with Dyslexia
Kate O'Brien Vance, Kate Music Educators Journal, Vol. 90, No. 5 (May, 2004), pp. 27-31

By: Michelle Minke


Most music teachers will encounter teaching someone with Dyslexia within their career, as 20% of people can be diagnosed with some form of Dyslexia. Dyslexia is specifically a language based disorder that can be accompanied by problems in short term memory, sequencing, auditory or visual perception, and motor skills. Of particular importance to music, there is difficulty in processing symbols, making music notation very difficult to understand. These symptoms inevitably effect how a student would read music, learn to play an instrument and sing within a group.
The difference with music compared to reading, is that music as sound is different than music as notation. As taught in the Suzuki school of training, once sound is understood, comprehending the symbols that accompany it can then become easier to identify. The Kodaly method is also equally as effective in teaching rhythm. The same hemisphere of the brain that is used for language, is also associated to rhythm. In Kodaly music they use a method of speaking patterns to preassigned syllables. This method is thought to give music a type of “musical picture” that can then be applied to actual notation. If skills are broken down into smaller units and are then practiced repeatedly, it can then be build upon through time. Also by using motor skills in sequence along with repetition, struggling students can then perform just as easily with students who do not have this disability.


This article grabbed my attention right away, as the woman who wrote this article is a musician with Dyslexia that was not diagnosed until later in her career. I share the same experience.

Throughout many years of education, and struggling with rhythm, short term memory and language, I assumed I was just a “stupid singer”. It was not until a music coach in my post graduate training asked me to stop looking at the music one day, and asked me to learn a phrase by ear. Music, which involves language and symbols would expose my own struggle with Dyslexia. It is by no means debilitating, but what a world of difference it has made being able to recognize. Once I was diagnosed, I ended up applying a lot of the techniques that are addressed in this article. Simply re-organizing my learning techniques, breaking things down step by step, syllable by syllable, symbol by symbol ,the speed and efficiency in which I learned greatly increased. I no longer feel a mental block or frustration, I have just learned to look at a smaller picture as I learn. I believe that adding motor skills into my learning changed the mind to body connection as well.

The thing I like about this article, is that it does not just address the stereotypical idea of Dyslexia, that words are seen backwards. There are many symptoms to look for and as a teacher , I know I will be conscience to look for those signs. If students have difficulty processing verbally, confusion between left and right, motor sequencing problems, problems with attention, social behaviour problems, or memory problems than perhaps it could be a form of Dyslexia. It blows my mind that I went through years of being taught without anyone noticing, and it makes me wonder how many others could easily slip through the cracks.