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Music May Help Neurological Therapy
By JANE E. ALLEN AP Science Writer

Mark Tramo


Dr. Tramo said. "The effect of music on emotions may, in turn, influence autonomic and immunologic systems in ways that affect and help the body's natural responses to disease."

"Much of the information that's transmitted during speech is transmitted by pitch and timing," two of the crucial elements of music, says neurologist Mark Tramo of Harvard University. Think of the little upturn at the end of a sentence that signals a question.

Neurophysiology and Neuroanatomy of Pitch Perception: Auditory Cortex

The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function the impact of music on brain function.


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Rhythm, melody and harmony stimulate several areas of the brain, suggesting that music could be used to help repair everything from damaged speech to damaged emotions, researchers say.

Classical music training also may enlarge parts of the brain, researchers said Sunday at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.

Scientists have long wanted to know how the brain responds to sound and rhythm, how musical studies affect brain wiring and how the brains of the musically talented differ from those of the nonmusical.

"Undeniably, there is a biology of music," said Dr. Mark Jude Tramo, a neurobiologist at Harvard University Medical School. "Music is biologically part of human life, as music is artistically a part of human life."

Dr. Gottfried Schlaug of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported that the cerebellum is larger in classically trained male musicians than in men who don't play a musical instrument.

Schlaug and fellow researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of 32 right-handed musicians with 24 right-handed men who did not play instruments. They found a 5 percent difference in the volume of the cerebellum.

"Finding evidence like this is sort of remarkable. The structure seems to adapt" to early years of training and practice, Schlaug said. "Musicians are not just born with these differences."

There were no similar findings in women, though only a small number were studied.

Anne Blood, a researcher in neuropsychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University in Canada, examined emotional responses to music among those with untrained ears.

Brain imaging scans showed that different regions of the brain respond to pleasant, harmonious musical sounds and to musical sounds that clash, she said. And brain regions that turned on during emotional responses to music were different from those previously observed.

As the music increased in unpleasantness, an area on the right side of the brain important to emotion -- the parahippocampal gyrus -- became active.

On the other hand, as the music increased in pleasantness, other areas on the left and right side that control emotions activated.

"Some day this research will help us to understand how different types of music can help in different kinds of neurological disorders," Ms. Blood said.

In another study, Lawrence Parsons and colleagues at the University of Texas in San Antonio found that an area on the right side of the brain interprets written musical notes and passages. This corresponds to an area in the left brain known to interpret written letters and words.

Eight right-handed faculty conductors were scanned as they red and listened to the score of an unfamiliar Bach chorale. They were instructed to point out errors in rhythm, harmony or melody.

"All three tasks activated both left and right brain areas," Parsons said. All three elements also strongly activated the cerebellum -- a small region of the brain responsible for posture, balance, coordination and fine motor movements.

Parsons said the understanding of links between musical language and spoken language could help in speech and language rehabilitation. Doctors already use a technique called melodic intonation therapy that teaches stroke patients to sing rather than speak what they want to convey. In some cases they can recover their speech. AP-NY-11-09-98 0354EST


A neurologist in Meadville, Pennsylvania, has found a way to help beat illness: drum circles. Dr. Barry Bittman says new research suggests that beating a drum for one hour enhances the immune system and reduces stress. The study shows that drumming in a circle with other folks can cause positive changes at the cellular level that may fight off cancer and viral illnesses However, just banging by yourself doesn't seem to help. Bittman says the drumming must be done with others and everyone has to keep on the same rhythm. Dr. Bittman discussed his findings last week at the 9th Annual World Congress of Music Therapy in Washington, D.C. For more information on Dr. Bittman's study, please refer to the sites listed below.

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brain and music and neuroscience