The Brain-Music Connection
Experts are trying to understand how our brains can hear and play music. A stereo system puts out vibrations that travel through the air and somehow get inside the ear canal. These vibrations tickle the eardrum and are transmitted into an electrical signal that travels through the auditory nerve to the brain stem, where it is reassembled into something we perceive as music.
Johns Hopkins researchers have had dozens of jazz performers and rappers improvise music while lying down inside an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machine to watch and see which areas of their brains light up.
“Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes one otolaryngologist.
It has always been believed that music had extra sensory strength. It vibrates the soul, so to speak. Literally, it vibrates the body and all of the other surroundings. It has power.
You’ve likely heard a song that evoked a memory or a feeling. This is common for most (if not all) people. That is shown, as an example, in the documentary “Alive Inside,” in which director, Dan Cohen, displays the power of music first hand. Patients with alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have a chance to listen to their favorite music from the past and things take a turn for the better.
“I didn’t know there was already research about music and memory,” recalls Cohen. “I just wanted to help.”
And help he did. This instance of one patient, Henry, shows a swinging change from inert and unresponsive to tapping and singing to the beat. He also seems to become himself again.
With music becoming so prevalent in modern society (we don’t need record players and giant tape decks) a simple iPod can change the life of so many, so quickly.
After Henry’s music is taken off, he snaps to reality, answering questions directly. “I’m crazy about music,” he says, emphatically.
When asked what his favorite song is, he breaks into a rendition of Cab Calloway’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
“You see the tension releasing (as they listen to their iPods),” says Susan Crossley, a certified dementia practitioner and activities director at Bethany Village in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “The foot tapping, the wrinkles in their foreheads fade away and you know the music is reaching them.”
The research continues, as to what exactly is happening, but one thing is for sure. Keep listening.