An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of art & life ...

An ordinary person's thoughts on the complexities of life ... or just ramblings from the mind of a working Mum with far too little time to think!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Our brains on music

I read a fascinating book on the beautiful mystery that is music and the brain. It is a book recommended by the New York Times, "This is your brain on music - the science of a human obsession" by the Neuroscientist, Dr Daniel Levitin ~ truly a mind-opening read!

Why humans love music and can express so much through music has always baffled scientists. Some argue that music is nothing more than an accident of evolution. Others believe there is a direct correlation between exposure to music and increased performance of the brain. One such theory that I read about recently, but cannot remember the source, is that the right music can move the body into alpha waves which puts the two hemispheres of the brain into sync. Research shows that listening to music co-ordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else - and playing music, even more. Many people now believe that music training improves the memory of young children and that early exposure to music and art definitely enhances development of their young brains.
So, does music, and art, have a measurable impact on our brains? Can music help to develop our brains as well as have a calming, almost regenerative affect when we are stressed and anxious? Should we expose our babies to all genres of music right from conception?
Fantasia, the Disney movie, illustrates how inanimate objects come to life to music. It's a cartoon that so many of us have loved and continue to love, but researchers are now seriously looking at the use of music therapy to animate the brains of those who suffer from autism, anxiety, depression and a host of other conditions.
The author of this book is a performing jazz musician as well as a neuroscientist and his book echoes the marriage of science and art in his life. I have a young daughter who has always had music in her head. She sang before she could speak and moved to any rhythm she could hear. She begged to learn to play the piano and when she first heard the voice-like sounds of a cello at the age of 6, she knew it was what she wanted to play. When she puts the bow on the strings, it is almost as though she turns a switch which transports her feelings and emotions to the cello. She cannot envisage a life without music ~ and when I watch her play, I can believe that music really does animate our brains.

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