How Our Brain Understands & Organizes Musical Language


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How Our Brain Understands & Organizes Musical Language

The Journal of Neuroscience recently conducted a study on music and the brain, and what they found was quite intriguing: not only does listening to music improve cognitive abilities in identifying musical notes and rhythms, it also helps process spoken language as well. Scientist believe that this is largely due to the fact that language and music both consist of a series of patterns and symbols. In order to further understand the impact that music has on the brain, lets explore how our brain processes and organizes musical language.

A Quick Guide to How the Brain Functions 

Anyone that has studied the brain knows that with proper training, our brains have the potential to grow and strengthen at any time. This neurological development process relies heavily upon neurons, which are very similar to spark plugs. When we process information in new or more strenuous ways, these neurons begin speaking to one another by firing electrical pulses called brain waves. With the help of scalp electrodes, scientists are now able to see and hear these brainwaves, giving researchers the opportunity to conduct more thorough and in-depth research on our brain, how it functions, expands and deteriorates.

The Neurological Impact of Music 

Due to its multi-disciplinary nature, when someone is listening or creating music, the brain is stimulated via multisensory neurons which help expand the neurological networks that link together different areas of the brain. Furthermore, it is also well known that this process of creating and organizing sounds is one of the best activities for increasing brain plasticity and generate new neurons.

Music also has the capability to influence the emotional portion of our brain to such degree that scientists now consider music to be a therapeutic tool promoting positive brain wave activity. For these very reasons, music has been a known favorite pastime of almost every culture, with traces of its origins going back to early civilizations.

Yet, why exactly does sound have any relation to our emotions at all? This question puzzled scientists for quite some time, but what they discovered – and are continuously researching – is that the effects of music are largely due to the ways that the brain translates, recognizes and organizes music.

 

how our brain understands

 

How Exactly Does the Brain Translate Music? 

Interestingly enough, scientists found that the methods that the brain uses to process music is more complex – yet also more efficient – than how a computer processes music. This efficiency is predominately due to the consistent processes that the brain undergoes, regardless of the listener’s preferences or the music’s genre. For example, Daniel Abrams, a researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine, found in one of his recent research projects that music influenced all participants’ brains in the same way, even if they weren’t musically trained. In particular, Abrams noted that music stimulated neurological regions associated with movement, attention, planning and memory. So in order to process and translate all of the different sonic melodies that it is hearing, the regions of the brain must rely and link with regions that they may not link with in any other scenario, thus creating a stronger, more diverse neurological network. And the best thing about this is that it occurs in every brain – it makes no difference whether you are musically trained or not.

The strange finding that our brains process and translate music in the same fashion, regardless of training, has helped scientists piece together some clues on how humans have evolved thus far. For example, many scientists now believe that music played an integral part in the evolutionary process, as it may not have only been a unifier that helped build relationships, but it could have also helped humans with memorization of knowledge or history.

Yet one puzzling question still remains: if our brains are undergoing the same process when we listen to music, why do some of us like Bach while others prefer Justin Bieber? This question of musical preference is predominately linked to emotions, whereas different types of music stimulates the brain at different intensities, depending on the emotional portfolio of the individual. So the emotional region of a Bach fan’s brain would be highly stimulated while listening to Christmas Oratorio, whereas a Justin Bieber fan might find the music to be “stale” due to less stimulation.

What these findings show is that despite being a collection of sounds, our brain does not merely process theses noises as regular sounds. The repetition and melodies that are incorporated into music force our brain to make unique neurological connections that translating typical sounds do not require. So whether you’re teaching a group of young musicians or an advanced trumpet wizard, you can be confident that you’re helping them reach their potential by creating stronger, more complex neurological networks.

 

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2014/09/10/343681493/this-is-your-brain-this-is-your-brain-on-music

http://www.musicianbrain.com/papers/Altenmuller_Schlaug_ApollosGift_NewAspects_MusicTherapy.pdf

http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/129/10/2528

Image source: http://www.edmtunes.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/musicbrain.jpg

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