Thursday, October 24, 2013

Musical Hallucinations

Stefan Evers, MD, PhD – “Musical Hallucinations”
Current Psychiatry Reports, 2006, 8:205–210

In “Musical Hallucinations,” Stefan Evers discusses several reported cases of various etiologies of musical hallucinations. The author also provides a model of categorization and opens the debate on possible pathophysiologic mechanisms. According to Evers, musical hallucinations are disorders resulting from complex sound processings in which patients hear instrumental music, songs, but also isolated sounds. Interestingly, people with damaged hearing are more likely to experience these sorts of musical hallucinations. In most cases, patients are aware of the distortive nature of their perception. The author dates the first documented case of musical hallucinations back to 1846.
Evers then proceeds to review a study conducted by German E. Berrios. In the study, called “Musical hallucinations: a historical and clinical study,” Berrios analyzed 46 cases. Of all the patients, 67% were nearly or completely deaf. Brain diseases such as tumors or strokes were discovered in 39% of all patients. Berrios noticed that musical hallucinations are more likely to affect elderly women with damaged hearing or brain diseases, but without any history of psychiatric illness.
Evers follows the review of Berrios’ work with assessment of a study done by group of  investigators lead by Matcheri Keshavan, professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Of all causes for musical hallucinations, this group suggested that deafness is the most important one. According to them, brain damage relates to hallucinations to a lesser degree. As it was the case in Berrios’ study, this work showed that females are more likely to be affected by this disorder. Keshavan’s study also revealed that right-sided brainstem lesions are insignificantly more connected to this disorder then left-side lesions. Among many studies which Evers reviewed throughout his article, the most interesting is Saba and Keshavan’s. The study, performed in 1997 and called “Musical hallucinations and musical imagery: Prevalence and phenomenology in schizophrenic patients” examined 100 patients with schizophrenia. Of all these patience only 16 of them experienced musical hallucinations, and 56% of them were males. Evers, however, does not consider this study as representative because the authors observed only patients with acute auditory hallucinations.
After reviewing various studies and cases, Evers provides statistical information regarding the demographic and clinical status of all patients involved. Ages range from 20 to 90 years; 70% of all patients were females. In 27% of the cases, a localized brain lesion or a localized epileptic focus was described, but the occurrence of musical hallucinations did  not  depend  on  the  side  of  the  lesion. Exact chronicity of this disorder, however, is not clearly known. Musical hallucinations have been the focus of studies only in 0.16% of all general hospital setting examinations. When elderly subjects experiencing audiologic complaints have been studied, the frequency of musical hallucinations was 2.5%. More than one fifth of all psychiatric patients, however, have sometimes experienced musical hallucinations.
Evers then redirects his focus of attention towards categorizing the disorder’s etiologies. The first impairment he examines is Hypacusis, a hearing impairment of a conductive or neurosensory nature sometimes described as a partial deafness. In 50% of all patients, hypacusis was a predominant etiologic factor for musical hallucinations. 77% of all patients were females with the average age of 71 (± 15 years). Psychiatric disorders are factors that have been commonly considered as an important element for initiating musical hallucinations; Evers states that of all patients, depression was diagnosed in 45% of them, schizophrenia in 35%, obsessive-compulsive disorder in 10%, and neurotic symptoms in 5%. 68% of all patients were females with the average age of 51 (± 21 years). Focal brain lesions were diagnosed as the fundamental cause of musical hallucinations for a certain number of patients. In 62% of them, lesion was detected in the right hemisphere, while 38% of all patients had lesion located in the left hemisphere. 62% of all patients were female with the average age of 50 (± 16 years). In most patients, the brain lesion was vascular in nature or a tumor. In a small number of them factors such as epilepsy or intoxication were found to be the main generator of the musical hallucinations. Again, most of them were females. Evers here provides the list of chemical agents with a strong potential of fueling musical hallucinations, such as propranolol, clomipramine, marijuana, paracetamol, alcohol, and others.
According to one study, religious songs, childhood songs, and popular songs from the radio are what most patients with musical hallucinations describe. Evers recalls Nick Warner and Victor Aziz and their work “Hymns and arias: Musical hallucinations in older people in Wales;” in the study they state that in most cases older patients seem to imagine religious songs. Classical music was perceived in about 10% of the cases, while folk music in slightly higher percentage – 12%. Furthermore, a higher percentage of the perceived music was vocal than instrumental: 26% against 10%. But the most common perceived music was both, vocal and instrumental – 47%. Interestingly, 80% of patients found hallucinations to be frightening, while 20% of patients actually enjoyed them. Evers here goes back to the work of Matcheri Keshavan, who states that musical hallucinations are sometimes closely related to personal memory of patients. Keshavan has also introduced a concept called “parasitic memory,” where hallucinations can be derived from re-experiencing of stored musical experiences and stimulation of the specific neuronal circuit.
When it comes to treatment of this disorder, Evers has noted that no specific information on treatment was given so far. Single cases have been treated successfully with neuroleptic, antidepressive, and anticonvulsive drugs. The author, however, provides the results of a research performed by a group of authors under the guidance of Mark Collins. The paper “Pilot study of treatment of persistent auditory hallucinations by modified auditory input” revisits the case of a 53-year-old psychotic woman for whom listening to music was more efficient in eliminating the voices heard than medical treatment. How diverse etiologies of this disorder can be, describes the case of a 61-year-old woman who after clipping of two small aneurysms, didn’t experience any hallucinations. This case was examined in the study called “Musical hallucinations associated with seizures originating from an intracranial aneurysm” by a group of authors working with Daniel Roberts. For patients suffering from schizophrenia, antidepressive medications seemed to improve hallucination related issues. The documented reaction of a great number of patients to carbamazepine was promising.
                The author underlines that there is no clear evidence of a fundamental cause for musical hallucinations. However, hearing loss or deafness is the most discussed factor related to this disorder. Anthony Gordon in his study “Do musical hallucinations always arise from the inner ear?” discusses the inner ear disease which leads to a sort of “a hyperactive state of the ear.” On the other side, there are patients experiencing musical hallucinations without such symptoms. Brain imaging studies have shown some association with dysfunction of the temporal cortex, specifically in the left lobe. Therefore, Evers states, there is a possibility that some cases  of  musical  hallucinations are associated with focal brain damage or with associated clinical epilepsy. Memory is also an important factor when this disorder is discussed. As mentioned before, according to Keshavan and his concept of “parasitic memory,” musical perception represents a deep-rooted part of memory and can be experienced by external stimuli or simply by chance.
                Musical hallucinations are a phenomenon that has not been greatly researched and Evers’ work offers an important insight into this disorder. The fact that patients hear familiar tunes from the past supports the argument on the importance of memory in this kind of hallucinations. Recently, however, one unique form of musical hallucinations has been reported. A 60-year-old woman heard songs that she could not identify, but she realized that all of the songs she heard are familiar to her husband. This is the first case of somebody experiencing musical hallucinations with songs familiar to people from his or her environment. This is something Evers did not know at the time he made his study. Another important aspect of musical hallucinations in my opinion is related to professional musicians. In their study “Musical hallucinations in a musician,” Jason Warren and Jonathan Schott describe hallucinations of an 83-year-old musician who was able to notate his hallucinations. Their observation is focused on abnormal spontaneous activities in auditory cortical areas beyond the primary auditory cortex. But auditory hallucinations are not the only cases of musical hallucinations that patients experienced. The cases of notation hallucinations have also been reported. All patients who experienced this kind of hallucinations have some kind of musical knowledge that again stresses importance which memory has in this phenomena.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Music and the Brain: Wednesday is Indigo Blue: How Synesthesia Speaks to Creativity


Music and Synesthesia

Source: Cytowic, Richard, Music and the Brain: Wednesday is Indigo Blue: How Synesthesia Speaks to 
            Creativity, Oct. 2009, Web. 21 Oct 2013, Library Congress, 
            Washington, D.C.,                            

Richard Cytowic discusses some of the science behind synesthesia (the automatic combination of two or more bodily senses). He mentions that most people have some sort of synesthesia (i.e. grapheme-colour, phoneme-colour, etc.). For example, most people go to the movies for the visual-and-audio combination effect, and many people find it troubling when the visual and audio cues are not aligned with one another. Synesthesia tends to run in families, and it “may be the first cognitive trait which science can map out its gene.” The phenomenon is also more common in people who are artistic (such as musicians like Messaien and Scriabin) and in blind people.

Interestingly, synesthesia itself cannot be located in the brain; the reaction can only be seen when parts of the brain are activated.  Cytowic explains that synesthesia is caused by a gene mutation which results in decrease in inhibition (known as stroop interference) of one bodily sense and, consequently, hyperactivity or excitation in the brain when bodily senses are blended. Specifically, certain areas of the brain, which are loosely connected in non-synesthetes, are interconnected in synesthetes. This is known as the breakdown of modularity. Synesthetes seem to have increased excitation when they hear a sound, see an object, etc. For example, grapheme-colour synesthetes often experience seeing words in colour through an activation of the V4 color area in the fusiform gyrus (which is a part of the temporal and occipital lobes) and the angular gyrus (which is a part of the parietal lobe). The fusiform gyrus is responsible for face, body, colour-and-word- recognition while the angular gyrus is responsible for language processing and lexical semantics. This activation of the fusiform gyrus and angular gyrus can be seen on a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. The connection between words and colour are not as strong in non-synesthetes due to the increased inhibition of the angular gyrus.

This excitation-inhibition link is crucial in facilitating creativity. For instance, melodic improvisation involves listening to a previous tune, and then using your judgement on developing the melodic line and "making it your own." If you think too much about having the melodic line sound "right," that thought will impede your ability to improvise. Having synesthesia would be an advantage, in that you would be more likely to improvise music more confidently without the breaking of modularity standing in the way. Similarly, composing and performing your own music involves using elements of music (i.e. melody, harmony, timbre, form, etc.) for the purpose of displaying how you see the world. Musicians such as Messiaen and Scriabin were known for experimenting with keys and modes as colours, contributing to their creativity. In short, synesthesia is a stepping stone into the further understanding into creativity by scientists.

The information in this video clip was insightful, especially regarding the excitation- inhibition link and the differences between synesthetes and non-synesthetes. In particular, I was interested in the scans in the colour-hearing synesthetes, and I have always wondered if someone with synesthesia could teach perfect pitch to themselves. I have relatives who have perfect pitch, but I am not sure whether they have synesthesia as well.

Almost 30 years ago, my parents gave me an alphabet stand with colour-coded letters and slots in the stand. I kept putting the letters in the slots, simultaneously being astonished by the letters’ bright colours. Three years later, I was experimenting and playing with the piano keys for a year prior to formal musical training. My inspiration and interest in “memorizing the keys by ear” came about by listening and watching Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles perform their works on the radio and on TV respectively. In my younger mind, I had wondered how blind musicians were able to play their instruments with such accuracy and passion, and I had decided that I would close my eyes whenever I sat at the piano. I decided that my personal musical success would be marked by playing songs with my eyes closed, and it was only then that I would be able to call myself a musician. 

As I was playing the piano, I noticed that I was memorizing the keys - by colours. I was connecting the notes to the colour-coded alphabet stand letters. There were no note names from me to draw from, for I was not taking music lessons at this time. Later in my life (after taking private piano lessons), I was connecting major and minor chords with different types of weather. This phenomenon felt weird to me, in the sense that I had an instinct that everyone was not experiencing music in the same way (hearing music in colour). Improvising on the piano was as almost as easy to me as walking, and writing music before finishing my elementary school years felt like jogging; it felt natural to me. Classmates would ask questions on how I was able to play along to songs that I had never heard before so easily, and I would respond by saying, “I don’t know!”

I am not sure whether or not I “taught myself perfect pitch” with the help of my colour-hearing synesthesia. What I know is that my synesthesia has helped me to be musically creative. “Seeing sounds” and “hearing colours” in music have facilitated my musical arrangements for choirs and orchestras, and it has helped me in providing different approaches to students on reading and memorizing songs. Today, I am able to sight-read music at a fairly fast pace, and I can play simple songs with my eyes closed. I do not feel that I have a barrier when it comes to playing unknown pieces. I feel that I have reached my own definition of a musician.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Musical Training Enhances Neural Processing of Binaural Sounds

Musical Training Enhances Neural Processing of Binaural Sounds

Parbery-Clark, A., Strait, D.L., Hittner, E., Kraus, N. 2013 Musical Training Enhances Neural Processing of Binaural Sounds. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(42):16741-16747.


 In this paper Parbery-Clark et al address their hypothesis that musicians' strengthened auditory processing is related to enhanced diotic listening, and that this enhancement relates to their superior hearing in noise.

 Binaural hearing refers to auditory processing of incoming sounds from both ears, and is critical in order to hear within loud, complex listening environments. The human brain can detect differences in incoming sounds between the left and right ears on the order of tens to hundreds of microseconds (10^-6 seconds!). This is crucial for hearing in noisy environments because the auditory system uses timing mechanisms to segregate concurrent sounds according to slight differences in location, pitch, and sound quality. Diotic hearing is binaural hearing in which both ears experience the same sounds at the same time.

 Musicians appear to have an over-average ability to manage complex auditory environments and have increased perceptual learning abilities. Studies suggest that music training may be linked to strengthened perception, and neural encoding of speech in the presence of noise. These enhanced abilities, however, have never been directly compared in monaural (hearing sound through only one ear) and diotic circumstances.

 In lay terms: this experiment set out to answer the question of whether or not these enhanced auditory processing abilities in musicians involved diotoic hearing specifically.

 In order to address this question, Parbery-Clark et al measured speech-evoked auditory brainstem responses (ABRs) of musicians and non-musicians via scalp electrodes. The electrode signals were analyzed to measure neural response amplitude and neural timing. The hypothesis was that musicians would have faster neural timing and increased amplitudes of response peaks (i.e. that they process quicker, and the magnitude of neural response would be greater). Musician groups included anyone who had consistently practiced an instrument at least 3 times a week since 7 years of age. Non-musician groups included subjects that had less than 3 years of musical training at any point in their lifetime. In total, this study included 30 participants with 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians. The auditory component of the ABRs was a 40ms speech syllable, /da/, which was presented either monaurally on the left or right side, or diotically, via inserted headphones.

 For the assessment of speech-in-noise, this group used the "Hearing in Noise Test" from Biologic Systems. Here, the participants were asked to repeat 20 short sentences that were heard with acoustically fixed background noise from a loudspeaker. The performance was assessed based on the minimal intensity of the target sentence, relative to the background noise, at which the participant could correctly repeat at least 50% of the target sentences.

 The results demonstrate that musicians exhibit faster neural timing and more consistent responses when presented with diotic ques, but musicians and non-musicians performed equally well monoaurally. Musicians also had better speech-in-noise performance. Intriguingly, musicians and non-musicians both exhibited faster neural timing peaks after diotic ques, but this difference was more drastic in the musician group. Across all subjects, faster neural response and greater magnitude of that response after diotic stimuli, were directly correlated with better speech-in-noise perception.

 These results support the use of music training in treatment of compromised binaural processing. Also, the average elementary school classroom has a decibel level of approximately 60. A normal conversation would generally take place at 50 decibels. This noise level creates obvious barriers to learning; however, music training would enhance a child's speech-in-noise perception and would thereby improve their learning experience.


 I thoroughly enjoyed this paper. I feel the authors had a meticulous experimental plan, which used three distinct controls. These included an initial test with all subjects measuring neural timing response to a 100 microsecond click stimulus- which tests their general neural response and ensures that they were all within a normal range, irrespective of musical training- a 35 microvolt signal boundary that differentiates between true signal and artifacts, and randomized application of diotic and monaural conditions across the subjects to rule out contributions due to neural fatigue and adaptation between environments.

 The authors also mentioned that other experiments had conversely found an increase in monaural processing in musicians; however, the authors suggest that because the syllable cue used did not contain the acoustically rich vowel portion, this removed the advantage. This decision was based on previous studies that link the acoustically rich vowel portion of a syllable with musicians' enhanced neural encoding of the spectral components in speech. These results indicate that this was indeed the case, and this further illustrates the depth, and thoroughness with which Parbery-Clark et al approached their experimental design.

 I have a very limited understanding of ABR, but from the information provided in this paper, this method of measuring neural response seems robust and reliable. These results indicate a statistically significant correlation between enhanced diotic auditory processing and speech-in-noise perception, and more importantly, this scientifically proves a measurable increase in cognitive performance based on musical training. Music training does apparently make you smarter!

 The only critique I can offer for this paper is that in the discussion, the correlation between music training and increased speech-in-noise perception was proposed to be a result of ensemble playing or conducting. This suggests that the speech-in-noise perception enhancement would not result from private lessons or individual practice, which is in direct contrast with their concluding statement that music lessons in general would illicit these benefits (Practical Applications section). Also, just because the diotic processing and speech-in-noise perception were correlated, does not mean that diotic processing is solely responsible for this benefit. I think this study proves that they are both increased due to music training, and perhaps this enhancement is due to increased diotic processing, but there may be a large assortment of factors that contribute to this,that are equally enhanced with music training, such as: acoustically rich vowel recognition, or non-diotic binaural processing.

 Overall, I found this study to be thorough, informative, and scientifically satisfying. I would be intrigued to see if the speech-in-noise perception increase varies with soloist musicians vs. ensemble players, but every study must leave something for the next person :).

Building the Musical Muscle

Limb, Charles, Dr. "Charles Limb: Building the Musical Muscle." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., Dec. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.

When we think about our senses, we don’t tend to think about them in terms of using our senses to protect ourselves. Nowadays, our senses want beauty, not so much function.

Music is an acoustic vibration in the air that tickles our ear drum. The vibration transmits into energy through our hearing bone that gets converted into a fluid inside the cochlear. It then gets converted into an electrical signal in our auditory nerves and ends up in our brain as a perception.

Many people lose hearing at the cochlear level. According to Dr. Limb, as a surgeon, he would recommend losing hearing compared to another sense because it is scientifically the most advance in research. However, as a musician, he says that receiving a cochlear implant is very heartbreaking.

Scenario #1: A girl born deaf and is growing up in a very supportive environment. She has received cochlear implants and 10 years later, she is talking and responding to interview questions regarding a book she wrote about being deaf. The girl goes on speaking about the benefits of having a cochlear implant because she will remove it when she doesn’t want to listen.

Many cochlear implant users struggle to hear music because it sounds very bad. Language is very precise and we do not care whether or not it sounds pretty. Music on the other hand, it something we listen to because it sounds pretty. Dr. Limb’s goal is to design a cochlear implant with music as the ultimate goal and better pitch perception.

A demonstration using MIDI files compared a piece of music that was played normally and then the same piece of music that was randomly distorted to be at least one semitone away from the actual pitch. This demonstrated what cochlear implant users hear. Another demonstration illustrates that cochlear users cannot identify instruments apart. They cochlear implants lack the ability to distinguish the difference between sound and timber quality.

Scenario #2: Joseph is performing a piece of music on the piano after 3 years of receiving cochlear implants. Even though he received powerful hearing aids, they were not helping his learning process. Dr. Limb continues and says that people can play piano without cochlear implants because it is a matter of training the brain to press buttons at the right time. Even people like Beethoven, who couldn’t hear, music and the brain have a special hard wired relationship.

Dr. Limb concludes with the following idea that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The restoration of basic function is OK, but we want the restoration of beauty.

Dr. Limb speaks on the importance of having music as the ultimate goal when it comes to restoring hearing. Music is considered an aesthetic beauty and it is very important that we can share this ultimate beauty with everyone.

According to other research, Musical Pitch Discrimination by Cochlear Implant Users (Ping, Lichuan; Yuan Meng; Feng Haihong, May 2012), cochlear implant users can detect the presence of changes of pitch more accurately than they can perceive the direction of changes in the pitches. Clear and regular harmonic structure in the lower-frequency channels will help cochlear implant users with pitch discrimination. The performance will decrease when there is interference in the high-frequency channels.

As a student, I had classmates who were hard of hearing. The teacher would speak through a FM transmitter and they would have an interpreter in the class signing. I recall my classmates received hearing aids as they did a combination of reading our facial expressions and tried to listen to our pronunciation. They were integrated in our class during math, science/social studies and physical education. The other times, they had their own teacher which modified the curriculum to meet their needs in the other subject areas. After watching the video of the little girl who had fluent oral communication skills, it makes me wonder whether children who receive treatment early can become more successful at learning to speak.

If I have students with cochlear implants, I would ensure that I integrate the students into the classroom as much as possible so they have an opportunity to build social skills. With the advancement of science and technology, cochlear implants will become more accurate and these students can engage in music class. According to the study, if we use lower frequency channels, pitch distinction will become easier for the cochlear implant user. Even though that limits our musical exposure, it does allow cochlear implant users to participate in musical experiences.
Ping, Lichuan, Meng Yuan, and Haihong Feng. "Musical Pitch Discrimination by Cochlear Implant Users." The Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology 121.5 (2012): 328-36. Proquest. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <>.

The Neuroscience of Personality

The Neuroscience of Personality

In this talk, part of the "Authors at Google" series, Dario Nardi, Ph.D, presents a summary of his research into the neuroscience of personality type, specifically the sixteen types of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Dr. Nardi conducted a 5-year research project (which he describes as a "big pilot study") in which he monitored the brains of students ages 18-25, while they performed a range of tasks and activities, using an EEG. Each student had taken the MBTI and had ten weeks in which to determine their best-fit personality type. In the lab, the students performed activities such as playing card or word games, physical tasks such as juggling, memory tasks such as recalling items on a list or in a visual scene, and thinking tasks such as math or analogies. They communicated with others in a variety of formats such as simulated speed-dating or role-playing with actors. Each student also engaged in an area in which they had a level of expertise, such as music or dance. Overall, each student spent between 2-3 hours in the lab. The data that Dr. Nardi collected over this period suggests that although each brain is different and individual, persons of the same personality type will show significantly similar activity (for instance, two ENFPs have a 50% chance of having 80% of their brain activity be the same). In fact, at one point Dr. Nardi responded to a question by stating that if he were to see only the aggregate of someone's EEG data, he would most likely be able to identify their Myers-Briggs personality type. The research suggests that personality type likely has much to do with common patterns of brain activity.

 Although this may seem to be only tangentially related to music, I am interested in this research and its application especially to music-making for a number of reasons. First, about halfway through the presentation (at 39:15), Dr. Nardi begins to discuss what happens in the brain when someone is in a state of flow. In this state, which Dr. Nardi describes as a type of holistic brain activity, the entire brain synchronizes so that each section of the brain shows the same frequency and amplitude. This frequency is one in which the brain is awake and alert, yet relaxed (it shows as light blue on an EEG). Dr. Nardi found that this state seems to occur either when someone is engaging in a specific activity that is characteristic of their personality type (for example, an INFP actively listening) or when someone is performing a task related to their interest and expertise. For instance, a professional musician entered a state of flow when he was playing and singing one of his own compositions; interestingly, however, he did not enter this state when performing a song by someone else. 

I can't help but draw parallels here to my previous post on Dr. Charles Limb's research on brain activity during improvisation. Again, here is an instance of a musician entering a very specific brain state when performing music he himself has generated, but not music written by someone else. The act of performing original music - whether improvised or composed - seems demonstrably different than the act of performing memorized music by others. I am intrigued by the implications of this for classical musicians. Is a state of flow necessary for good performance? (Most of the participants did not seem to be consciously aware of when they were in this state). Can this state be achieved in a memorized performance? It would seem so, as some of Dr. Nardi's subjects who were theatre students were in a state of flow when performing a memorized and rehearsed scene. 

Perhaps even more interesting than the question of flow is that of personality type and brain activity. As a performer and a teacher, I would be fascinated to see a study similar to Dr. Nardi's with a focus on musicians. Specifially, I would love to know which sections of the brain were active in the different personality types while performing or otherwise engaging with music. It seems to me that differing patterns of brain activity may help to explain why some musicians seem to be "natural" performers while others are described as "wooden"; why some have a particular affinity for text delivery; why some are rhythmically precise but seem to struggle with melodic phrasing, or vice versa; and why musicians are drawn to certain specialties such as opera or early music. Might performers be helped by knowing their type and thus having a sense of their natural preferences as well as those areas that are difficult? Might teachers be able to better target their teaching to each individual student if they knew that student's type? Do different types enter a state of flow under different conditions, in response to different stimuli? I believe that these questions are worth investigating, as they may have the potential to assist teachers, students and performers in overcoming some of the more frustrating, intangible hurdles associated with music making. 

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.

Does music make you smarter?


Does music make you smarter? by Steven M. Demorest and Steven J. Morrison.


“Does music make you smarter?” Most of this attention has centered on two sets of studies done by a group of researchers at the University of California at Irvine. The first series of studies documents a short-term increase in performance on a spatial reasoning task after listening to Mozart, often referred to as the "Mozart effect." The second series concluded that piano instruction caused preschoolers to improve on a single test of spatial reasoning ability. Steven M. Demorest and Steven J. Morrison address the specific results of the studies, discuss where they are most often misinterpreted or overstated, and identify alternative points that music teachers may wish to emphasize.

Smarter at what?

They mentioned, of course, music instruction makes students in music but most people misunderstand “music makes you smarter.” In all the recent press about the potential benefits of music and music instruction, there is an implicit assumption that "smarter" means "smarter at something else."

The “Mozart Effect”
"Mozart effect" refers specifically to improvement on a single spatial reasoning task exhibited by college students after ten minutes of listening to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, K. 448, as demonstrated in a 1993 study, the conclusions of which were retested in a 1995 study. It involved seventy-nine college students taking a single spatial reasoning test derived from a subtest of the Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale, thought by the authors to best represent spatial-temporal reasoning. After taking the test together the first day, the students were divided into three groups for days two through five. Prior to retaking the test, twenty-six students listened to ten minutes of silence, twenty-seven students to ten minutes of Mozart, and twenty-six to a mix of minimalist music, dance music, and spoken text. The group that listened to Mozart improved significantly than other groups. But interestingly, on a separate short-term memory test, the presence of music made no difference at all. The authors concluded that the Mozart group's improvement was due to listening, while the silence group's improvement was due to a learning curve. “Several attempts by other researchers to replicate the Mozart effect under similar conditions have failed.” It is important to note that the results of these studies apply only to a single spatial subtest from the Stanford Binet intelligence scale; so the effect is much narrower than general intelligence as measured by IQ and it may be inappropriate to apply these findings to the musical education of children.

Keyboard Training
Several famous quotes illustrate the ways in which the results of some studies have been used to support the idea of a connection between music education and math and science. Most of studies had similar concepts; one group took lesson regularly and the other did not. The results could just as easily be stated, "Keyboard training has no impact on three out of four tests of spatial intelligence" or "Keyboard training helps children assemble puzzles rapidly," not quite the same as increasing their aptitude for math or science. As with the Mozart studies, the non-musical benefit was realized only for a very specific type of reasoning measured by a single standardized subtest.

National School Boards Association (NSBA), said, "I'm here to tell you that NSBA supports raising student achievement, and we know music can do that. Students who participate in music earn higher grades and score better on standardized tests. it has been reported that music students receive higher grades in math, English history, and science; higher test scores in reading and citizenship; and more general academic recognition than students who do not participate in school music activities. For SAT scores data, average SAT scores for music students are, indeed, above the average for all students and well above the average scores of students not participating in school fine arts study. However, they are not the highest. Math and verbal scores of students enrolled in acting and verbal scores of students studying drama appreciation were even higher. Additionally, scores of students enrolled in music appreciation were higher than those of students participating in music performance. “If we wish to argue that part of music's value lies in its correlation with higher test scores, we must also acknowledge that the study of acting and drama may be more valuable and that membership in a music appreciation class may be more valuable than ensemble participation.”


We, musicians, all heard about “Music makes you smarter” concept and I was always wondering if this idea is right or wrong; through this article, it really helped me to understand this idea. First of all, I was surprised that “Music makes you smarter” is not quite right since I, somewhat, believed in this concept would be correct. Personally, I thought “Mozart Effect” study was ridiculous and inappropriate; especially the procedure of this study was absolutely preposterous. Of course, I would suggest and support people to listen Mozart’s music but how can we determine if someone gets smarter in five days?
Moreover, result that people who participate in fine arts get better SAT scores was intriguing. Along with this concept, I also have many friends who studied music at undergraduate and go to Medical school or Law school and I think there are some relations.
Overall, in my opinion, participating in music surely does not interfere with academic progress. Even from my own experience, when I was in high school, I had satisfying grades from all academic courses while I was taking all music courses. Plus, most of friends who were taking same music courses, they were also great at academic courses. Some people say, music and other arts as frills that distract students from more important subjects but I disagree with this idea. I support what authors said about participating in music, “Whether or not music increases children's brain power, it clearly doesn't hurt it. Thus, the path to academic excellence would seem to involve multiple avenues rather than the single road of reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

Building the Musical Muscle: Music in Individuals with Cochlear Implants

Charles Limb: Building the Musical Muscle


In this talk, Dr. Charles Limb talks about cochlear implants, and the problem with these individuals perceiving music. 

The location of the cochlea is where we not only hear, but draw connections between what we hear and our emotional response to those things. Most people with a cochlear implant basically think music sounds bad, and will not listen to it, taking that element of beauty out of their lives. The "perfect" cochlear implant would obviously allow not only for language, but music as well, restoring the full range of hearing. Limb plays a short midi file excerpt of music to show an example of the difference between what an individual with full hearing perceives versus someone with a cochlear implant. Although the example he plays shifts pitches only up to a semi-tone, individuals with cochlear implants actually can perceive the pitches up to two octaves away from what is actually being played. 

Individuals with these cochlear implants not only have major problems perceiving pitch, but also differentiating the timbre of different instruments. Limb shows a slide of brain activity that happens with an individual during language, rhythm, and melody, and there is essentially no activity in the auditory cortex during a melodic example- like it is unrecognizable. Similarly when trying to distinguish between the sound of a trumpet and a violin, it is virtually impossible for an individual with a cochlear implant to do.

Capacity for music remains even when individual has hearing loss or complete deafness. Limb uses the example of Beethoven in this case to exemplify that he still composed music after his deafness, and still needed and wanted music to be a part of his life even when he could no longer hear it, or really perceive his own creations. Limb ultimately suggests that music can still be trained in those individuals with cochlear implants. He shows an example of a cat with the implant in. They have trained the cat to respond to the sound of a trumpet as a sign to get food, and although the cat responds to no other music sounds, it does recognize the sound of the trumpet when playing a melody.

Limb's suggestion that music can be trained in individuals is supported by an example that he shows of one of his deaf students playing piano. The student plays sensitively, and expressively although he cannot fully perceive what he is doing. In showing this, Limb jokes that the student can play piano, but that he knows he has  hearing problem because he has heard the student do karaoke, and it was horrible. 

This talk really emphasizes the importance of music as it relates to beauty and the quality of life. And that although technology has come quite far in this area, it still has further to go in order to restore full hearing to individuals with these implants, instead of only speech. 


I found this talk quite fascinating in several ways. First of all, that the restoration of hearing has already come so far is great, but to be honest having a cochlear implant sounds like a nightmare to me. To not have the ability to hear or perceive music in an enjoyable way would be horrible, and to have no way to remedy that is scary as well.

I was particularly interested by the brain scans that he shows, and the lack of activity exemplified during the sound of melody. Obviously the frequencies of music are much different from that of speech alone, and this is what creates the difficulty in developing a tool that will help to perceive all of these other frequencies in a pleasant way for the individual. Limb states that "there is very little cortical activity (during melody perception) compared to normal hearing control". In this scan, they said that they did each separate: speech, rhythm, melody. Because there was so little activity in the brain during melody, and there was similar activity during both speech and rhythm, it makes me wonder if the individual can perceive rhythm in the melody, or because of their perception of the melody if they cannot. I only wonder this because the scans basically show almost no activity in the brain during music.

Although I don't personally know anyone with a cochlear implant, it does make me interested in understanding what exactly they hear. I liked Limb's idea of "training" music into individuals with these implants, although he does not really give many ideas on how to do this, other than showing a cat who was trained to hear the trumpet. It also made me wonder about the ability to train music into these individuals, but then the difference between doing this with someone who developed hearing loss throughout their life, and someone who was born deaf and then got the implant. Would this change ones perception of the music, or not?

In summary, I think that this is an important area of research, and interesting to see the growth and developments in this area, especially as restoring music as a benefit of the full life experience in an individual with cochlear implants.