Friday, November 16, 2012

Wellness and Growth: Acoustic Medicine and Music Therapy, Speaker: Dr. Jayne Standley

Reference: Wellness and Growth: Acoustic Medicine and Music Therapy, Speaker: Dr. Jayne Standley,September 22, 2010

Summary: Dr. Jane Standley,  Director of the Music Therapy Program, Florida State University discussed in the podcast “Wellness and Growth: Acoustic Medicine and Music Therapy,” her studies surrounding music therapy and prenatal, as well as  premature babies. She began her discussion with Steve Mencher by explaining how when babies are born prematurely their risk of becoming delayed and needing special education increases by 50%. Dr. Standley and her colleagues started testing the effects of playing music to the premature babies born as early as 23 gestational weeks who were held in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). These children were under high stress due to the various aversive auditory stimuli surrounding them such as, machines, doors closing, water faucets, monitors etc. The studies should that through music therapy, the babies had more oxygen saturation in their bodies and felt calmer. If a baby does not have enough oxygen saturation in the early stages of their life, they are at risk for many medical difficulties including decreased vision and the detachment of the retina. Following this subject, Dr. Standley explained how many of the babies adjusted well in the NICU and went home, yet many were unable to breast feed successfully, or at all. Due to their immaturity in maturation, they could not coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing simultaneously as they had been tube fed for approximately 11 weeks (for those premature babies born at the 23 week period). In response to this problem Dr. Standley invented the “musical pacifier” which connects a pacifier, an air pressure transducer and an electrical circuit together. The baby begins to learn within two and a half minutes that when they suck successfully, the music turns on and continues, but when they stop sucking, the music stops. This device can also alter the pressure that the baby must apply to strengthen their feeding capability. Lastly, Steve Mencher asked to what effect listening to music is an advantage while the baby is still in the womb. Standley explained that in the third trimester; 25 weeks, the baby can hear everything within 15 decibels in their environment including their mothers voice, a TV, music, books read outloud. When a baby is born, it will recognize certain stimuli such as: the mothers voice, most likely have a preference for female voices than male voices, recognize songs that the mother would had enjoyed, can detect grammar errors in their native language and detect different languages from their own. These detections were analyzed by neuroscientists when they noticed the difference in the babies reactions to familiar verses unfamiliar stimuli. The last point that Standley mentioned was that, through the use of music while the baby is in the womb, you can precondition their behavior. Her example was that if a mother listened to the same lullaby before every bedtime for weeks before the child is born, and played this same lullaby when the baby is born, the child will know that sound as the signal to go to bed.

Reflection:  This podcast was very interesting and also very helpful for when I might one day have my own children! It is wonderful to know how powerfully helpful music can be as a tool in the medical field. Out of particular interest was the fact that the babies had an innate likeness to music and its pleasurable effects that they would be compelled to continue sucking the pacifier. Also, how receptive prenatal babies are of their environment is very crucial as the child may act certain ways at birth due to the levels of stress in their environment while in the womb. Lastly, the exercise of listening to the same lullaby to facilitate the baby’s sleeping pattern is wonderful and would be very helpful to many parents.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mini-essay- Training pitch perception in children

Mini Essay Assignment
Training pitch perception in children
Olenka Slywynska

From the time a tone is created in space to the time the brain perceives it for what it is, the tone has gone on a whirlwind journey through the auditory pathways of the human neural system.  At first, the tone travels through the ear.  The tone, which is a pressure wave, is funneled by the pinna into the ear canal, strikes the ear drum, which in turn sets off three bones of the inner ear into a mechanical chain reaction.  The final bone of the middle ear, the stapes, now sends the pressure wave into the inner ear, where the wave is sensed by neurons called hair cells, which correspond to different tonal frequencies.  From here, high-speed nerve fibers send the signals to the brainstem.
The tone enters the brain and is processed in the auditory cortex of the temporal lobe.  At first it enters the primary auditory cortex, which filters out tones which are not important.  The relevant ones proceed to the secondary auditory cortex, where the tones are reassembled to make sense.  It is in the right secondary auditory cortex, where operations specifically related to processing relationships between pitches as they happen through time occur (Peretz, Zatorre, 92).  
The auditory neural system is evidently quite complex and fascinating.  For me it became even more so, with the realization that pitch identification is not embedded in the brain at birth, but needs to be developed.  This first became apparent in chapter three of Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain.  Jourdain writes of a kindergarten class where children cannot sing an easy melody in tune.  The children can sing the contour of the melody, yet achieving the correct intervals between intervals is truly difficult at this young age (Jourdain, 61-63).
I have taught young children vocal music in the past and have seen this characteristic in their singing- correct contour, yet incorrect intervals.  Just as the parents in Jourdain’s book, I also thought this was cute.  Yet I never considered why this was so.  It never struck me that children’s sense of pitch perception and tonal memory would need to be developed!  This topic is quite relevant for me right now and in the future, as I have just taken on my first private vocal student under the age of ten.  In fact, I have noted a tendency for her to sing out of tune, and not necessarily to realize it.  
Upon further thought, I also started to wonder whether the perception of pitch can be categorized on a linear scale of ability.  Would one extreme of the scale then be possession of absolute pitch, the other extreme tone deafness, and anything in between- differing levels of relative pitch perception?  If this were so, if one would train to have absolute pitch, would this training also be a pathway to improving relative pitch perception?  If yes, this would be a good way to train the children who could not sing the melody in tune.  If this were not the case, and one could not improve relative pitch through absolute pitch training, how could one train relative pitch?
Absolute pitch is the ability to identify or produce a musical pitch without the use of an external reference pitch.  It occurs very rarely in the population, as most people process pitch relatively (by processing the melodic and harmonic relations among the pitches themselves), as opposed to the absolute pitches themselves.  There have been indications that absolute pitch possessors have differences in the brain.  For one thing, neurologists from the Dusseldorf Heine University have confirmed that absolute pitch possessors have a larger planum temporale on their left side of the brain compared to those who do not (Nowak).  [It now appears that the left side is not larger, but that the right is smaller in absolute pitch possessors (Peretz, Zatorre, 104)].  Besides structural differences, it also seems that functionally, in identifying pitches, absolute pitch possessors do not need to access their working memory as relative pitch processors do.  This has been shown by experiments which indicate a greater electrophysiological response to a pitch in the right frontal cortex (believed to be important in monitoring pitch information in working memory) in those not possessing absolute pitch (Peretz, Zatorre, 104).
Some researchers will argue that absolute pitch is genetic.  Others will say that acquiring it depends on a predisposition, plus a certain environmental input at a young age.  Takeuchi and Hulse argue that it is most likely a learned ability (Takeuchi, Hulse, 355).  They say it is acquired as long as musical training is started in the critical period of 3-5 years.  The many efforts to teach adults absolute pitch which have been frustratingly unsuccessful adds proof to this argument.  According to Takeuchi and Hulse however, it is not only the age of initiating music instruction is important, but the nature of the instruction.  Absolute pitch develops only if the nature of the musical training includes the association of specific pitch names with particular absolute pitches.  Training cannot focus on relational aspects of pitches (Takeuchi, Hulse, 355) For example, if teaching solfegge, the "doh" would always have to be on the same pitch.  
Thus the answer to my earlier question - "if one trains to have absolute pitch, is this training also a pathway to attaining at least relative pitch?"- apparently becomes "no".  The two skills are not related, in the sense that while learning one, the other is not also acquired.  Ironically, there actually appears to be a trade-off between the abilities of acquiring absolute pitches and relative pitches (Takeuchi, Hulse, 356).  As a child matures, there is a shift in cognitive focus from individual notes to the whole melody.  “Getting the big picture” of the melody, gains precedence in the brain over the attention given to singular notes.  This is why a critical period exists if one is to gain absolute pitch, since at around age five the brain naturally shifts focus to the whole melody and there is not enough attention given to the frequencies themselves. 
Thus the question of how to train young children in acquiring relative pitch perception remains.  In his book Teaching Kids to Sing, Kenneth Philips gives a few suggestions on how to train young children correct pitch perception.  He encourages proper feedback to improve the connection between audiation (inner hearing) and kinesthetic sensations (how it feels to sing).  Proper feedback includes playing back the tone so they can hear it after they have sung it, visual feedback- for example, arm gestures pointing higher or lower when the tone is out of tune, and microcomputer feedback.  Microcomputers show the desired pitch line, and then the kids have to match the line with their produced pitches.  However, a concern with microcomputers is that the kids would “push” the sound with their laryngeal and pharyngeal muscles, causing tension (Phillips, 26).  Furthermore, he suggests echoic singing of tonal patterns, where children echo a model.  However, he suggests a female model, as the male model is an octave lower, and could cause children to misunderstand, and also to potentially strain their voices (Phillips, 28).
Indeed, it is cute when children in grade one stand in a row and cannot sing in tune.  Yet after a few more years this not only loses its charm, but the individuals concerned become self-conscious about their singing.  It is important that if we as a society value music making, we need to ensure that children are trained to understand and appreciate music, and feel comfortable with it.  Children can sing in tune- they just need to be showed the way.

Works cited

Hulse, S. & Takeuchi, A.  “Absolute Pitch”.  Psychological Bulletin  1993: 345-361.  

Jourdain, Robert.  Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy.  New York: Harper Collins, 1997.

Nowak, Rachel.  “Brain Center Linked to Perfect Pitch”.  Science February 3, 1995: 616.

Peretz, I. & Zatorre, R. “Brain Organization for Music Processing”.  Annual Review of Psychology 2005: 89-114. 

Phillips, Kenneth.  Teaching Kids to Sing.  Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1992.

Vibroacoustic Therapy- Sound Vibrations in Medicine.

Article:  Boyd-Brewer, Chris.  Vibroacoustic Therapy- Sound Vibrations in Medicine.  Alternative & Complimentary Therapies.  October 2003.  New York


Vibroacoustic therapy is a healing technology that uses sound in the audible range to produce mechanical vibrations that are applied directly to the body.  The sound frequencies that are inputted into vibroacoustic devices become mechanical vibrations felt by the body.  The sounds used can be either pure sounds (sine waves) or music.  Vibroacoustic therapy heals through physiologically felt vibrations in conjunction with the auditory effects of music or sound.  
Vibroacoustic equipment was developed between 1970 and 1990.  In 1970, Norwegian therapist and educator, Olav Skille, developed the first vibroacoustic chair after experimenting on children with severe physical and mental handicaps, with low frequency sounds between 30 and 120 Hz.  Since then other innovators and inventors in this field have been Finnish Petri Lehikoinen, and Americans Byron Eakin and Kris Chesky.  
There are four different ways that the sound vibrations can be processed in vibroacoustic, all having different effects on how the vibrations are felt.  “Pulsed sounds” occur when two close frequencies are blended together (eg 70Hz and 70.5 Hz).  “Pulsation variations” occur when the amplitude, or volume, of the specific frequency is changed (Having the same amplitude for too long could cause muscle contractions).  “Scanning” is a method that affects specific muscles.  The theory is that each muscle responds to a specific frequency, and in scanning, specific muscles are targeted within a scanning frequency spectrum.  The frequency spectrum would ensure that the muscle is targeted.    Finally, “directionality” refers to movement of sound frequencies from one speaker to another, resulting in a vibration up and down the body.
It has been shown that the use of both music and sound frequencies in vibroacoustics strengthens the treatment beyond that of just sound vibrations as it creates a powerful synergy of integrating physiological sound vibration and psychological stimulation from music listening.  

There are three basic vibroacoustic systems:

1.  Full frequency music (FFM)
This is the least expensive and easiest system to use, thus most popular.  However, felt vibrations cannot be measured or monitored, neither at source or delivery point. Thus doses cannot be determined, and from all three vibroacoustic systems, FFM has the most limited capability in specific treatment.
Uses: relaxation, reducing anxiety, assisting in pain management, facilitating in physical therapy.
Features: will play any music, but most useful if the music was specifically composed for FFM.

2.  Selected low frequency system (SLF)
This is treatment with vibrations associated with selected low-frequency sounds- sine waves (20-135 Hz). SLF can be used with or without music.
Uses: provides relaxation and treats pain and disorders.
Special feature: some SLF systems can measure vibration parameters at source point (but not at delivery point or the vibratory surface)
3.  Quantified mechanical vibration systems (QMV)
This system is the most complex of the three, but the most suited to treat specific disorders and pain.  In QMV, doses of frequencies which will reach patient can be measured (ie. QMV can quantify frequency vibration at delivery point, or surface, rather than at source point).  This system also has improved membrane resonance and more even distribution of vibrations across the vibrating surface, thus increasing dosage accuracy.  
Uses: intended to treat pain and other disorders.  

Vibroacoustic treatment has been shown to have many positive effects.  For one thing, it has been shown to reduce anxiety and help create relaxation.  Many patients with a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, heart, lung and blood disorders, infectious diseases, and mood disorders, have been exposed to vibroacoustic therapy, and the resulting anxiety reduction and relaxation has alleviated many stress-induced symptoms such as tension, fatigue, nausea, depression and pain.  
Vibroacoustic treatment has also had much success in physical therapy, especially in reducing muscle tone in cerebral palsy patients, thus increasing range of motion.  Furthermore, it helps with pain management and associated tension after surgical treatment, as well as reducing patient anxiety during medical procedures.  In general, it reduces the need for pain medication by alleviating many painful symptoms.  


Although the article states that Vibroacoustical therapy does not work in certain cases, in many cases it does.  It does not seem to be a treatment that as yet offers cures for many diseases, but what it does is very significant.  By alleviating many symptoms and side effects of diseases, it makes the whole process much more bearable, and improves quality of life for the suffering.  I am one who believes that state of mind and being affects health.  (In essence, stress can lead to illnesses, while being a more relaxed person leads to a healthier life).  It follows that if painful symptoms and stresses can be alleviated, a person’s state of being will help them to heal.  Furthermore, as there are no harmful side effects of vibroacoustic therapy, and it is non-invasive and pleasant, I think it is a good treatment option to continue developing and researching.  I also found the three different systems of vibroacoustic therapy very interesting, that more and less complex systems exist.

Music Performance Anxiety in Opera Singers

Article:  Spahn, C., Echternach, M., Zander, M., Voltmer, E. & Richter, B.  Music Performance Anxiety in Opera Singers.  Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, December 2010, 35 (4): 175-182, UK.


A singer’s “business is emotion and sensitivity” (Janet Baker).  Singers have to create emotions in their audience, and also find “artificial” feelings related to their role, or the interpretation of their work.  On the other hand, a singer is full of his own personal emotions, and needs to deal with these while being on stage in a “role”.  The success of a singer’s career is highly dependent on how they deal with their own emotions.  Often feelings of insecurity are present in singers, since they are the only instrument that cannot hear themselves and are reliant on feedback from others.  
Musical performance for singers induces many feelings in them.  Often singers become “high” from their experience because of a release of the hormone beta-endorphin.  On the other hand, performance can lead to negative emotions, such as distress or anxiety.  This is called musical performance anxiety (MPA) and can occur on a scale from low to high.  Where it is high, it is pathological and needs to be treated.  One singer who suffered acutely from this was Enrico Caruso to such an extent that it “led everyone around him to despair”.  
Steptoe carried out a study of opera singers in five different environments- lesson, private practice, audition, dress rehearsal, performance.  In all five environments Steptoe monitored level of tension.  The best results of singing were in the environments where there was intermediate level of tension (performance) while the worst performances occurred in the environments with the greatest level of tension (dress rehearsal and audition).  Another study revealed a high state of anxiety for 18.8%   of a sample of singers, as compared to 15% in a sample of normal working adults.  
MPA functions at four different levels:
Affect:  Feelings of anxiety, tension, apprehension, dread, or panic.
Cognition:  Loss of concentration, heightened distractibility, memory failure, catastrophizing.
Behaviour:  tremour, difficulty in maintaining posture and moving naturally
Physiology:  Disturbances in breathing pattern, dry mouth, cardiovascular changes, gastrointestinal disturbances.
In terms of what happens in the brain, there are two pathways that occur.  
  1. Stimulus --> Thalamus --> Amygdala --> Hypothalamus or PAG.  From the Hypothalamus hormones are produced which then affect the sympathetic nervous system.
  2. Stimulus --> Thalamus.  From Thalamus --> a) Associative cortex --> Hippocampus or b) Sensory Cortex -->  Consciousness.  From the Hippocampus --> Amygdala and now follow path 1.

Essentially what is important is that one pathway is much longer and goes through parts  of the brain that the other does not.  It seems that the first pathways is associated with mere stage fright, which is low on the scale of MPA.  The second pathway is associated with high MPA.  


This study looked at anxiety levels versus heart rate and blood pressure.  The heart rate and blood pressure were measured with a Somnoscreen, while the anxiety was monitored by a questionnaire.  The sample was nine musicians, seven singers and two wind players.  None of them suffered from pathological MPA.  
The results of the study were that heart rates on average were highest during the performance, and before and after the performance differed in the participants.  For the blood pressure, most participants had a higher blood pressure before and during performance, as opposed to after.  From the questionnaire, all participants had a higher anxiety state before the performance than after.  The results showed no correlation between anxiety and blood pressure/heart rate.  A possible explanation is that physiological arousal is necessary for MPA, but the presence of physiological arousal does not guarantee MPA.  Perhaps, certain performers react to physiological arousal differently- one finding it energizing, the other finding it leads to anxiety.


This treatment is proposed from the Freiburg Institute for Musician Medicine.  It takes as its basis the cycle of MPA- perception --> thoughts and feelings -->  anxiety -->  somatic reactions -->  perception--> ...  It suggests ways of interfering with the cycle at each stage.  At the level of thoughts and feelings, it suggests positive imagination exercises as well as psychotherapy.  At the level of perception, it suggests watching successful performance videos of one’s own performance.  At the level of somatic reactions, relaxation techniques are suggested.  
They only recommend pharmaceutical therapy in a few situations, and even suggest that many of the drugs are bad for the voice.


Yet again this article for me emphasizes how little we know about the brain, and how complicated the brain is!  This always amazes me and it is exciting to see how much further we could go!  Why this thought comes to mind in relation to the article is because of the study carried out in the article.   In the experiment, the only way they were monitoring anxiety scores was through a survey.  It was interesting to see that they could get hard facts about the other variables in the experiment- blood pressure and heart rate but not for anxiety.  I am used to scientific experiments being backed up by hard scientific facts and not by the opinions of the participants.  It would be interesting to see how in a similar study in fifty years, anxiety would be monitored.

I agree with the authors that the study is rather inconclusive, as heart rate and blood pressure can be affected by many things besides levels of anxiety, for example movement.  In fact, what was very interesting for me, was the one subject who seemed to suffer from more serious MPA, had completely normal blood pressure throughout the experiment.  

Something else which would have been on my “wish list” regarding the article, would be a further elaboration of the two pathways that MPA takes in the brain.  I find it fascinating that there are two pathways- one pathway faster and less conscious, and the other one slower, more conscious, and going through a larger portion of the brain (the cortex).  It is suggested that the slower one leads to pathological MPA, the other to mere “stage fright”.  I would love a further explanation of why this happens.  I wonder what the significance is of the shorter pathway skipping the cortex.  

As for the treatment suggested, I was extremely impressed with its thoroughness and multidimensional character, and how positive it aimed to be.  I was also amazed at how much dedication, work and preparation is required to carry out the treatment.  Much more challenging than popping a pill!  I believe that with true dedication, the treatment suggested could really help a singer with MPA.

This is an area of study which I would love to further look into.  I find it fascinating, complex and rather relevant as a performer and as a future teacher.  I have seen MPA within myself and many colleagues and think that knowing how to deal with it is a great tool for every performer, as well as for every voice teacher.

The Mozart Effect- not learning from history

Article:  Jones, S.M. & Zigler, E.   The Mozart effect- Not learning from History.  Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 23, Issue 3, 355-372. New Haven: 


The nature vs. nurture debate has been going on for centuries, but today it has shifted from the realm of philosophy to the realm of biology and neurophysiology.  A large focus of this debate occurs in finding to what extent early experiences affect the intelligence of humans.  There have been many studies which show that there is a wide gap of intelligence between children from the extreme income groups (ie. very high vs. very low).  Such studies can very tentatively be supported by early brain development research.

Early brain development research
Research shows that there are two pathways through which early experience influences the brain- i) by affecting the normal development growth process and ii) by affecting stress circuits in the brain because of too much exposure to glucocorticoid hormones (cortisol).
First pathway:
The early years of a brain’s development are characterized by a great increase of  synapse formation and in the creation of dendrites.  According to experiences, certain dendrites and synapses are then pruned off (no longer used).  In environment-expectant processes, synapses and dendrites are overproduced in expectation of certain stimulus which are to occur, and subsequently pruned off.  One such example is that infants babble in the phonemes of many different languages until 9 months, and after that their babbling is restricted to the phonemes of their language.  There is also research that in environment-expectant processes there is a critical period and if the development does not occur within this time, it never will (as the dendrites and synapses will have been already pruned off without there being development within the child).  
There is also research supporting experience-dependent processes for the development of infants.  Here the synapses and dendrites are formed as a result of individual experiences.  The research shows that when there is an environment which offers more experiences, then there is an increased mass of the cerebral cortex.
Second pathway:
Finally, there is research suggesting that in environments where there is too much stress, there is an overproduction of glucocorticoid hormone (cortisol).  At a young age, too much cortisol can lead to dendritic atrophy or to neuron death.  What this means for children, is that they are shown too have worse social and emotional behaviour.  

Reaction to early brain development research
The effect of this early brain development research among the population was great excitement. It was seen that with correct intervention at certain stages of development, intelligence could be increased.  However the results of these findings were taken too conclusively by politicians, and a “quick fix” to intelligence was proposed.  Throughout history there have been example of many such “quick fix” projects, where inconclusive studies of the brain resulted in big, expensive programs (often tax money).  One example of such a project responding to early brain development theory is the Mozart Effect.  Most of the brain studies were marked by results which were limited to the positive effects being limited to a short duration of time.  For example in the Mozart effect, the results were limited to two days and nothing beyond that. 
The Mozart Effect was a great example of a few inconclusive studies resulting in a big hubbub of excitement and spending of tax dollars.  In two studies (one with preschoolers and one with college students), a correlation was shown between listening to Mozart and to improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning.  This quickly resulted in events such as the government of Georgia, spending $105,000 in order to send every child in the state a disc of Mozart sonatas.  However, the experiments proved inconclusive as they could not be repeated, and what resulted was a loss of tax dollars which could have been used in a more substantive way.

Author’s criticism and suggestions
In his conclusions, the author stated that if results from early phases of brain development research are taken too conclusively, then what might result is a hopelessness where before there was extreme hope.  This has been seen in many experiments.  At first it is believed that the study group will be cured completely because of early phases of brain research.  When subsequent field work shows that this will not be so, the initial great hope is replaced by great despair, and the (often needy) demographic is abandoned.  
An example of this was seen in the creation of a 6 week pre-school program for economically underpriviledged preschool aged children called Head Start.  These children came from a environments which had negative effects on IQ.  The argument was that if physical, mental and social intervention occurred at a critical time, the children’s IQ could be changed in a “crash course”.  The findings showed an increase of 10 IQ points in children after the 6 weeks.  But yet again, the results did not last beyond a certain point.  As soon as Head Start was seen to be a failure, then despair resulted and this population group was given up on.  The same trend was seen with trying to cure “retarded” individuals, and after it failed, they were left to “rot” in the homes which had originally been constructed to help them.  
A further, specific criticism to the reaction of development of brain research, is that development has been encouraged in the IQ, forgetting that the brain also controls emotions and the motivational system, which could also improve children’s results at school.
The conclusions that can and should be drawn from brain development research is that children who grow up in a negative environment (poverty, hazards) do risk negative brain development.  Concrete projects that offer “quick fix” solutions are as yet premature.  Instead of looking for a “quick fix” solution which lasts a very short while and has short lived benefits, programs should have a longer duration, and should also not merely look to directly improve IQ, but to also improve family support and individual support (for example conflict management).   


In today’s world, everything is very quick.  Even thoughts- if you have a thought, you can often “offload it” or share it, through twitter or email, and it ceases to be a private thought.  And then the thought is no longer dwelt upon, no longer developed in order to become something bigger.  It seems that many things today are not given time to develop.  But if we look at things of quality- their development often does take time.  A good bottle of wine needs to age.  A baseball player should not be put into the major leagues prematurely, just as an opera singer should not audition until technically ready.  Otherwise what results, is that what could have been a product of great quality, is seen to early and given up on.  The baseball player is not good enough for the majors, yet if he had had another year, he could have lasted there for many years.  The same holds true for the singer- if she had not been revealed to early, she would have had a great career.  This is what happens when great things are revealed to early.  Then people forget about them and give up on them.
This seems to be what Jones and Zigler are saying here- that too often brain research is prematurely revealed, and then the resulting field work has little positive results.  It seems like brain research is like that bottle of wine.  It seems to be very young, but seems to have an incredible amount of potential.  Personally, I would not be surprised if at some point there was a “quick fix” found for many problems through brain research.  I believe this for one, because the brain is so miraculous, and secondly, because human kind has to date achieved equal miracles be it in medicine or technology.  Yet, that day is not here and what Jones and Zigler say I see to be true- people will give up on the certain demographics, if inconclusive studies are used too early to field costly projects.  Brain research needs to be more conclusive.
On a side note, it was very interesting to read about the pathways of early brain development research.  

Possible Implications for Musical Processing in Aphasia

Article: Patel, Aniruddh, John Iversen, Marlies Wassenaar and Peter Hagoort. "Musical syntactic processing in agrammatic Broca's aphasia." Aphasiology 22 (2008), (accessed November 12, 2012).

                This article ties into the debate regarding the similarity between linguistic and musical syntactic processing.  Neuroimaging studies of language and music have revealed overlap in the brain’s response to difficult syntactic integrations.  This intuitively makes sense considering both language and music combine discrete elements to form hierarchically structured sequences such as sentences and chord progressions.  However, cases following brain injury, of amusia without aphasia and aphasia without amusia, seem to indicate dissociations between the two processes.  Patel proposes that language and music have distinct syntactic representations where information is permanently stored, but they both draw on a common pool of limited neural resources.  Therefore, injury to an area where language information is permanently stored can lead to loss of speaking ability with music information retained; however, Patel predicts that these individuals will exhibit parallel deficits in both linguistic and musical syntactic processing.   
                Two studies were completed.  The first examines linguistic and musical syntactic processing with linguistic semantic processing also tested in order to check for a relationship between linguistic semantic processing and musical syntactic processing.  The aphasic individuals studied were all native Dutch speakers who had suffered an ischaemic stroke in the left hemisphere of the brain.  They were given both a linguistic and musical task.  The linguistic task consisted of 120 pre-recorded sentences, and the individuals were asked if the sentences were correct.  Incorrect sentences either contained a violation between subject-verb agreement between the first noun and the second verb or a semantic violation, for example, “Anne scratched her name with her tomato on the wooden door”.  The musical task consisted of 60 pop-style chord progressions.  Half contained an out-of-key chord, and the individuals were asked if all tones belonged together.  The aphasic participants’ results were compared to that of a control group and showed a musical syntactic deficit, not as large as the linguistic syntactic deficit but still significant.  Aphasics also performed slightly worse on semantic tasks.
                The second experiment further studied musical syntactic processing in aphasics using harmonic priming.  Harmonic priming tests the influence of preceding harmonic context on the processing of chords.  It occurs when there is a faster reaction time to close verses distant chords in the circle of fifths.  The test contained two distinct variables.  Chords were presented either close or distant in harmonic context, but some chords were in tune and others mistuned, with the upper note of the triad being flat.  The results indicated aphasic participants failed to show a priming effect, meaning that, while the control group responded faster when the chord was close in harmonic context, aphasics did not.  This suggests that their responses were not driven by harmonic knowledge.
                The author recognizes that further research in this field is necessary and offers suggestions for future research.  He recommends testing patrons with specific anterior lesion profiles, experimenting with different linguistic syntactic operations, discovering which kinds of linguistic tasks correlate with performance on musical syntactic tasks, and discovering whether performance on musical tasks correlates with other aspects of language comprehension besides syntax.
                Something I found really interesting about this article is that, apparently, all reported cases of aphasia without amusia involve professional musicians.  Also, their ability to retain music processing abilities after brain injury could be due to the fact that professional musician’s brains differ from those of non-musicians.   They have increased grey matter density in the frontal regions.  Therefore, in a study like Patel’s, it is important that all participants be non musicians which he indicated in his article.  He also makes note of how helpful it would be for localisationist techniques such as fMRI to be applied to comparisons of syntactic processing in language and music.  Patel speculates that neural resources for processing language and music reside in frontal brain regions and representations where information is stored for more challenging processing tasks are in the posterior regions, but this has not yet been proven.  If we knew for certain where specific language and music processing tasks take place in the brain, the relationship between language and music would be much clearer.  This is also why it would be helpful to test individuals who have all been injured in a very specific area of the brain.  Patel predicted that aphasic individuals with “compromised resource networks” from brain injuries would exhibit “parallel deficits in linguistic and musical syntactic processing”; however, it appears that the deficits in people with aphasia are greater in linguistic processing than musical processing since they have more difficulty in processing sentence structure than musical sequences.  While the abilities to process language and music likely do not suffer equally from brain damage in aphasia, there is enough evidence to show a significant decrease in musical processing ability compared to the control group.  Therefore, I think that this is an interesting field that deserves more attention.  Patel concedes that there are many cases of amusia without aphasia reported, but how in depth have these studies been examined?  It is surely possible that these individuals with amusia have some sort of limitation in language processing that they may not be fully aware of.   This may or may not have to do specifically with syntax in language which Patel recognizes in his article.  Information from further investigation into these studies could reveal interesting insights into the connection between language and music processing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Musical Training and Improving Speech Prosody Perception and Production in Cochlear Implant Users

 Research Summary:
Cochlear implantation has been found to be extremely effective in allowing otherwise deaf individuals to develop speech comprehension; however there are some constraints to the success of the technology.  The ability of children with cochlear implants to process complex sounds including auditory information is limited, which can negatively affect their ability to communicate at the same level as individuals with normal hearing.  Most cochlear implant users are unable to discriminate pitch, thus their ability to understand prosody in speech is reduced.  Such individuals therefore find it difficult to understand emotional subtext in speech and to distinguish between statements and questions. A lack of prosody comprehension can be even more limiting for individuals who speak tonal languages, such as Mandarin.  If prosody is not perceived, the basic meaning of many words in these languages cannot be understood.
In a 2010 study, Japanese children with cochlear implants were presented with a variety of recordings of words spoken with different emotions.  In each recorded example amplitude, which is an important emotional cue for cochlear implant users, was normalized. In the absence of varying amplitudes, the cochlear implant using participants were unable to identify angry utterances, often confusing them with happy utterances. Previous studies have had similar results, demonstrating cochlear implant user’s challenges in perceiving valence in speech.  The also investigated the production of vocal emotion in cochlear implant users.  Children were instructed to imitate exclamations of emotion and several simulations of animal sounds.  Although the control group with normal hearing performed surprisingly poorly on this test, the cochlear implant users showed significantly more difficulty in imitating prosody.  This suggests that perception of prosody is instrumental in learning prosodic patterns (Nakata, 2010).
Although music therapy is already being used to assist children with cochlear implants in improving their auditory perception, very few studies have been completed to determine its efficacy.  Musical training has been shown to enhance processing of speech prosody in children with normal hearing as it can improve a child’s detection of rhythm and pitch, two vital components of both speech and music.  Several ongoing studies are investigating the benefit of musical training in supporting the development of speech prosody comprehension and production in cochlear implant users.  A study begun in 2009 at the University of Helsinki in Finland is investigating how musical experience affects the prosody perception and speech comprehension in children using cochlear implants. The study is also investigating whether earlier implantation positively affects a child’s musical engagement. Earlier musical engagement may lead to higher success of musical therapy (Torppa, 2009).
A study at the Zürich University Hospital is currently investigating the affect of rhythm training, pitch training, and combined rhythm and pitch training on cochlear implant user’s speech perception.  The project integrates piano playing, singing, and listening training, and is evaluating speech perception through various tests that evaluate emotional perception, pitch-ranking, melody and rhythm differentiation.  The study is also using PET scanning to monitor the cerebral blood flow in different auditory brain areas during and after training.  The authors hope to provide some insight into the development of better postoperative procedures to improve speech understanding in individuals with cochlear implants (Peterson, 2009).
The University of Toronto is collaborating with the Hospital for Sick Children to study the potential benefit of voice lessons for cochlear implant users.  The study integrates individual singing instruction with singing and listening practice. The study may demonstrate whether the development of motor skills involved in the physical production of pitch in combination with ear training will improve pitch discrimination and production (MacDonald, 2011).  
As the success of the cochlear implantation depends on both neuro-plasticity and postoperative therapies, investigating the affect of music therapies in auditory comprehension in conjunction with the therapies’ affect on the brain will be an important step toward understanding the best postoperative procedures. The studies discussed above are the first, small steps toward improvements in treatment of individuals with cochlear implants. 

            The ability to communicate effectively is a vital part of social integration and thus, quality of life.  Cochlear implants provide one step towards helping some hearing impaired individuals communicate with the hearing community.  However, quality of life is still greatly reduced when an individual is unable to express or understand emotional subtext.  In worst possible case, the inability of cochlear implant users to understand prosody could lead to a complete lack of communication, making full social integration extremely difficult. 
In some cases, music therapy is already being used to supplement the natural learning process that occurs after an individual receives a cochlear implant.  However, further research will need to demonstrate its objective value if funding is to be secured in the future.  If preliminary findings suggest music could improve the communicative function of cochlear implant users, further research may be able to develop the understanding of the link between speech and music.  Most importantly, further research may better equip caregivers and therapists to help their clients attain the best possible quality of life.
            If certain pitch contours are associated with specific emotions in each language, could musical training focusing on associating those intervals with each emotion benefit post-operative therapy? Perhaps there are musical genres or composers that innately used those prosodic pitch forms in their music to communicate emotion. Does the use of these forms contribute to how our emotions are affected by music?  Not only would further research in this area benefit cochlear implant users, but it would also provide significant insight for understanding music.  

Works Cited:

MacDonald, Lorna, Taylor Hopyan, and Karen Gordon. "Cochlear Implant Singing Study." The International Symposium on Performance Science Proceedings (2011). Print.

Nakata, Takayuki, Sandra E. Trehub, and Yukihiko Kanda. "Effect of cochlear implants on children's perception and production of speech prosody." Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 131.2 (2010): 1307-14. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.

Peterson, Bjorn, Malene V. Mortensen, Albert Gjedde, and Peter Vusst. "Reestablishing Speech Understanding through Musical Ear Training after Cochlear Implantation: A Study of the Potential Cortical Plasticity in the Brain." The Neurosciences and Music 1169 (2009): 437-40. Web. 13 Nov. 2012. <>.

Torppa, Rivta, Miika Järvenpää , Minna Huotilainen, Andrew Faulkner and Martti Vainio. "Music related speech perception abilities in children with cochlear implant devices; does music involvement affect other auditory domains?" Frontiers Neuroscience Conference Abstract: Tuning the Brain for Music (2009). Web. 13 Nov. 2012. <>.