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Neurobiology and music

wilco 11 Oct 02 - 09:30 AM
Amos 11 Oct 02 - 09:46 AM
GUEST,leeneia 11 Oct 02 - 09:58 AM
mack/misophist 11 Oct 02 - 10:00 AM
Sandra in Sydney 11 Oct 02 - 10:08 AM
Bagpuss 11 Oct 02 - 10:14 AM
Bagpuss 11 Oct 02 - 10:16 AM
Bagpuss 11 Oct 02 - 10:22 AM
Bagpuss 11 Oct 02 - 10:30 AM
wilco 11 Oct 02 - 10:56 AM
Bagpuss 11 Oct 02 - 11:00 AM
Dave the Gnome 11 Oct 02 - 11:12 AM
wilco 11 Oct 02 - 11:16 AM
Amos 11 Oct 02 - 12:34 PM
GUEST,leeneia 11 Oct 02 - 01:21 PM
Amos 11 Oct 02 - 01:42 PM
dorareever 11 Oct 02 - 03:24 PM
Amos 11 Oct 02 - 05:02 PM
dorareever 11 Oct 02 - 05:16 PM
Bagpuss 15 Oct 02 - 06:24 AM
Wolfgang 15 Oct 02 - 06:50 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 15 Oct 02 - 09:21 AM
Amos 15 Oct 02 - 09:53 AM
Pied Piper 16 Oct 02 - 08:47 AM
Fibula Mattock 16 Oct 02 - 09:37 AM
Amos 16 Oct 02 - 01:24 PM
Alice 16 Oct 02 - 01:31 PM
EBarnacle1 16 Oct 02 - 01:35 PM
Bagpuss 17 Oct 02 - 06:20 AM
Pied Piper 17 Oct 02 - 09:01 AM
Amos 18 Oct 02 - 02:36 AM
Cllr 18 Oct 02 - 06:41 AM
wilco 18 Oct 02 - 09:28 AM
Bagpuss 18 Oct 02 - 09:41 AM
Bagpuss 18 Oct 02 - 09:59 AM
Bagpuss 18 Oct 02 - 10:05 AM
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Subject: Neurobiology and music
From: wilco
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 09:30 AM

My wife occasionally will ask me, "Why would anyone want to know that???!!!!" But, here's the question, why does music effect us like
it does. This is a neuro-biological question. Specific musical structures (chord sequences, rythhm, etc.) evoke neuro-biological responses. Have there been studies done, preferably by brain scans, to see where and how the brain is affected by music. This would be very interesting when applied yp other brain disorders like affective disorders, schizophrenia, etc. Help educate a Tennessean.

Thanks!!


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 09:46 AM

It's not that simple, though. Music -- and beauty in general -- does not impact the neurology directly. The process first involves the mind, then the soul, and only then does the impact hit the nervous system, the glandular system, and the brain.

Some people pursue knowledge for the sake of knowing. Some people consider understanding the summum bonum.

A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 09:58 AM

Amos, you've got it backwards. Sound comes to us first through the organs in our ears and brains, then we react with our minds and emotions.

I certainly don't know the answer, but I can add that hearing is rooted in the "lizard brain," the ancient and rather primitive organs at the back of the brain near your neck. (I believe it's the limbic system.) That's why, when the people in the recovery room of a hospital want to wake you up, they call your name rather than write you a note.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: mack/misophist
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:00 AM

A person I once knew in the music industry said John Williams claimed to be able to make an audience cry whenever he pleased. It was supposed to be a matter of combining certain chords, rhythems, etc.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:08 AM

Music therapists might be able to add to this discussion.

I'm not sure if this is thread-creep or not - but it is brain & music.

I used to work with a girl with the worst speech impediment I have ever seen/heard - she could barely put 2 or 3 words together - waiting for her to finish a sentence taught me patience, but she sang like an angel. Singing & speech use different parts of the brain. I have a friend who stutters badly, but when on stage, either in a Santa suit giving us goodies at Christmas time, or singing his favourite karaoke, he has a good tenor voice.

I tried to spellcheck "karaoke" but the poor little dictionary doesn't know the word! I hope it's correct.

Sandra


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:14 AM

And that brings us to an argument about dualism...Is the mind a seperate entity to the brain? Or is the mind a product of brain activity. I personally believe that cannot be separated as they are so interconnected: The mind is the output of the most interesting bits of the brain IMO. In any case surely the brain activity comes first - you can't "hear" something unless the brain processes the auditory information. And our "mind" wouldn't recognise it as music unless the necessary processing goes on in the brain first.

This article might tell you a little bit about some specific brain regions that are involved in processing music (as opposed to just processing sound). As well as specific regions for music, the act of listening and playing music will involve many other brain regions also used at other times - auditory pathways, language processing (when listening to songs), emotional centres etc.

Bagpuss


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:16 AM

Also this article about Ravel might be useful.

Bagpuss


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:22 AM

What are you particularly interested in with regards to mental disorders? Whether the effect of music on the brain is different during mental illness, whether music can help people with mental disorders etc?


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:30 AM

I typed 'schizophrenia brain music' into google and it came up with this scary site .


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: wilco
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 10:56 AM

Bagpuss; Mental illness is a brain disease. I've been working with the mentally ill for 34 years. In that time, treatment psychiatry has come from psycho-analytic claptrap like Freud and Jung to neuro-biology. In the past fifteen years, primarily due to advances in brain scaning technology and psycho-pharmacology, we have let science take it's position as the cornerstone of psychiatric treatment. We can "look" at "well" and "ill" brains, note the differences, and administer the appropriate medications. Then we can watch the "ill" brain react, hopefully to the activity of "healthy" brains.
    In music, there is something much more sophisticated than this very crude neuro-biochemistry described above. Why do particular types of music and chord structures affect people in a particular way? Do good composers, arrangers, or conducters brains work differently? Why? This would point to diet, exercise, etc.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 11:00 AM

I don't think there has been any research at this sort of level. We are still at the nuts and bolts level of understanding the brain's pole in music. There has been some research looking at differences between non musicians and professional musicians. I don't think we have the basic grounding yet to be able to make finer distinctions.

Bagpuss


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 11:12 AM

I was told (though I suspect it could be an urban myth) that some music will invoke violent tendancies. The guy telling me reckoned that whatever a fast march time is will do it which is why soldiers in old battles were backed up by drummers rattling off a fast march. Could be worth a few minutes research I guess?

This is, apparantly, why young males at disco's tend to become agressive or at least macho! Dunno if I believe it. Now, if disco's rang to the sound of the highland war pipes I could well believe it...

Cheers

Dave the Gnome


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: wilco
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 11:16 AM

I have never been to a rock and roll show or a rap show, but the movies that I have seen of them would sure indicate agressive behavior is stimulated at some of them.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 12:34 PM

Amos, you've got it backwards. Sound comes to us first through the organs in our ears and brains, then we react with our minds and emotions.



This is highly debatable. It does apperar that sound comes to us through the nervous system.

But sound is not music, nor do frequecies equal beauty. There is a definite round-trip to the soul involved when the impact of music on the emotions and the nervous system is involved.

Your version would be like praising a telephone for being able to hold such interesting conversations. Unless you believe that a nervous system is a Someone, which is almost as problematic as voting Republican. Ya gotta pay attention to the little man behind the curtain!


A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 01:21 PM

Au contraire. There are many brains without minds, but there can be no mind unless there's a brain first.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 01:42 PM

AU contraire. Anyone who has ever found themselves outside a body, or looking down on a dead one, is quite aware that the images, thoughts and other paraphrenalia that make up the mind travel right along with you whether you happen to be connected to a brain or not.
'Course, it is more comfortable in the short term to ignore this side of human nature and relax into the secure fortress of the brainpan as an identity. But long term, it's an expensive lease indeed, with highly significant back-end chartges! :>)


A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: dorareever
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 03:24 PM

But aren't soul and mind neurologic things?

I'm a materialist,myself.My soul is my body.My body is my soul.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 05:02 PM

Well, see above. If. as i said, you had ever had the delightful or surprising experience of being separate from your body you would discover quite a difference, I reckon. "Don't all stories come with telephones?"

The body is a communication device, a cross between a credit card and a seeing-eye dog. Might as well conclude, as in one science fiction story of a survey done by aliens of Earth, that all Earthlings have wheels and gasoline engines. And many of them keep little bipeds as pets! :>)

Depends on what you look at and when, I guess.

My own opinion is that identifying with a physical structure like a brain or a body is a retreat, however justified it may seem at the time.

A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: dorareever
Date: 11 Oct 02 - 05:16 PM

There are still electric impulses...when I say body I don't mean cells or organic things,more like matter of the quintessential kind (subtle matter)..


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 15 Oct 02 - 06:24 AM

Amos - you might find this story interesting.

"Brain Spot Found for Out-of-Body Feeling

Trigger Located but Neurological Cause Not Explained
By   Lisa Habib
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD
WebMD Medical News


Sept. 18, 2002 -- Have you ever felt as if you were watching yourself from outside of yourself? Many people report having such out-of-body experiences. Now scientists say they've found the place in the brain that triggers these phenomena.


Swiss researchers were treating an epileptic woman when they found it. They were using an electrode to stimulate her brain, trying to find which area was causing seizures. In the process, they stimulated a site called the angular gyrus. When that happened, the woman said she could "see [herself] lying in bed, from above."


They also found that depending on the position in which the woman was lying, the perceived appearance of her legs changed during the brain stimulation. With her upper body at a 45-degree angle and her legs outstretched, she said her legs looked as if they were "becoming shorter." With her knees bent at 90 degrees, she said her legs looked like they were moving toward her face.


The Geneva University Hospital neurologists were able to repeatedly produce out-of-body experiences in the woman, who said she also got the feeling of "lightness" and "floating" near the ceiling.


They say their findings show that these sensations can be artificially induced. But they don't know the exact neurological reason. Their findings appear in the Sept. 19 issue of Nature.

© 2002 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Wolfgang
Date: 15 Oct 02 - 06:50 AM

A list of references

I wish I knew more about that interesting field, but I know none of the references mentioned, so I won't give any advice, except:

I'd start with Hodges (1996). It looks promising to me.

Thanks for that story (link), Bagpuss. Most interesting for me.

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 15 Oct 02 - 09:21 AM


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 15 Oct 02 - 09:53 AM

Well, as Popeye used to say, "Faskinating!". I do suspect, though, that it is kinda like those simulated voices they use in phone menu trees. In other words the fact that a spot in the brain either (a) stimulates perceptic distortion making the person feel the way they feel when having an out-of-body experience or (b) actually does somehow unhook her from her body to some degree is an interesting but artificial phenomenon. I'd be really interested if it turned out that this one case actually led to a universal method which let people out of their heads! The literature I've seen on near-death and other kinds of OOB stuff indicates that such experiences make people more aware of the value of life, more compassionate, more insightful -- all very subjective of course, but very good therapy if you can do it on a stable basis.

I would suspect there would be a reactionary backlash against, if it were ever promoted on a large scale, though. It would ruin so many control games!! Awful thought -- spiritual beings jumping in and out of bodies at will, aware of their own nature and discovering capabilities they'd never been allowed to play with before. Telepathy runs amuck! Remote viewing!! It would shake western civ to its roots!! Wodda catastrophe!! :>)



A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Pied Piper
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 08:47 AM

Hi Amos.
What would you say is the relationship of a program to a computer?
Are programs spiritual entities that have existence without computers to run them?
What happens to them when the computer is switched of?
Suppose a catastrophe destroyed life on earth, would the programs pass over to the other side.
    I think not.
Whilst not implying that human intelligence is entirely produced by algorithmic processes or that the human "program" could be extracted from the Brain, I think the relationship of mind to body is essentially the same.
No Minds without Brains.
If Brains aren't necessary why did they evolve?
    All the best PP.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Fibula Mattock
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 09:37 AM

I can only go on the neurobiological information I have on visual processes, but I reckon it's probably analogous to audio.

In vision, processes in the brain determine what we see, i.e. colour, form, pattern, shapes, motion, etc. The visual stimuli cause responses. Our brains compare the stimulus with previous representations - visual recognition. We don't have to understand art for our brain to respond to it.
A lovely book on this subject is "Inner Vision" by Semir Zeki, a neurologist. I don't know if there's a audio-perception equivalent anywhere though. He does have an interesting point at the start of his book.
He writes: "In my book, A Vision of the Brain, I wrote somewhat unconventionally of Shakespeare and of Wagner as amongst the greatest of neurologists, 'for they, at least, did know how to probe the mind of man with the techniques of language and of music and understood perhaps better than most what it is that moves the mind of man'... untold millions, belonging to different cultures around the world, have responded to the music of Wagner, in happinness as well as sorrow. Through music, Wagner, Beethoven and other great composers were able to communicate feelings that many find difficult to express in words; indeed, Wagner once said that no one should worry if they do not understand his libretto - 'the music will make everything perflectly clear'. Both, in other words, understood something fundamental about the psychological make-up of man which depends ultimately upon the neurological organisation of the brain, even if we are remote from knowing that precise organisation."

So, can't the same be said for music as for vision? We process the frequencies; responses and recognitions occur; we react.

One last thing - is there a reason why we should determine a difference bewteen a mind and a brain? Human perception is by no means a well-understood area; neurobiology still has a long way to go also.
Is it such a bad thing if our brains have such great responses, if these responses are what constitute our soul?


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 01:24 PM

PP:

I think you're missing something. There is an unbounded number of relays between any source of a communication and the recipient thereof. E.g., you create some thoughts you'd like to send out; you translate them into concepts, words, letters and then pound some keys whioch relays them into electronic patterns using the logic of bytes, they transfer hither and yon as packets, as temporary switch settings in registers, as microwaves, as optical packets, then they get demodulated back into bytes, then they get translated into switch settings in a register, then into control pulses in an electron gun into energy levels on phosphors or some such, then into light impusles from aa moinitor, thence into the eyes, brain and nerves of the recipient, thence into neural patterns from which they are translated by the owner into words to concepts and understanding.

A program is just a relay of thinking by a programmer. It's a temporary logical structure in a medium -- switch settings or whatever.

A person, however, is not just a temporary stting of neurological switches, with an end state comparable to the no-settings state of a turned off computer.

Programs come from someone. You, me, someone. So do oral noises, keystrokes, letters and any other media used ofr translating intention across distance, including telepathic impulses.

Identifying your own spiritual nature with the end-tailings of a process born in mud and lightning is pretty amoral and apathetic. It denies (IMHO) the highest and best of our natures in favor of dull mechanics. And it provides the basis for the cruelest of indifference and torpid mechanistic schemes such as that used by the late USSR.

Feel free, if it appeals to you, to account yourself merely a lump of electrified matter adrift in life's stewpot. Me, I got other notions to pursue.

A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Alice
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 01:31 PM

I didn't have time to read all the thread in detail so I hope I'm not duplicating something already posted.... I found this on an Australian site this morning when I was searching some singing related info.

http://www.australianacademicpress.com.au/Publications/av/avabstracts.html
Primal Singing
Janice Chapman and Pamela Davis

In 1995 at the First World Voice Congress, held in Portugal, Australian-born singer and teacher Janice Chapman met by accident with speech pathologist Pamela Davis in a breakfast buffet line and began a conversation about human beings and why they make sound. The key words in this conversation were "emotional", "primal" and "vocal". Janice Chapman, Australian opera singer and singing teacher had been living and working in London for over 30 years. Pamela Davis had a long standing interest in voice and had been engaged in animal-based neurophysiological research in Sydney. They discovered that although they came from very different perspectives and disciplines, they had arrived at a very similar understanding about voice. Now, three years on, they have been collaborating on research about singing at the National Voice Centre at The University of Sydney and are in regular contact from their respective bases in London and Sydney.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: EBarnacle1
Date: 16 Oct 02 - 01:35 PM

It is more than merely reception, it is all in interpretation. When we hopefully develop, we learn to interpret certain combinations as pleasant or unpleasant. How many of us have responded to a novel music or other experience as unpleasant [even for a few moments] and then learned to hear or see something in as we kept attending to the stimulus?


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 06:20 AM

"Identifying your own spiritual nature with the end-tailings of a process born in mud and lightning is pretty amoral and apathetic. It denies (IMHO) the highest and best of our natures in favor of dull mechanics. "

I can't agree there. I find it amazing and awe inspiring that the simple processes of evolution by natural selection can produce the amazing diversity of life on this earth. And for me that includes the evolution of the human mind. Your argument reminds me of the arguments against Darwin that we couldn't be "decended from monkeys" as that would make us no more than animals and we would lose our special seperateness.

That simplistic processes can combine to produce amazingly complexity is amazing to me and not at all amoral or apathetic.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Pied Piper
Date: 17 Oct 02 - 09:01 AM

Amos. You are quite wrong in trying to caricature me as a gross materialist. Like you I am a musician. What I create is ephemeral and non-material yet profoundly real.
   It is deeply arrogant to dismiss the evolutionary processes that gave rise to human and animal intelligence as "dull mechanics". It might be dull to you, but some of us are interested in how the Universe made us.
   Of coarse it is your right to pursue other "notions" not supported by evidence, and like an Ostrich burry your head in a nice patch of warm sand.
That's not enough for me.
         All the best PP.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Amos
Date: 18 Oct 02 - 02:36 AM

Please forgive me if I seemed to be characterizig you as a gross materialist. No offense was intended.

I am not pursuing any notions not supported by evidence.

Nor have I dismissed the evolutionary process -- I am afraid I am as much in awe of it and understand it as little as anyone.

The evolution of telephones is awesome in its complexity, likerwise, but it would be idiocy to think that conversations are created by them, or that, by speaking through one, you are one! Silly notion indeed.

However, if you do believe that the remarkable mess of meat that you call your body is in fact all you are, then, well, that's how it will be. I think otherwise; Nemaste.

I don't see any sand around. Actually, to my way of thinking, it takes more courage to face the facts of one's spiritual side squarely, without flinching, than it does to settle down into a comfortably solid belief in self-as-body.

It's fine with me if this doesn't appeal to you, but I think you might want to understand what I was talking about before you start casting aspersions. In any case, it certainly is not fit grounds for clashing and yammering back and forth about, is it? I scarcely think that would lead anywhere productive. Perhaps we can agree to simply hold differing thoughts.

A


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Cllr
Date: 18 Oct 02 - 06:41 AM

Oliver Sacks (Neurobiologist who wrote among others, Man who mistook his wife for a Hat, and Awakenings )has got some interesting stuff on music and Neurobiology. I went out with his neice for a couple of years and she is a pianist- in one of his books he uses some of her work with one on his patients that might be of interest. Cllr


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: wilco
Date: 18 Oct 02 - 09:28 AM

Again, what I was addressing is work done on electronic brain imaging (Brain scanning) and music.
Has enough of this kind of work been done to:
    a. identify areas of the brain stimulated by music.
    b. are the areas in any way culturally selective.
    c. parallel work done with pstchiatric disorders.
    d. ages of development (ages of kids) when brain most
       susceptible to music stimulation (and learning, etc.)
    e. music amd learning studies with brain scanning technology.
   
    These are just a few of the possiblities. I suppose that I'm more aware of these studies, because I've seen the revolution that brain scanning has casued in understanding psychiatric disorders. The same thing will probably happen in music too. I don't know how, but we can speculate.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 18 Oct 02 - 09:41 AM

Here's a study that shows changes in brain blood flow accomanying emotional changes elicited by music.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 18 Oct 02 - 09:59 AM

Also, from this site


Musical Arts

Skills necessary for music perception and the brain regions involved

Pitch discrimination

Pitch refers to the sound's frequency.
Subcortical auditory areas process pitch.
Chord perception and the perception of other sound combinations

Chords are a combination of usually 3 or more different pitches.
More complicated sounds are made up of both the pitches in the chord and also energy from other frequencies (harmonics).
These more complicated sounds must be processed cortically.
Heschl's gyrus in the right hemisphere seems to be important for perception of complex musical sounds.
Right prefrontal cortex may be involved in working memory for complex musical sounds.
Rhythm

Rhythm refers to the temporal relationship between sounds.
Both hemispheres seem to be able to process rhythm information (despite the fact that one would have expected that the left hemisphere might be better at this).
Melody

Melody refers to the combination of pitch and rhythm.
Two areas are involved in the processing of melody and seem to work together, but they are not redundant.
anterior right temporal lobe
bilateral Heschl's gyrus
Both hemispheres seem to be important for music perception.

The reason for this need for bilateral processing of music is nicely illustrated by the study of memory for music. The words and the melody are highly integrated in music. Therefore, the words occur in the context of the tune and visa-versa. Thus, we find that both hemispheres are involved in music memory probably because of this close relationship between the words and the melody.

Music performance

Musical production involves lots of brain regions and musical production does not involve the same areas as are used for the production of language and speech.

Singing

Singing can involve both the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere.
One can lose the ability to sing without losing the ability to speak.
Playing a musical instrument

Reading music involves the bilateral extrastriate, in an area that is more superior than the area that processes text.
Playing music involves bilateral superior parietal lobe (guiding movements in space) and the supplementary motor cortex.
Across both these artistic domains, there are examples of artists and musicians that could continue to work even after brain damage. This argues that experts are using many brain regions while they learn and perfect their artistic ability.


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Subject: RE: Neurobiology and music
From: Bagpuss
Date: 18 Oct 02 - 10:05 AM

And finally, this article might be useful.

Music on the brain:
Researchers explore the biology of music
By William J. Cromie
Gazette Staff

Babies come into the world with musical preferences. They begin to respond to music while still in the womb. At the age of 4 months, dissonant notes at the end of a melody will cause them to squirm and turn away. If they like a tune, they may coo.

Scientists cite such responses as evidence that certain rules for music are wired into the brain, and musicians violate them at the risk of making their audiences squirm. Even the Smashing Pumpkins, a hard-rock group, play by some of the same rules of harmony that Johann Sebastian Bach did in the 18th century.

"Music is in our genes," says Mark Jude Tramo, a musician, prolific songwriter, and neuroscientist at the Harvard Medical School. "Many researchers like myself are trying to understand melody, harmony, rhythm, and the feelings they produce, at the level of individual brain cells. At this level, there may be a universal set of rules that governs how a limited number of sounds can be combined in an infinite number of ways."

"All humans come into the world with an innate capability for music," agrees Kay Shelemay, professor of music at Harvard. "At a very early age, this capability is shaped by the music system of the culture in which a child is raised. That culture affects the construction of instruments, the way people sound when they sing, and even the way they hear sound. By combining research on what goes on in the brain with a cultural understanding of music, I expect we'll learn a lot more than we would by either approach alone."

Besides increasing basic understanding, Tramo believes that studying the biology of music can lead to practical applications related to learning, deafness, and personal improvement. For example, there's evidence that music can help lower blood pressure and ease pain.


Looking for a music center

A human brain is divided into two hemispheres, and the right hemisphere has been traditionally identified as the seat of music appreciation. However, no one has found a "music center" there, or anywhere else. Studies of musical understanding in people who have damage to either hemisphere, as well as brain scans of people taken while listening to tunes, reveal that music perception emerges from the interplay of activity in both sides of the brain.

Some brain circuits respond specifically to music; but, as you would expect, parts of these circuits participate in other forms of sound processing. For example, the region of the brain dedicated to perfect pitch is also involved in speech perception.

Music and other sounds entering the ears go to the auditory cortex, assemblages of cells just above both ears. The right side of the cortex is crucial for perceiving pitch as well as certain aspects of melody, harmony, timbre, and rhythm. (All the people tested were right-handed, so brain preferences may differ in lefties.)

The left side of the brain in most people excels at processing rapid changes in frequency and intensity, both in music and words. Such rapid changes occur when someone plucks a violin string versus running a bow across it.

Both left and right sides are necessary for complete perception of rhythm. For example, both hemispheres need to be working to tell the difference between three-quarter and four-quarter time.

The front part of your brain (frontal cortex), where working memories are stored, also plays a role in rhythm and melody perception.

"It's not clear what, if any, part these hearing centers play in 'feeling' music," Tramo notes. "Other areas of the brain deal with emotion and pleasure. There is a great deal of effort going on to map connections between the auditory cortex and parts of the brain that participate in emotion."

Researchers have found activity in brain regions that control movement even when people just listen to music without moving any parts of their bodies. "If you're just thinking about tapping out a rhythm, parts of the motor system in your brain light up," Tramo notes.

"Music is as inherently motor as it is auditory," he continues. "Many of us 'conduct' while listening to classical music, hum along with show tunes, or dance to popular music. Add the contributions of facial expressions, stage lights, and emotions, and you appreciate the complexity of what our brain puts together while we listen and interact with music in a concert hall or mosh pit."


Practical applications

Understanding the biology of music could allow people to use it better in medical and other areas where evidence indicates music produces benefits beyond entertainment.

Following heart bypass surgery, patients often experience erratic changes in blood pressure. Such changes are treated with drugs. Studies show that those in intensive care units where background music is played need lower doses of these drugs compared with patients in units where no music is played.

Scientists and medical doctors are investigating the value of musiclike games to aid dyslexics. When dyslexics play a game that calls for responses to tones that come very fast, it reportedly helps them to read better. "The approach is controversial," Tramo admits, "but there's enough favorable evidence for researchers to continue testing it."

Some hospitals play soft background music in intensive care units for premature babies. Researchers have found that such music, as well as a nurse's or mother's humming, helps babies to gain weight faster and to leave the unit earlier than premies who don't hear these sounds.

On the other end of the age scale, music has been used to calm Alzheimer's patients. At mealtime in nursing homes or hospitals these people may be difficult to organize. Fights even occur. The right kind of music, it has been demonstrated, reduces confusion and disagreements.

Investigators have also found that music lowers blood pressure in certain situations, and it seems to increase the efficiency of oxygen consumption by the heart. "One study showed that the heart muscle of people exercising on treadmills didn't work as hard when people listened to music as it did when they exercised in silence," Tramo notes.

Then there are endless anecdotes about athletes using music to enhance their performance. Pitcher Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres, for example, listens to AC/DC to get psyched up in a game. Tramo ran to "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones when he won a gold medal in the 100-yard dash in high school. To determine how much difference music makes, however, the performance of an athlete who listens to music would have to be compared with that in games when he or she didn't listen.

Tramo believes that music and dancing preceded language. Archaeologists have discovered flutes made from animal bones by Neanderthals living in Eastern Europe more than 50,000 years ago. No human culture is known that does not have music.

"Despite this, large gaps exist in our knowledge about the underlying biology," Tramo points out. We don't know how the brain decides if music is consonant and dissonant. We don't know whether practicing music helps people master other skills such as math or reading diagrams, although evidence that merely listening to Mozart in the womb improves IQ scores is weak or nonexistent.

Tramo made a choice between composing music and studying its biology at the end of medical school. When he and his roommate at Yale recorded a demonstration album called "Men With Tales," both RCA and Columbia Records said they wanted to hear more. But Tramo decided to stay with medicine. He didn't quit music though. Recently, he and his band recorded a song, "Living in Fantasy," which ranks in the top 40 of MP3 (accessible by computer) recordings made in Boston.

"I'm working on the neurobiology of harmony," Tramo says, "but I find time to compose and play music. Bringing the two together is like bringing together work and play."


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Mudcat time: 15 January 11:56 PM EST

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