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Brain Music: how does the brain work?

Study Shows More of the Brain Used When Making 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 that 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 functional neuroanatomy 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.

brain and music and neuroscience

Singing Familiar Songs is Found to Use Spatial Abilities

Singing appears to be much more than just a fun thing to do; it seemingly uses a person's spatial intelligence. Researchers in the United States and New Zealand report in [a 1997] issue [vol. 24, No. 2] of the English scientific journal "The Psychology of Music" that the simple act of singing changes the way the brain "thinks" about music. These findings come on the heels of recent reports showing that piano playing increases the spatial ability of children. Now it seems that singing uses the same mental skills.
Spatial intelligence is that aspect of our intelligence that allows us to make judgments about the three-dimensional world in which we live. A football player catching a pass relies on spatial intelligence to judge the trajectory of the ball. An architect uses it to visualize what a building will look like when it is completed. We all use it every time we drive a car and have to judge the distance to the car in front of us. Advanced math courses require good spatial intelligence.
The report tells of a fairly complex experiment that was conducted to determine how the human brain thinks about music while singing. The experiment counted on the brain's natural desire to group things together. For example, if a person goes to the grocery store but forgets his or her list, he or she will to try to remember what was on the list. The most common way would be to remember the items according to some logical groups; say dairy products, meat products, and cleaning products.
Another way would be to remember by menu; if they were having hot dogs for lunch they would remember hot dogs, buns, baked beans, mustard and ketchup and then go on to the next meal that is planned. If you watched this person in the grocery store you could tell how they had things grouped in their head by the paths they took around the store. This same logic was used with the singing experiment.
Drs. Robert Cutietta from the University of Arizona and Gregory Booth from the University of Auckland taught college students to sing many melodies by hearing and singing them over and over for five weeks. The melodies were deliberately written to be very similar to each another. It soon became obvious that the students were grouping the songs in order to remember them. [However, the students] grouped them according to a very abstract aspect of music - the shape of the melody - even though there were many other more obvious ways they could have been grouped. Melodies with similar patterns of notes going up and down were grouped together by the students. This happened even though they had never seen the music for the songs and did not know they were supposed to group them.
Thus, the students were converting the sounds into an image in their heads. This image was actually a picture of what the melody would look like if it were somehow projected on a piece of paper. Interestingly, trained musicians and non-musicians did it exactly the same way showing that it is probably a basic way the brain works, not something that is learned.
These findings help answer a fundamental question about music. Researchers have long wondered why a person can recognize a song when it is played in different keys. For example, if "Happy Birthday" is played in two different keys, the two versions could have no actual notes in common. Yet almost everyone, regardless of musical training, will recognize it as the same song. It has long been suspected that the brain remembers music by the "shape". This research supports that idea.
These findings also add support to music programs for children in elementary school. Music classes, filled with singing, are often considered fluff by many school administrators. Now it seems this fun activity is actually developing a child's spatial ability: an ability important in everything from driving a car to advanced math. Source Reference: Robert Cutietta & Gregory Booth. The Influence of Metre, Mode, Interval Type, and Contour in Repeated Melodic Free-Recall. The Psychology of Music, vol. 24, No 2. Pages: 222-236.

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