Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Music in Dreams


Uga, Valerie, Maria C. Lemut, Chiara Zampi, Iole Zille, and Piero Salzarulo. "Music in
 Consciousness and Cognition 15 (2006): 351-57. Science Direct. 21
            Oct. 2005. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.


       The presence of music in dreams is something that is talked about to a great extent anecdotally, but is not documented too widely within the scientific community. This study seeks to determine the correlation between levels of musicianship and the frequency with which music occurs in dreams. Both professional and non-professional musicians kept dream journals to reveal how often music is a part of their dreaming process.
            The content of dreams are often associated with normal, everyday behaviours; however, there is not always a strong correlation between the frequency of these activities in our waking hours and their occurrence in dream states. In general, dreams are said to be “archaic” in the sense that they don’t make use of “relatively recent cultural acquisitions.” Furthermore, activities like reading, writing and typing which are fairly low yield, automatic skills, typically do not find their way into dreams. Music may be seen as more of a privileged domain since it can be both a conscious activity and an expression of competence. Even young children show general musical aptitude, though to achieve more sophisticated musical abilities, lifelong training and practise is necessary. The implications of this training and its relationship to the frequency of music in dream states are explored in this study. 
            Though this has been a topic that has not received a lot of exploration in scientific literature, previously studies have shown that the recall of specific musical themes is rare in the general public. In the context of musicians’ dreams, other studies explored the spontaneous occurrence of particular musical themes, as well as the effect of listening to music before bed on a variety of dream states. Anecdotal evidence from famous composers like Berlioz and Stravinsky suggest that original musical material may be composed in dream states.
            In this study, 35 professional musicians and 35 non-professional musicians took part. The professional musicians were all either instrumental or vocal performers of “Western tonal music” while the non-professional musicians were all undergraduate students. The study doesn’t indicate, or seem to allow for, professional musicians from a wider range of genres. Though participants had to fill out questionnaires indicating their level of musical study or ability, there is room for interpretation as to whether the “non-musicians” may have had some level of informal musical training or knowledge. As the study does acknowledge, even listening to music grows a certain kind of aptitude or knowledge.
            Each participant kept a dream journal for 30 days answering multiple-choice questions concerning dream recall, dream content and particularly the presence of musical/verbal activity. Based on the data, it was discovered that the two groups had similar results in regards to dream recall, dream content and the presence of verbal activity in dreams. However, the musician group had more than twice the dream recall than the non-musician group.
            The fact that the non-musician group still perceived some level of musical activity in their dreams demonstrates that the ability to deal with complex acoustic representations like music could be at work within dream processes. As I stated, this is in agreement with other studies which show that musical aptitude can be partly attributed to exposure to music of a particular idiom. In this way, the development of musical aptitude (not necessarily performance skills) is similar to language acquisition.
            In the musician group, there was also a correlation between the age when musical training started, and the level of music recall in dreams. The earlier the participants started studying music, the more frequent the musical recall was. On the other hand, there was no correlation found between the frequency of daily practise or musical activity and the amount of music present within dreams. Twenty-eight percent of the musical dreams logged by the participants claimed to be music that was never heard before. This has implications for the ability of people to compose music in their sleep, perhaps a result of the brain re-organizing and re-arranging musical fragments already present within our minds.


            I became interested in this topic when, during the past week, I heard some hip-hop music quite vividly in a dream. In this particular dream, I was attempting to sleep, but the sheer volume of this music was preventing me from doing so. Upon waking up in real life, I could still hear this music in my head and had to get out of bed to clear my head. I woke up feeling like I had consciously heard some loud music blaring from another room. Yet, upon waking up, I was drawn back to the conscious realization that my apartment was normally silent.
            This got me thinking about the vividness with which we experience music in dream states. As this study reveals, I can relate to hearing melodies or fragments of music in dreams that I have never heard before. I have never remembered enough of this music upon waking up to write any of it down, but anecdotally, friends have shared with me stories of waking up in the middle of the night and frantically scribbling down bits of music that they heard while dreaming.
            The study also finds that 17% of the music heard during dream states occur in an unusual format. In other words, familiar music is manipulated and recognized as only somewhat resembling the original form. In a sense, different musical elements could be separated and re-combined with other musical fragments to create unusual musical material. This idea seems to connect to the experience of dreams in general since they often portray life events in an altered and sometimes twisted way. 
            There are strong implications if our mind is actually capable of creating some form of music, which is usually a conscious cognitive process, in a sleep state. It brings into question how deeply our musical activities are embedded into our psyche. This discussion also relates to Jourdain’s ideas about where inspiration comes from. He cites many examples of composers claiming divine inspiration for their work, composers who work in fits of madness or psychosis, and composers who feel like some muse informs their work. This study certainly reveals to me that there is a lot musically that can happen at the subconscious level while our brains re-organize, re-connect and re-arrange musical fragments to form new musical material.



Andrew McCluskey said...

Hi Will - thanks for writing this up - I too think it's fascinating - particularly the insight into composition and the idea of creating music in dreams - it aligns with my own thinking into the concepts of "flow" and subconscious development - groovy stuff!

Just one thing - in your write up - there's a little bit of confusion:

Based on the data, it was discovered that the two groups had similar results in regards to dream recall, dream content and the presence of verbal activity in dreams. However, the musician group had more than twice the dream recall than the non-musician group.

I'm thinking that the last sentence should read "...had more than twice the amount of music in their dreams than the non-musician group." or words to that effect ;-p

Tina Alexander said...

I found this quite interesting, as I have frequently considered the role of music in our dreams. What I particularly found most interesting about this was the correlation between the age when musical training started and the level of musical recall in dreams. To consider that an individual who begins their music study early on can have an increased dream recall is quite interesting, and makes me consider if this also plays into general memorization and recall skills (which I would assume it does).

Also, to consider that almost 30% of the music recalled in dreams was "new", it is interesting to consider the level of creativity that our brain can accomplish even while asleep. I too found the stories of composers in the Jourdain book interesting, and I know that I have had those "moments of clarity", or great musical ideas as a composer when I am my most tired. Of course I will often be falling asleep, and will vow to remember it to write it down the following day, but then usually forget the melody line or idea before then.

In considering that our memories are consolidated during sleep, it is interesting to consider if this level of "creativity" in musical dreams may be part of musical memory consolidation?

I am assuming that by "Based on the data, it was discovered that the two groups had similar results in regards to dream recall, dream content and the presence of verbal activity in dreams. However, the musician group had more than twice the dream recall than the non-musician group."- you meant that the musician group had more than twice the musical dream recall than non-musicians. Which would not surprise me, considering much of one's everyday life as a musician is spent around "sound".

I found this very interesting, and will consider keeping a dream journal to reflect on musical dreams that I have!

Cheryl Jones said...

An interesting topic. Two points in particular caught my attention regarding the musicians. First was the correlation between the age music training started and the level of music recall in dreams. Secondly, that there was no correlation between the amount of daily practice or music activity and the level of music recall in dreams.

It appears that the recall of music in dreams may be more associated with the significance of music to the individual rather than the awake-state neural processing of music. The length of music training, assuming the training started in youth, could suggest a commitment to, and a pleasure in, music making. If music recall in dreams is in response to the personal significance of music, then a longer training period could result in a higher number of music dreams. The impact of the personal significance of music on dreams could also explain the lack of correlation between the amount of daily music activity and music recall in dreams. A musician could have higher music recall in dreams simply because they enjoy, and are committed to, music.

Prior to reading your blog entry, I would have assumed a correlation between daily music activity and music recall in dreams. I was thinking that because daily practice and music activity results in extensive activation of the brain, that this music processing could, at some level, continue while asleep as the brain encodes, sorts, and organizes input from the day, thus potentially allowing music creation to continue in the sleep state.

This leads me to the question, where does the original music come from when dreaming? I too, have woken and tried to remember music that felt powerful in a dream. I hummed the melodic fragments I could remember, trying to piece the music back together so that I could write it down. Because I couldn’t remember all of the music, only the experience of pleasure while hearing it in my dream, I doubted if I really heard the whole concerto as I believed, or was it actually original, or perhaps I just had a “concerto theme” to the dream and didn’t really listen to the length of music I first thought I had when I woke. I will certainly pay more attention to these impressions the next time I dream music. In the meantime, you’ve given some interesting points to ponder.

Walter said...

I hear the melodies in dreams very often which dont probably exist. They have always perfect harmony and i record the melodic line after wakeing up