The Brain and Music

 

On November 8, 1998 at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Los Angeles, Dr. Lawrence Parsons of the University of Texas-San Antonio discussed the results of his research which showed that significantly more of the brain was being used during music making than previously thought.

Through his use of imaging research, Dr. Parsons analyzed music’s influence on the brain by examining expert musicians. One of the studies found that expert musicians use widely dispersed, interconnected brain areas when they intently listen to different aspects of a piece of music including its rhythm, melody, and harmony

In addition, he and his colleagues found that there is an area in the right half of the brain that interprets written musical notes and passages of notes, that is known to interpret written letters, and words. Moreover, they report an overall, strong activation in the cerebellum, a brain area traditionally thought to coordinate only fine movement or motor behavior.

“We believe this is the first detailed study of the functionalneuroanatomy of the expert musicians’ comprehension of musical structure.” says Parsons. “The research shows more clearly than ever that music is represented in mechanisms widely distributed throughout the brain rather than localized in a single region as are other kinds of information, such as visual or movement information.”

In addition, the researchers say that their findings show that the structure of music, and our use of it, are similar in key respects to language structure and use. “An understanding of the brain locations that represent the separate aspects of music will help us identify the neural mechanisms that are specific to music, specific to language and are shared between the two,” says Parsons

“The finding that there is a right brain region for notes and musical passages that corresponds in location to a left brain region for letters and words illustrates how a neural mechanism may be present in each of the two brain hemispheres becomes special adapted for analogous purposes but with different information contexts.”

Non-musicians also are able to direct attention to the musical components of harmony, melody and rhythm and would therefore produce similar, but probably smaller activation in most of the same music brain areas, according to the researchers.

Researchers find Active Music Making Expands the Brain
In the April 23, 1998 issue of Nature, Researchers at the University of Munster in Germany reported their discovery music lessons in childhood actually enlarge the brain. An area used to analyze the pitch of a musical note is enlarged 25% in musicians, compared to people who have never played an instrument.

The findings suggest the area is enlarged through practice and experience. The earlier the musicians were when they started musical training, the bigger this area of the brain appears to be.

In a May 5, 1998 New York Times article it states:

“The discovery, described in the April 23 issue of the journal Nature, was made after scientists put musicians and others into a magnetic brain imaging machine pointed at the auditory cortex, where sounds are processed.

This part of the brain contains cells, called neurons, which are sensitive to different sound frequencies. Neurons that fire in response to the same frequency tend to cluster into little islands, forming a kind of sound frequency map in the auditory cortex.”

“The researchers said that skilled musicians use more neurons for processing sounds from a piano or better synchronize those sounds because of their training. Furthermore, the younger the musicians started playing their instruments, the greater their response to piano notes.

Musicians with perfect pitch or absolute relative pitch showed no differences. The increased response to piano tones was the same in those who played piano, woodwinds or stringed instruments, although most of the musicians said that they had received early training on the piano.”

As we mentioned before we are about to see an avalanche of information which will go on to show the incredible impact music making has on the overall development of human beings OF ALL AGES.

This is just one more important piece of the puzzle!

Source: Nature, New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com)