The Music Instinct

The Music Instinct

While listening to music, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, asks the questions “where do goose bumps come from?” and “what’s going on in my brain that allows the goosebumps to happen?” Levitin leads a group of researchers as they investigate music’s fundamental physical structure; its biological, emotional and psychological impact; its brain altering and healing powers and its role in human evolution. The Music Instinct: Science and Song, a fascinating two-hour documentary on the science of music, premieres Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

The Music Instinct: Science and Song is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

Researchers and scientists from a variety of fields are using groundbreaking techniques that reveal startling new connections between music and the human mind, the body and the universe. Together with an array of musicians from rock and rap to jazz and classical, they are putting music under the microscope.

“The brain is teaching us about music and music is teaching us about the brain,” says Levitin.” Music allows us to understand better how the brain organizes information in the world. There are a lot of different factors that go into our emotional appreciation of music [like] the memories we have of a particular song that we heard at a particular time in our lives.”

Internationally renowned performers Bobby McFerrin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma describe the way musical intervals are used or combined to create melody and harmony. McFerrin, together with the “World Singers,” sing a cappella to demonstrate that basic elements of music; pitch, tempo, rhythm and melody create specific reactions in our brains. Yo-Yo Ma plays two notes and then five more notes and then plays different combinations that demonstrate the way musical intervals are combined to create a melody or harmony.

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie encounters music in a unique way, as fundamentally a “physical phenomenon.” Profoundly deaf, Glennie “hears” music not through her ears, but by feeling vibrations through the floor and in her body: low frequencies through her legs and feet; high sounds in particular spots on her face, neck and chest.

Rock stars Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley were asked to participate in a new experiment to reveal the difference in the brain when two people perform music together – as opposed to solo. Neuroscientists wonder how two brains interact since music is fundamentally a social activity. Cocker was asked to enter a fMRI machine, while Hawley played his guitar in the room. When the Scan was analyzed it showed a measurable difference in brain activity when Cocker sang alone compared to when he sang with Hawley playing guitar. During the duet, Cocker’s brain was more active in areas for phrasing and coordinating music as well as cognitive and emotional interaction.

Research also shows that music has enormous potential to help explore the complexities of human brain function. For example, there’s a strong connection between the auditory and motor regions of the brain, and music seems to engage the motor system in a way that other modalities do not. People with motor disorders like Parkinson’s disease have improved their ability to walk while listening to a rhythm track, and stroke patients who have trouble with speech show signs of improvement when they receive music therapy. And there’s new evidence that music can actually change the physical structure of the brain – a fact that has critical implications for both education and medicine. One thing is clear, proven and agreed upon; music has a profound capacity to influence and alter the human experience.

Learn to play Bach in six weeks

Learn to play Bach in six weeks

The start of the year is a great time to take on a new challenge. The pianist James Rhodes tells Clemency Burton-Hill how anyone can learn to play Bach in six weeks.

Is it ever too late to learn a musical instrument? According to the leading British concert pianist James Rhodes, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’ – and he has just written the book to prove it. The delightfully straight-talking How To Play the Piano is an elegant little volume that promises – with just 45 minutes’ practice a day, six days a week, for six weeks – to enable anyone with access to a keyboard to play one of JS Bach’s most beloved works, the Prelude no 1 in C major from Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier. Continue reading

How Music Helps Us Grieve

How Music Helps Us Grieve

“The springs of our reaction to music lie deeper than thought.”

How Music Helps Us Grieve

Scientists now believe that language and music co-evolved to simulate the most abiding truths of nature. Indeed, for as long as we’ve been able to articulate the human experience, we’ve made music about the most inarticulable parts of it and then used language to extol music’s power — nowhere more beautifully than in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 meditation on how music stirs the soul, in which he asserted that music’s greatest potency lies in expressing the inexpressible.

This, perhaps, is why music is so sublime a solace when it comes to the most inexpressible of human emotions: grief. Continue reading

What Musicians Can Tell Us About Dyslexia and the Brain

What Musicians Can Tell Us About Dyslexia and the Brain

Daniel Paxton/Flickr

My three dyslexic sons and music

My three dyslexic sons and music

Three brothers with dyslexia have overcome their struggles with reading music to be chosen to play in the National Schools Symphony Orchestra.

“I shudder to think what it would have been like without music,” says Sasha Baldwin, mother to three teenage sons who are all dyslexic.

Luke, 17, plays the violin and guitar. Patrick, 15, plays the piano, organ and trumpet while Robert, 14, is a gifted French horn player. They all sing too.

Yet at primary school they struggled from early on as dyslexia manifested itself in different ways in each of them.

“Luke had difficulties learning how to read, Patrick had problems with short-term memory and couldn’t remember instructions from school or telephone numbers and Robert had real problems with personal organisation and retaining information, as well as reading,” Sasha says.

The North Yorkshire school they attended recognised their learning difficulties and enlisted the help of educational psychologists to support them. Continue reading

Tenor, Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne, performs Schubert during brain tumor surgery

Tenor, Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne, performs Schubert during brain tumor surgery

 

© Ambrož Bajec-Lapajne
An opera singer from Slovenia was performing Schubert while undergoing a brain cancer surgery in a Dutch clinic, later posting the video from the operating room online.

The doctors at the University Medical Center Utrecht asked Ambroz Bajec-Lapajne to sing in order to monitor his ability to vocalize and recognize the key change during the brain tumor surgery.

The tenor opted for ‘Gute Nacht’ (Good Night) by Austrian 19th century composer, Franz Peter Schubert, performing the opening and the final couplets from the song.

The doctors were clearly impressed by the young man’s talent.

In the most dramatic moment of the video, Bajec-Lapajne stopped singing and appeared to be drifting away, but the tenor was able to restart his song from the beginning after a short break.

“I’m just a singer and tenor at that… I believe he rewired my brain for a while and that was the result. I could not control my tongue anymore and could not stop phonating. It was a very weird feeling,” the singer is cited by UPI.

An awake craniotomy was performed on Bajec-Lapajne in order to tackle GMB or Glioblastoma multiforme.

GBM is the most common and most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor, which involves glial cells and accounts for over a half of functional tissue brain tumor cases.

About 50 percent of the patients diagnosed with the disease die within one year, while 90 percent within three years.

Bajec-Lapajne’s operation took place on June 13, 2014 and went well.

“It’s been more than a year since and I’m doing fine, continuing my professional singing career,” he wrote in the description to the video.

Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis

Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis

Popular Music Main ImagePopular music lyrics are dumb. No really, I’m not just saying that. As easy as it is to mock the quality of lyrics today, there’s some real science behind looking at how dumb they truly are.That’s why I set out to answer the big questions. Which genre is the most sophisticated? (Prepare to be disappointed.) Which artists are the dumbest? (Prepare to be surprised.) And, can any hit songs be comfortably read by a 1st grader? (Yes, they can.) Continue reading

The Neuroscience Of Music

The Neuroscience Of Music

for Wired.com