This is your brain on Music!

a presentation by Jacynthe Arsenault from Kidsnotes Music, on the book by Daniel Levitin

What is Music?

Music is organized sound.
Vibrating reaches our ears, which vibrate at the same rate as the object making the sound allowing us to identify the timbre and the pitch. 7 major elements of music: pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, tempo, meter and loudness.
Foot tapping Rhythm refers to the length of a note, and putting notes of different lengths together. (Secret knocking on a door: shave-and-a-haircut, shampoo!) Tempo refers to the pace (how quickly you would tap your foot) and meter refers to when you tap your foot hard versus light. Rhythm is a crucial part of what turns sound into music. It’s why a car driving away, a jackhammer or a baby crying doesn’t sound musical, although there can be a certain musicality to it and composers are often inspired by such sounds in their compositions. (Vivaldi’s the seasons, for example) Tempo often sets the mood, with fast songs seeming happier and slow songs sad or melancholy. Meter refers to the way in which the the pulses or beats are grouped together. STRONG-weak-weak-weak vs STRONG-weak-weak. (Think We will rock you, 3 beats plus a rest, vs My Favourite Things, a waltz in three-four time)

Loudness: Very tiny changes in loudness can have a profound effect on the emotional communication of music. If a song is played entirely at the same loudness, is would seem boring and emotionless. (metzo-blando!) Also, as we discussed, loudness affects how we perceive rhythm. (First beat louder than the next three)
The Brain We know that different parts of the brain control different functions. For example, damage to an area behind your left ear causes difficulty in understanding spoken language, damage at the very top of your head causes difficulty moving your fingers, and damage to an area in the center of your brain can block the ability to form new memories.
Musical activity involves nearly every region of the brain that we know about. (See page 84) Different aspects of the music are handled by different neural regions, which are then grouped to form a whole. Listening: brain stem. Following along with music you know: hippocampus (memory centre). Tapping along: cerebellum’s timing circuits. Performing: frontal lobes for planning your behaviour, motor cortex and sensory cortex, which provides the tactile feedback that you have pressed the right key on your instrument. Reading music: visual cortex. Hearing or recalling lyrics: language centres. Emotions we experience: amygdala, the heart of emotional processing in the cortex.

What makes a musician?

Out of millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play as adults. But even just a small exposure to music lessons as a child creates neural circuits for music processing that are enhanced and more efficient than those who lack training. Music lessons teach us to listen better, and they accelerate our ability to discern structure and form in music, making it easier for us to tell what music we like and what we don’t like. Becoming an expert musician simply takes time and stick-to-it-ive-ness, the same as becoming and expert at anything else. Music students who became experts practiced twice as much as those who didn’t, regardless of perceived ‘talent’ at the start of their training.

Conclusion Based on the studies that show how many parts of the brain are used when making music, and how all of these different parts work together to make a whole unit (song), it has been shown that playing music help children in all aspects of their development (gross motor, fine motor, emotional, language etc), as well as adults. (Delayed onset of Alzheimers, for example) And one doesn’t need to become an expert to see the benefits. (Adult violin student feels good when picking up the instrument)

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