Monday, September 26, 2011


The item I chose for my blog entry is an article by Michael Thaut, Ph.D., and Gerald McIntosh, M.D. The article is found in Cerebrum, an online journal published by The DANA Foundation.


The article explains how, in the past two decades, neuroscientists have used brain imaging and electrical recording techniques to discover that the areas of the brain activated by music are not unique to music, and that “the networks that process music also process other functions.” With these findings as a starting point, neuroscientists hypothesized that music can be used in rehabilitation, because of its ability to re-educate different modalities (cognitive, motor, speech, and language functions) thanks to the brain’s neuronal plasticity. In the past decades, studies about brain and music developed in two main directions: first, the research about “shared mechanisms between musical and non-musical functions in motor control,” in particular the study of the effects of rhythm and timing on brain; second, the study of how music can implement motor functions and rehabilitation of speech, language, and cognitive functions. The next frontier lies in the question of whether music is also able to help injured and depressive brains to overcome their emotional un-balanced states. Neurologic music therapy (NMT) has now become a reality with its “increasing number of standard clinical techniques supported by research evidence.”


In their article, Thaut and McIntosh convincingly present a close interaction between music and neuroscience, and confirm that “biomedical research in music has come a long way to open new and effective doors for music to help re-educate the injured brain.” This conclusion, which generates numerous questions about the role of music within the scientific and therapeutic domains, also creates philosophical issues about the purely ontological dimension of music. For example, in the article music is presented not only as a tool for brain damage therapy, but also as the therapy itself (“trying music as therapy in speech, language, and cognitive rehabilitation”). Besides the fascinating scientific and medical outcomes of the field, I find extremely interesting how Thaut and McIntosh seem to suggest a re-definition of music as something different from its generally accepted definition as a form of art, or as a therapeutic tool. Within the context of this article, music is also the object around which a whole theoretical framework is build to support the notion that music influences “changes in non-musical brain functions and behavior." As a last comment, I would like to express my appreciation for the authors’ ability to present and handle complex concepts and intricate factual information in an easy-to-follow fashion. Their writing style, together with the chronological organization of the material and the subdivision by topic makes the article easy to follow and pleasant to read.


Alicia_Ritmundi said...

I found your post interesting as it spoke about "re-educating" the brain.

I have taught piano to students of various ages and capabilities but it has been those student, 80 years and older, which I found the most fascinating. At this age, seniors often focus on the abilities which they are losing, but through the basic instruction of piano, these older students were able to see the skills which could be retained. Music provided the means to reconnect with areas of the brain, long forgotten.

Sonya said...

Recently, I have been thinking about a concert my old school put on as a response to the September 11th attacks ten years ago. All of our choral ensembles joined with our symphony orchestra to perform Mozart's Requiem. I remember one rehearsal in particular in which one of our conductors spoke about our role as musicians in the wake of such a horrifying event. She said it was our duty to use the power of music to help others to heal emotionally.

As the article Federico shared with us points out, "active learning and training promise[s] to be the best strategy to help rewire the injured brain and recover as much ability as possible." Even better -- health through music-making! Alicia's experiences with older adults in piano lessons certainly reinforce this concept.