Melodies and rhythms of the brain: what neurosciences say about music
Playing musical instruments can be considered a kind of sport for the brain: it involves almost all of its areas, because musicians have to strain the visual, auditory and motor cortex as much as possible (and there is also an emotional, creative aspect of music). In the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, there is another issue dedicated to the neurobiology of music. A lot of articles come out on this subject – from intriguing to strange (for example, scientists tried unsuccessfully to find out what a “musical groove” was by questioning experimental subjects). Such studies have a very small sample, but they allow you to look at music from an unexpected angle. We talk about some of them.
On the same wavelength: what happens in the head of musicians
When musicians start playing together at a jam session, not only their musical parts are synchronized in time, but also the rhythms of the brain. Researchers from Berlin recorded electroencephalograms of 12 pairs of guitarists to better understand how musical magic works. Guitarists played jazz fusion while brain activity was recorded using electrodes on the head. While listening to the metronome and later during the joint game, a significant similarity of their brain activity and synchronization of the oscillation phase were found. “Our research shows,” says study co-author Ulman Linderberg, “that coordinated actions of people are preceded and accompanied by synchronization of their brain waves.” Simply put, a close connection is established between the musicians, a kind of “hyperbrain.” A study of the game of musicians of the Finnish Symphony Orchestra showed that playing music also activates the genes responsible for memory and learning.
Musical experience changes the characteristics of auditory perception. The brain activity of professional musicians during a game varies depending on what instrument they use: for winds, in addition to handwork, the use of the mouth and tongue is characteristic; for strings or keyboards – the coordinated work of two hands and sometimes the connection of the legs (for working with the pedal). But, as a group of researchers from University College London found out, this effect persists when listening to tracks. Scientists invited musicians – 20 experienced guitarists and as many beatboxers; using MRI, they studied the activity of their brain while listening to music and compared with the results of a control group of non-musicians. All musicians strongly activated the sensorimotor cortex, and they responded more to musical fragments that coincided with their professional abilities: the guitar coordination departments “shone” on the guitarists, and the beatboxers were responsible for the movements of the speech apparatus.
The brain plasticity of musicians also amazes researchers. An interesting case is Pat Martino, a jazz guitarist from Philadelphia, 70% of whose frontal lobe was removed due to an aneurysm. After the operation, he suffered from memory loss and completely lost his ability to play the guitar – but, to the surprise of doctors, in the next two years he completely regained his jazz playing style (having received an impressive amount of music awards).
Leonard Bernstein conducts at Carnegie Hall. William Gottlieb. 1946 year
Play from memory: how music improves cognitive abilities
Musical abilities are closely related to linguistic ones. “Music itself is a universal language” is not only a cliche. Infants are born able to recognize rhythm, and it is this ability to distinguish rhythmic sequences in speech that allows us to master our native language. Playing musical instruments and singing develop a region of the brain that is responsible for both the perception of rhythm and speech capabilities. A number of studies show that early learning of music for children improves performance in language acquisition, strengthens verbal memory and helps to increase vocabulary – and an hour of classes per week is enough to get the result. Indirectly, the same studies are confirmed by the fact that a large number of people with perfect hearing are in the Asian region, where tonal languages are widespread, in which loudness and tone affect the meaning of what was said, where children develop the ability to recognize the difference in pitch of sounds from an early age, which affects their musical abilities.
Researchers Jessica Strong and Alison Midden compared older practicing musicians to people who weren’t involved in music, and found that musicians outperformed non-musicians in language tests and tests that test organizational abilities. Musical activities also reduce the risk of developing senile dementia and memory degradation, because they actively exercise the brain. This is evidenced by the results of a recent experiment involving three groups of women with an average age of 77 years. Women from the first group studied music (played drums, sang or used percussion), from the second – participated in the discussion of literary works, from the third – did not learn anything.