Please note: this Brain and Music Blog has moved! Our new address is See you there!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Can Music Heal the Brain After a Stroke?

This is so important for the public to know about! Yes, music can heal the brain and it is free!!

For more information on my surgery headphones ( programmed for stroke recovery, please contact me at chantdoc (at)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Demonstration of how the brain predicts music!

Our brains expect certain melodic, harmonic and rhythmic eventualities! This is a great demonstration of that!

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Bobby McFerrin is the brilliant man who wrote "Don't Worry, Be Happy." In the summer of 2009, he was a presenter at the World Science Festival. Here's what NPR had to say:

"World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

by Linda Holmes

At the World Science Festival in June, Bobby McFerrin did this demonstration with the audience. It's a little exercise using a pentatonic (five-note, rather than seven-note) scale, and it's really something."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Music and the Brain: A Therapeutic Duet?

"Zip-a-dee doo dah, Zip-a-dee-ay ..."

--A. Wrubel, R. Gilbert

"Do-wah diddy-diddy dum diddy-do ..."

--The Moffats

"Super-cali-fragilistic-expialidocious ..."

--The Sherman Brothers

"What an odd thing it is to see an entire species--billions of people--playing with, listening to, meaningless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for much of their time by what they call 'music."'

--Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

"Music is playing inside my head, I Over and over and over again, My friend, there's no end to the music ..."

--Carole King

Throughout human history and in all known cultures, people have been immersed in music. Humans passionately create, listen to and dance to it. We Americans, most of whom have no particular musical talent, spend hours daily listening to music on car radios and MP3 players, and as background in offices, homes, TV shows and movies.

The fact that music is such an integral part of being human raises intriguing questions, some of which are relevant to MS. Does the brain have specific regions that respond to music? Could people who have conditions that affect the brain, such as MS, obtain therapeutic effects from music?

The neuroanatomy of music

Music is experienced through the simultaneous activation of a remarkable number of brain regions. Listening to music involves two major processes--perception and emotional response. Through perception we recognize music's physical characteristics--the rhythm, harmony and tone. Our emotional response evokes feelings--sadness, happiness, relaxation and more. The two processes, perceiving and feeling, activate multiple brain regions that are interconnected through complex and vast networks. They range from the front of the brain (frontal lobes) to the back (cerebellum), from top (motor cortex) to the bottom (amygdala), and from outer surface (auditory cortex) to the inner core (nucleus accumbens and hippocampus). Creating or dancing to music activates an even greater number of brain regions.

Importantly, perceiving and feeling music are two distinct processes. For example, there are people who are gifted at perceiving music, such as those with absolute pitch, but who are indifferent to its emotional effects. The reverse is true as well (and is more common)--there are many people who have little or no musical talent, including those who are tone-deaf, who are passionate about music. In other words, you don't need to be musical to be strongly affected by music and potentially to benefit from its therapeutic effects.

Why do we like music?

"I know it's only rock 'n' roll but I like it, like it, yes I do ..."--The Rolling Stones

The widespread activity in the brain that music arouses suggests that music serves a critical role in human existence. Some have proposed that music actually preceded language in human evolution, thus making it a core characteristic or instinct. There is considerable evidence that music is involved in sexual attraction, especially for men trying to attract women. (However, playing the clarinet in my high school band didn't seem to make me a chick magnet.) Music may, in a more general sense, promote social bonding and may also be important for cognitive development.

Music as medicine: studies in MS and other conditions

"'Cause music's been my therapy, Taking the pain from all my anatomy ..."--Marvin Gaye

"Music is the medicine of the mind."--John Logan

It is thought that music may act as a sort of tonic or jump-starter to activate or improve neurological function. MS may be particularly well-suited to respond to music therapy. Each person with MS has a unique collection of brain lesions that produces a unique collection of symptoms.

Music may be capable of accessing diverse brain regions in an individualized way.

Researchers have studied music therapy in MS and other neurological conditions, but most of the studies done so far have had limitations, such as small numbers of participants. Even so, it appears that music might alleviate a remarkably wide range of MS-related symptoms:

* Stress (music may be combined with other relaxation strategies-see Summer 2009 Momentum)

* Emotional problems such as anxiety and sadness, and difficulties with self-esteem, self-acceptance and coping

* Cognitive issues, including problems with memory, speech, or communication

* Weakness, poor coordination and walking difficulties

* Pain

To determine whether music therapy has definite therapeutic effects in MS, larger and more rigorous studies are needed.

What can you do now?

Music therapy is generally safe. The only precaution is that excessive noise (greater than 90 decibels) may increase blood pressure and impair hearing. Although studies of music in MS are limited at this time, music is readily available, and for those who are interested, it is certainly a reasonable approach to try. Music may be pursued on one's own or by consulting a professional music therapist.

Examples of approaches to try on your own include:


* Although many people listen casually, it may be helpful to be more thoughtful about the types of music one chooses and to be more attentive to them.

Creating music

* Play an instrument.

* Make simple movements, such as tapping a drumstick, along with music.

* Join a chorus or choir.

* Even if you're not musical, have a jam session with friends.

Moving or dancing

* Take dancing lessons.

* Just dance or move parts of the body to music.

Additional Information

Two outstanding lay books on music and the brain have been published recently:

* Musicophilia, by Dr. Oliver Sacks (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).

* This Is Your Brain on Music, by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin (New York: Penguin, 2006).

by Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD

Suzanne Darley, MA, REACE, reviewed and provided valuable input to this article.

Dr. Allen C. Bowling is the medical director of the Multiple Sclerosis Service and director of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Service at the Colorado Neurological Institute. He is also clinical associate professor of Neurology at the University of Colorado-Denver Health Sciences Center and author of Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis (2nd edition, Demos Medical Publishing). For more on CAM, visit his Web site,

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An excerpt from NOVA: The Musical Mind

Dr. Oliver Sacks, world-famous neurologist, has been study music and the brain for many years. This is a sampler of a recent special on NOVA that he did!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Your Brain on Music...interesting!

Using brain images of people listening to short symphonies by an obscure 18th-century composer, a research team from the Stanford University School of Medicine has gained valuable insight into how the brain sorts out the chaotic world around it.

The research team showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. Peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements—when seemingly nothing was happening.

Beyond understanding the process of listening to music, their work has far-reaching implications for how human brains sort out events in general. Their findings are published in the Aug. 2 issue of Neuron.

The researchers caught glimpses of the brain in action using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, which gives a dynamic image showing which parts of the brain are working during a given activity. The goal of the study was to look at how the brain sorts out events, but the research also revealed that musical techniques used by composers 200 years ago help the brain organize incoming information.

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“In a concert setting, for example, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention, but at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested,” said the paper’s senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurosciences.

“I’m not sure if the baroque composers would have thought of it in this way, but certainly from a modern neuroscience perspective, our study shows that this is a moment when individual brains respond in a tightly synchronized manner,” Menon said.

The team used music to help study the brain’s attempt to make sense of the continual flow of information the real world generates, a process called event segmentation. The brain partitions information into meaningful chunks by extracting information about beginnings, endings and the boundaries between events.

“These transitions between musical movements offer an ideal setting to study the dynamically changing landscape of activity in the brain during this segmentation process,” said Devarajan Sridharan, a neurosciences graduate student trained in Indian percussion and first author of the article.

No previous study, to the researchers’ knowledge, has directly addressed the question of event segmentation in the act of hearing and, specifically, in music. To explore this area, the team chose pieces of music that contained several movements, which are self-contained sections that break a single work into segments. They chose eight symphonies by the English late-baroque period composer William Boyce (1711-79), because his music has a familiar style but is not widely recognized, and it contains several well-defined transitions between relatively short movements.

The study focused on movement transitions—when the music slows down, is punctuated by a brief silence and begins the next movement. These transitions span a few seconds and are obvious to even a non-musician—an aspect critical to their study, which was limited to participants with no formal music training.

The researchers attempted to mimic the everyday activity of listening to music, while their subjects were lying prone inside the large, noisy chamber of an MRI machine. Ten men and eight women entered the MRI scanner with noise-reducing headphones, with instructions to simply listen passively to the music.

In the analysis of the participants’ brain scans, the researchers focused on a 10-second window before and after the transition between movements. They identified two distinct neural networks involved in processing the movement transition, located in two separate areas of the brain. They found what they called a “striking” difference between activity levels in the right and left sides of the brain during the entire transition, with the right side significantly more active.

In this foundational study, the researchers conclude that dynamic changes seen in the fMRI scans reflect the brain’s evolving responses to different phases of a symphony. An event change—the movement transition signaled by the termination of one movement, a brief pause, followed by the initiation of a new movement—activates the first network, called the ventral fronto-temporal network. Then a second network, the dorsal fronto-parietal network, turns the spotlight of attention to the change and, upon the next event beginning, updates working memory.

“The study suggests one possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music,” said Jonathan Berger, PhD, associate professor of music and a musician who is another co-author of the study. Music engages the brain over a period of time, he said, and the process of listening to music could be a way that the brain sharpens its ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.

According to the researchers, their findings expand on previous functional brain imaging studies of anticipation, which is at the heart of the musical experience. Even non-musicians are actively engaged, at least subconsciously, in tracking the ongoing development of a musical piece, and forming predictions about what will come next. Typically in music, when something will come next is known, because of the music’s underlying pulse or rhythm, but what will occur next is less known, they said.

Having a mismatch between what listeners expect to hear vs. what they actually hear—for example, if an unrelated chord follows an ongoing harmony—triggers similar ventral regions of the brain. Once activated, that region partitions the deviant chord as a different segment with distinct boundaries.

The results of the study “may put us closer to solving the cocktail party problem—how it is that we are able to follow one conversation in a crowded room of many conversations,” said one of the co-authors, Daniel Levitin, PhD, a music psychologist from McGill University who has written a popular book called This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How the Brain Works!

Ever wondered how the brain works? I sure have! For the average, non-medical professional person, this is a very good description:

Hope you enjoy this! I can tell you that listening to your favorite calm, soothing music definitely makes the brain work better! :-)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Psuedotumor cerebri: how can music make a difference?

Recently a friend of mine was given this diagnosis:  Psuedotumor cerebri.  She had been having terrible headaches and was experiencing increasingly blurry vision.  Today she had an MRI and a spinal tap.  Unfortunately, the spinal tap did not get any fluid so she has to have one done again on Monday.  The first thing I asked myself was whether or not music might be able to help.  Now hopefully on Monday she will at least take her iPod with her and have queued up some music that will distract her from the procedure.

There are many medical procedures that can be greatly eased simply by listening to music through headphones or on an iPod.  Think about this when you're told that you need a certain procedure and if possible, plan the music that you want to listen to very specifically in advance.  I can program headphones for you, but you can also do it for yourself if you have time.
Papilledema is defined as disc swelling produced by increased ICP; it may be asymmetric, UL, or BL. True optic disc swelling or edema can be a very ominous sign.  Acutely, the vision, color vision, and pupillary responses are normal, but the blind spot is increased on visual field testing. Chronic forms lead to loss of vision and loss of visual fields. Fortunately, most perceived optic disc swelling is a manifestation of a congenital optic disc variation.

Differential Diagnosis

Pseudotumor cerebri

–Other symptoms: Headache, nausea, and vomiting all worse in morning, transient visual obscurations, diplopia

–Diagnosis includes increased ICP, normal imaging, normal CSF

–More common in obese females

Optic neuritis

–May be associated with postviral syndromes or meningoencephalitis

–Loss of vision, pain on eye movement

–Vision usually improves within a few weeks, but not full recovery

Optic neuropathy

–Compressive: Associated with NF1 and optic nerve glioma, presents with progressive visual loss, strabismus, nystagmus, proptosis

–Infiltrative: From cancers (leukemias, lymphomas), infection, or inflammation (sarcoidosis, TB, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis, CMV); optic disc swelling, vision loss, and hemorrhages

–Toxic/nutritional optic neuropathy: Symmetric neuropathy from nutritional deficiency (thiamine, B12), drugs (tobacco/alcohol, chloramphenicol, rifampin), toxins (lead, methanol); visual field and vision loss; may recover with treatment

–Leber optic neuropathy: Mitochondrial DNA transmission, presents late teens to middle 20s; visual field and vision loss, may spontaneously improve

Increased ICP: Idiopathic intracranial hypertension, intracranial hemorrhage, space-occupying lesion

Growth hormone supplementation

Retinal hemorrhage and loss of vision

Retinal vein occlusion

Malignant hypertension: Associated with retinal hemorrhage, exudates, and cotton wool spots

Optic neuropathy, nonarteritic or arteritic

Demyelinating disease

Infectious conditions: Toxoplasmosis, Lyme disease, Bartonella; hard exudates may be visible funduscopically

Workup and Diagnosis


–History of HA, nausea or vomiting, recent viral illness

–Family history of visual loss, neurologic disorder

–PMH or signs and symptoms consistent with known systemic diseases; e.g., hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disease, growth hormone therapy

–Nutritional deficiencies; exposure to toxins such as tobacco or alcohol; recent drug use; exposure to ticks and animals

Physical exam

–Visual acuity, confrontational visual fields, pupillary response, extraocular muscle movements, proptosis

–Dilated fundus evaluation

–Neurologic exam for signs and symptoms of demyelinating disease, localizing deficit


–Titers for CMV, Lyme, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis


–CT or MRI of the brain and orbits for suspicion of intracranial mass, mass effect or hemorrhage


–Lumbar puncture may be indicated to establish presence or absence of, or to relieve, increased intracranial pressure

Ophthalmologic consultation to rule out congenital variation to avoid unnecessary and expensive differential testing


Condition-dependent: Treatment of underlying systemic disease is often the only treatment

Pseudotumor cerebri and other causes of intracranial hypertension: Weight loss, Diamox or Lasix, planned recumbency, LP shunt or optic nerve sheath fenestration if loss of visual function

Space-occupying lesion or hemorrhage: Neurosurgical intervention

Meningoencephalitis: IV antibiotics

Infectious optic neuropathy: Treat underlying cause and consider systemic steroids (controversial)

Optic neuritis: IV (not oral) steroids

Optic nerve glioma treatment controversial: Observation if slowly progressive, resection if only one nerve involved, radiation if chiasm involved, shunts if increased ICP

Toxic or nutritional: Stop offending toxin or supply nutritional supplementation

Friday, December 25, 2009

What does Christmas music do to your brain?

If you love Christmas music (like I do!) then Christmas music probably makes your brain light up and makes your face smile, your feet dance and your endorphins flow.  Why?  Because any music that we have positive associations with, that brings back positive memories or that energizes us, is clearly having a positive effect on the brain:

To that I would add, music that has lots of high, percussive sounds such as tambourines, small bells and brass instruments moving with a fast harmonic rhythm are also apt to stimulate the brain in a positive, energizing, endorphin-producing way!

I hope that you've heard lots of your favorite Christmas music this season!  Happy Holidays!  Alice

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brain can "close eyes" to listen to music

Brain 'closes eyes' to hear music

Our brains can turn down our ability to see to help them listen even harder to music and complex sounds, say experts.
A US study of 20 non-musicians and 20 musical conductors found both groups diverted brain activity away from visual areas during listening tasks.

Scans showed activity fell in these areas as it rose in auditory ones.

But during harder tasks the changes were less marked for conductors than for non-musicians, researchers told a Society for Neuroscience conference.

“ Imagine the difference between listening to someone talk in a quiet room, and that same discussion in a noisy room - you don't see as much of what's going on in the noisy room ”
Dr Jonathan Burdette
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
The researchers, from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and the University of North Carolina, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which can measure real-time changes in brain activity based on the blood flow to different areas of the brain.

Previous research has identified various parts of the brain involved in vision and hearing.

The experiment involved 20 professional orchestral conductors or band leaders and 20 musically untrained students, all aged between 28 and 40.

While lying in the scanner, they were asked to listen to two different musical tones played a few thousandths of a second apart and identify which was played first.

The task was made harder for the professional musicians than for the non-musicians, to allow for the differences in their background.

What the scientists found was that while activity rose, as expected, in the auditory part of the brain, it correspondingly fell in the visual part.

As the task was made harder and harder, the non-musicians carried on diverting more and more activity away from the visual parts of the brain to the auditory side, as they struggled to concentrate.

However, after a certain point, the conductors did not suppress their brains, suggesting that their years of training had provided a distinct advantage in the way their brains were organised.

Finely-tuned brains

Dr Jonathan Burdette, who led the study, said: "This is like closing your eyes to listen to music.

"Imagine the difference between listening to someone talk in a quiet room and that same discussion in a noisy room - you don't see as much of what's going on in the noisy room."

Another researcher, Dr David Hairston, said that the study showed just how flexible this ability was.

"How this operates can change with highly specialised training and experience," he said.

Dr Bahador Bahrami, from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said the study showed the difference in "brain organisation" between musicians and non-musicians.

"It demonstrates the mechanisms developed in the brain in the face of distraction. The brains of the conductors are highly tuned to tones."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Do you know about "The Music Cortex"

Music and the brain! What could be more fascinating? The more we know about how music affects the brain, the more we can incorporate music into our wellness and healing practices. The following article is a fascinating; a first-person account of music and the brain. Enjoy!

The Music Cortex

Mr. Apron and I sat down at the kitchen table last night to enjoy our dinner of Exploding Pizza, the kind of crust that comes in a tube, and when you peel back the paper it kind of pops, and therefore contains a warning to point it away from your face. We call that Exploding Pizza. On the table was a brochure for Piffaro, a musical ensemble which performs renaissance and baroque music using period instruments, such as recorders, harps, shawms, and, my personal favorite, sackbuts. As I glanced at the various performance descriptions for 17th century Spanish music, I spied a familiar name in the November performance – the husband of a woman led my Early Music Ensemble in college. He came in a few times to support those of us brave enough to take on the shawms and dulcians, which are sort of proto-oboes and proto-bassoons, respectively. We obviously had to go.

“I love taking you to these performances, buddy,” said Mr. Apron as he made a mental note to take me to these performances, “but I hate that it always makes you so sad.”

My brain surgery left my body in less than optimal condition immediately after the surgery. While I’ve pretty much healed up in as much as spontaneous recovery and physical/occupation/speech therapy can do, there are subtle, sub-clinical deficits I still retain. When in the medical model, one refers to body function, whether it’s strength, range of motion, or activities you can do, in varying degrees of impairment, such as mildly, moderately, or severely impaired. In my case, I probably fit the description of WFL, three marvelous letters which stand for Within Functional Limits. This says, essentially, “This person or his body part is suited for all normal functions.” Not quite as gratifying as WNL, Within Normal Limits, WFL simply allows the medical professional to give a cursory assessment and determine that nothing significant is standing in the way of ADLs, (Activities of Daily Living): those happy life skills like dressing oneself; loading the dishwasher; using a spork; and running for/signaling at the SEPTA bus leaving the curb.

I am WFL. My body parts all work WFL. My once-paralyzed left arm, hand, and all five fingers are WFL. I can buckle my seat belt, cut up food with a knife, fasten a necklace, and open a door. My lips/mouth/tongue are WFL. I can chew food, move it around my mouth, form it into a swallow-able glob, and swallow it. I can find pesky pieces of lunch hidden in my cheeks, and I can use a napkin to locate detritus on my lower lip. I am WFL.

If you probe deeper, maybe compare pre- and post-surgery, you’ll see deficits. Maybe not in everyday function, but in measurable impairments. I have very little feeling in my lower lip, chin, and lower cheek on the left half of my face. My left fingertips perceive touch and temperature ever so slightly differently than those on my right hand. What this means for daily life is that sometimes I do miss a piece of food on my face, or drool if I’m sleeping on my left side (which I wouldn’t feel). My left hand might not be up to carrying a dresser long distances. All these differences would not matter for regular old ADLs, but they do matter for a musician.

Immediately after my surgery, my father, a psychiatrist who should have a good handle on brain function, approached my neurosurgeon with some concern regarding my “musical” ability. Now, in this century we’ve moved away from phrenology and believing concretely that lumps on the head/brain correspond to characteristics, strengths, and abilities, but there is emerging research into localization of some functions in the brain, made possible with fMRI, imaging which lights up in brighter colors which portions of the brain are active during certain tasks. I read an article once where the brain surgeons had to do surgery on a professional violinist while she was awake to make sure they had localized and avoided disturbing the “music center” while they operated. They stimulated portions of her brain and then asked her to play the violin to map out her brain during surgery. So my father, with his concerns about my “music center” was not completely out in left field. In fact, there’s a study at Harvard University which has discovered that certain parts of the auditory cortex are sensitive to aspects of music.

In the hospital I could do very little. I couldn’t sit up for any length of time without getting very dizzy and causing my already massive headache to throb even more. Finally, towards the end of the week I spent as an inpatient, I felt well enough to sit up. I tried to spend most of my days sitting up to prove to the nursing staff how much my constitution was improving so they’d let me go home.

My mother plays harp professionally. She plays a lot of weddings and church-related events such as midnight masses and Christmas concerts. She has also played for Mothers Day teas at yacht clubs, a Memorial Day event at a cemetery, and concerts for children. In addition to her concert-sized harp, she has a more portable version, which she brought with her to the hospital, to cheer me up, keep us all busy, and entertain the ward with strains of “If I only had a brain”. In an effort to appease my father’s worries, and for want of something to do that didn’t involve vision (I had double vision immediately after surgery which conveniently went away as soon as I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist 8 weeks later), I asked for the harp. Balancing it on the edge of the bed, cradling the harp between my knees, I propped myself up. My useless left arm lay at my side, but I was able to pluck out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with my right.

Behold! They had spared my “music center”! Not only had the post-operative angiogram shown no residual AVM; they had successfully left intact my musical abilities. Or so it seemed. At least my father was relieved.

Unfortunately, I did not have so much success with my other instruments. When I had regained a little function in my left hand (I became strong enough to lift a spice bottle), I tried the clarinet and the bassoon. My embouchure, the shape of the mouth and lips when playing a wind instrument, was weakened not only by months of disuse, but also was significantly affected by my new deficits. I couldn’t keep a seal on the mouthpiece of my clarinet, and spittle flew out of the left side of my mouth. Bassoon was no better. Even as the months wore on, and my strength improved measurably in therapy, I had no more success. Every time I would pick up my bassoon, I would collapse in tears, wailing as I sat in the living room, apologizing repeatedly to the beautiful (some might argue) instrument. My left hand, as “functional” as it was for the physiatrist, was still too weak to even hold the heft of the 7 pound instrument, let alone support the instrument with my palm and move all five fingers in rapid precise movements. Websites will tell you that bassoonists don’t actually have to feel the weight of their instruments because they’re supported by seat straps. While it’s true they’re not lifting 7 pounds constantly, they do have to hold up the top-heavy instrument as it leans ever so slightly to the left.

I can do all of the range of movement exercises with my facial muscles, and my left hand strength is now pretty good for a non-dominant hand, but it is nowhere near agile enough to play a musical instrument. The rapid movements, the precision, the muscle memory needed for arpeggios, for reaching all of the 17 keys on a bassoon, for sealing the holes of the instrument…I just don’t have those abilities.

When we go to a concert, be it classical music, early music, Indonesian music, or any other genre or instrument I have played, I get sad. I think of how I used to play, used to be in ensembles and have concerts, and go out for Dairy Queen afterwards. I have been in marching bands of 100 pimply teenagers, chamber orchestras made up of physicians, school bands, wind ensembles, early music ensembles, quartets, and summer orchestras large enough to have 8 bassoonists and 40 flautists. With varying degrees of proficiency, I have played piano, recorder, harp, bassoon, clarinet, bari sax, dulcian, krumhorn, viola da gamba, cello, and gamelan (Indonesian percussion) instruments.

I wish I could pick an instrument back up. It’s been so long now that I’d have an uphill battle to relearn the instrument as well as reteach my hands how to play. I avoid even trying. I keep my bassoon locked up in the basement, where I don’t have to think about it. When I pluck out notes on a piano to help Mr. Apron learn his music for plays, I keep my left hand in my lap, ashamed to try to use it. It would be so hard now that I don’t even try. That if I did, it would be so difficult I would get frustrated and give up. The sadness also stems from the fact that, if you hadn’t gathered from my list of instruments and ensembles, music was a pretty big part of my life until my surgery. It’s also a pretty significant part of my family’s life.

My mother, as I mentioned, is a harpist. She is also a pianist. My brother dabbled in drums for a while before returning to piano, his first instrument. Last time I checked, he had completed his college majors in physics and music, ripping through sonatas and pop songs at the speed of lightning. My sister, too, started with piano, and branched off into brass, picking up the trumpet, mainly, but also trying out the euphonium. She also plays the shofar annually at my parents’ synagogue’s High Holy Days celebration, blasting the announcement of the holiday from the ram’s horn for all to hear. My father, though never quite reaching proficiency on the piano, stuck with woodwind instruments. He started with clarinet, as did I, and then moved to bassoon, as did I. I followed his path, waiting for my hands to grow even a smidge more so I could play the bassoon like my father. My first ensemble was a duet with my father. He had put down his clarinet since probably junior high, but dug it out of my grandmother’s closet to play when I started playing in 5th grade. And when I picked up the bassoon, he dusted his off from where it had lain, dormant under the piano, since I was born.

Though the years I’ve had many “clarinet buddies,” playing duets with me, or starting impromptu ensembles. We helped each other improve, and I may have actually done more practicing when playing with a friend. As I moved into high school, I found clarinet buddies in marching band or other low woodwind players in orchestra to be my bassoon buddies (I was always the lone bassoonist). In college, I never quite found any bassoon or clarinet buddies. I couldn’t figure out how to socialize during the breaks at orchestra rehearsal. I was just a shy freshman, the 3rd bassoonist in a section meant for 2. It didn’t seem like much of a loss when I quit orchestra, and, subsequently, bassoon lessons. I hadn’t been motivated to improve in a long time. Away at college, I missed the camaraderie of having music buddies. I didn’t have the motivation to play, or any of the benefits that had always come with music for me.

As Mr. Apron and discussed music last night, I started tearing up. I guess he thought I was again regretting that I have put down my instruments and am afraid to try again. It was all this talk about clarinet buddies. I was realizing that neither Hannah, nor Nadia, nor Jamie, nor Alison, nor Sandy were my first clarinet buddy. My father, who himself had put down his instruments when I was born, was my first clarinet buddy. Though we had built a pink dollhouse together for my 3rd birthday, and gone skiing together when I was 6, the most consistent and longest lasting activity we have shared is music. Music did not care if there was 24” of powder on the ski slope. Music did not care if we had wrist-guards while rollerblading. Music did not leave sawdust in our eyes or require Mickey Mouse ear protectors. Music is something my father supported me in for many years. I understand his fear of my losing my music because of my surgery. He hadn’t realized then that my deficits would not be in the region of the brain that is sensitive to rhythm, melody and harmony, but in my fingers and my discouragement.

We will go to that early music concert in November, and I know I’ll get sad. I’ll also enjoy seeing and hearing the beautiful instruments that I used to hold and play. I’m not sure where I’ll go with music, or if I’ll even persist with an instrument long enough to find out if it’s even possible to play again. I’m still fortunate to have grown up playing and listening to the tunes of my family, in the house where we referred to the living room as “the music room.” The music room was where I danced at age 4 to my mother’s harp practicing, where I set up a crude drum set for my brother made out of oatmeal drums and pie tins, and where my father and I played many hours of duets together.

More than physical impairments, and all the excuses I let my body and brain make for my failure to try again, is motivation. Maybe again I’ll find motivation in one of these concerts – an open call for a mediocre bassoonist, an invitation to come try out the bass recorder, a song I can’t let go of – or in another source. Maybe Mr. Apron will find a duet for banjo and something-I-used-to-play. Maybe I’ll meet someone who inspires me and wants to have jam sessions.

Or maybe we’ll have to grow me another clarinet buddy.

September 18, 2009 in Brain Surgery Tags: AVM, Brain Surgery, music, music cortex, phrenology, Piffaro, the father

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Improve your vocabulary with music!

In 1982, researchers from the University of North Texas performed a three-way test on postgraduate students to see if music could help in memorizing vocabulary words. The students were divided into three groups. Each group was given three tests - a pretest, a posttest, and a test a week after the first two tests. All of the tests were identical. Group 1 was read the words with Handel's Water Music in the background. They were also asked to imagine the words. Group 2 was read the same words also with Handel's Water Music in the background. Group 2 was not asked to imagine the words. Group 3 was only read the words, was not given any background music, and was also not asked to imagine the words. The results from the first two tests showed that groups 1 and 2 had much better scores than group 3. The results from the third test, a week later, showed that group 1 performed much better than groups 2 or 3. However, simply using music while learning does not absolutely guarantee recall but can possibly improve it. Background music in itself is not a part of the learning process, but it does enter into memory along with the information learned. Recall is better when the same music used for learning is used during recall. Also, tempo appears to be a key of music's effect on memory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Magic of Music with Parkinson's patients

This is one of the most amazing and impressive videos that I've seen in a long time! It demonstrates beautifully the power of music with Parkinson's patients.

Now I am offering to people diagnosed with Parkinson's disease my specially programmed, wireless headphones, programmed with the specific type of music that Parkinson's patients need! If you are interested, contact me immediately at More information will be coming soon! This is going to be big! Help yourself and your loved ones with Parkinsons NOW!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Music Releases Endorphins in Brain

Everyone knows that music makes them feel better, but apparently, music immediately after surgery is even more powerful than previously known. today I came across this article: By Denise DadorLOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A local hospital takes the healing properties of music right to the patients.
She's in the hospital, but Carol Starks feels she's being transported to another place.
"A little music goes a long way and it soothes the soul," said Starks.
Bariatric surgeon and musician, Dr. Peter Crookes, heals for a living but says modern medicine can only bring people so far. The rest depends on the patient and he believes music helps.
"It may cause the release of endorphins and that is one of the postulate mechanisms. Anything that will open the patient's mind to other dimensions of life helps them to cope with it," said Dr. Crookes.
Musician Jane Kim founded the USC volunteer program. She saw music's medical effects firsthand when her father was a patient.
"At the time that he was in the hospital he found it very beneficial listening to music. And seeing the positive effects it had on him I wanted to share that with others," said Kim.
Once a month, some patients get treated to an impromptu concert.
"It was just great. It just made me feel very good and it made me feel very special," said patient Ceci Montalvo.
We all enjoy hearing music, but if it's just in the background and you're just passively listening, experts say it's not going to work on your body and mind. To truly experience music you have to actively listen to it.
"If you attend to music it channels the brain and trains certain actions in the brain which I think are beneficial," said Dr. Crookes.
Studies show music can help people recovering from pain and reduce the need for post-op medications.
Another study reveals music can reduce the anxiety of patients just before surgery. Patients say music's ability to alter their mood can be quite beneficial.
"It makes happiness. It doesn't matter how sad you are or how hurt you are, music can bring it out," said Starks.
If you are interested in being a volunteer for the Music Heals program send an e-mail to

Click here for more headlines from ABC7 Eyewitness News

(Copyright ©2009 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Music, the Brain, and Academic Performance

June 21, 2009

Music affects many areas of brain function
by Marjorie H. Weil
Recently the Albion School District announced that, beginning this fall, all fifth- through 12th-graders would be required to take band or choir. Why? Because statistics show that students who do so perform better academically, have higher SAT scores, are more self-confident and are better adjusted socially.
This is not news. Many studies over the years have confirmed these findings. Unfortunately, most of these past studies have been anecdotal in nature or are the result of extensive surveys, and there was little that could address the cause-effect relationship - or why and how music affects the learning process.
But that is beginning to change. And Albion may be on to more than they realize. Researchers in neuroscience, utilizing recent advances in MRI technology, are actually studying the human brain in the act of creating, or listening to, music. And what they are finding is remarkable.
One of the leaders in this field is Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, author of "This Is Your Brain On Music." Published in 2006, the book remained on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year and has been translated into 11 languages. I felt fortunate to hear Dr. Levitin speak last fall at the 75th anniversary celebration of Western Michigan University's School of Music Therapy. His work and that of other neuroscientists in "brain-mapping" is challenging several previously held beliefs.
Where it was once thought, for example, that a particular region of the brain was dedicated to music, it has now been shown that music actually affects many areas of brain function. Combined with the fact that music is a basic part of every human culture around the globe has led Levitin to conclude that the human brain is actually "hard-wired" for music, and music may be even more fundamental to our species than language.
Understanding the strong connection between the auditory and motor regions of the brain has made it possible for people with motor disorders such as Parkinson's disease to improve their ability to walk while listening to a rhythm track, and stroke patients have been able to improve their speech through music therapy.
Perhaps the most exciting news, however, is that there is new evidence that music can actually change the physical structure of the brain - a fact that has critical implications for both education and medicine. Music may even be a major key to unlocking the mystery of how the brain actually learns.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The brain, anesthesia and near death experiences

All Things Considered, May 22, 2009 · We've all heard the stories about near-death experiences: the tunnel, the white light, the encounter with long-dead relatives now looking very much alive.
Scientists have cast a skeptical eye on these accounts. They say that these feelings and visions are simply the result of a brain shutting down.
But now some researchers are giving a closer neurological look at near-death experiences and asking: Can your mind operate when your brain has stopped?
'I Popped Up Out The Top Of My Head'
I met Pam Reynolds in her tour bus. She's a big deal in the music world — her company, Southern Tracks, has recorded music by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Pearl Jam to REM. But you've probably never heard her favorite song. It's the one Reynolds wrote about the time she traveled to death's door and back. The experience has made her something of a rock star in the near-death world. Believers say she is proof positive that the mind can operate when the brain is stilled. Nonbelievers say she's nothing of the sort.
Reynolds' journey began one hot August day in 1991.
"I was in Virginia Beach, Va., with my husband," she recalls. "We were promoting a new record. And I inexplicably forgot how to talk. I've got a big mouth. I never forget how to talk."
An MRI revealed an aneurysm on her brain stem. It was already leaking, a ticking time bomb. Her doctor in Atlanta said her best hope was a young brain surgeon at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Arizona named Robert Spetzler.
"The aneurysm was very large, which meant the risk of rupture was also very large," Spetzler says. "And it was in a location where the only way to really give her the very best odds of fixing it required what we call 'cardiac standstill.' "
It was a daring operation: Chilling her body, draining the blood out of her head like oil from a car engine, snipping the aneurysm and then bringing her back from the edge of death.
"She is as deeply comatose as you can be and still be alive," Spetzler observes.
When the operation began, the surgeons taped shut Reynolds' eyes and put molded speakers in her ears. The ear speakers, which made clicking sounds as loud as a jet plane taking off, allowed the surgeons to measure her brain stem activity and let them know when they could drain her blood.
"I was lying there on the gurney minding my own business, seriously unconscious, when I started to hear a noise," Reynolds recalls. "It was a natural D, and as the sound continued — I don't know how to explain this, other than to go ahead and say it — I popped up out the top of my head."
A Tunnel And Bright Light
She says she found herself looking down at the operating table. She says she could see 20 people around the table and hear what sounded like a dentist's drill. She looked at the instrument in the surgeon's hand.
"It was an odd-looking thing," she says. "It looked like the handle on my electric toothbrush."
Reynolds observed the Midas Rex bone saw the surgeons used to cut open her head, the drill bits, and the case, which looked like the one where her father kept his socket wrenches. Then she noticed a surgeon at her left groin.
"I heard a female voice say, 'Her arteries are too small.' And Dr. Spetzler — I think it was him — said, 'Use the other side,' " Reynolds says.
Soon after, the surgeons began to lower her body temperature to 60 degrees. It was about that time that Reynolds believes she noticed a tunnel and bright light. She eventually flat-lined completely, and the surgeons drained the blood out of her head.
During her near-death experience, she says she chatted with her dead grandmother and uncle, who escorted her back to the operating room. She says as they looked down on her body, she could hear the Eagles' song "Hotel California" playing in the operating room as the doctors restarted her heart. She says her body looked like a train wreck, and she said she didn't want to return.
"My uncle pushed me," she says, laughing. "And when I hit the body, the line in the song was, 'You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.' And I opened my eyes and I said, 'You know, that is really insensitive!' "
A Vision That Matches The Record
Afterwards, Reynolds assumed she had been hallucinating. But a year later, she mentioned the details to her neurosurgeon. Spetzler says her account matched his memory.
"From a scientific perspective," he says, "I have absolutely no explanation about how it could have happened."
Spetzler did not check out all the details, but Michael Sabom did. Sabom is a cardiologist in Atlanta who was researching near-death experiences.
"With Pam's permission, they sent me her records from the surgery," he says. "And long story short, what she said happened to her is actually what Spetzler did with her out in Arizona."
According to the records, there were 20 doctors in the room. There was a conversation about the veins in her left leg. She was defibrillated. They were playing "Hotel California." How about that bone saw? Sabom got a photo from the manufacturer — and it does look like an electric toothbrush.
How, Sabom wonders, could she know these things?
"She could not have heard [it], because of what they did to her ears," he says. "In addition, both of her eyes were taped shut, so she couldn't open her eyes and see what was going on. So her physical sensory perception was off the table."
An Alternative Explanation?
That's preposterous, says anesthesiologist Gerald Woerlee.
"This report provides absolutely no evidence for survival of any sort of consciousness outside the body during near-death experiences or any other such experiences," he says.
Woerlee, an Australian researcher and near-death experience debunker who has investigated Reynolds' case, says what happened to her is easy to explain. He says when they cut into her head, she was jolted into consciousness. At that point, they had not yet drained blood from her brain. He believes she could hear — despite the clicking earplugs.
"There are various explanations," Woerlee says. "One: that the earphones or plugs were not that tightly fitting. Two: It could have been that it was due to sound transmission through the operating table itself."
So Reynolds could have heard conversations. As for seeing the Midas Rex bone saw, he says, she recognized a sound from her childhood.
"She made a picture in her mind of a machine or a device which was very similar to what she was familiar with — a dental drill," Woerlee says.
Woerlee says Reynolds experienced anesthesia awareness, in which a person is conscious but can't move. He figures back in 1991, that happened in 1 out of every 2,000 operations.
That doesn't convince cardiologist Sabom or neurosurgeon Spetzler. They believe the combination of anesthesia and the sluggish brain activity caused by hypothermia meant that Reynolds could not form or retain memories for a significant part of the operation. At the very least, Sabom says, Reynolds' story raises the possibility that consciousness can function even when the brain is offline.
"Is there some type of awareness that occurs from a nonfunctional, physical brain?" Sabom asks. "And if there is, does that mean that there's a soul or spirit?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Can Music Create World Peace?

I think that this questions has probably been asked many times but it bears asking again. When people from different cultures choose to perform each others music, it is a way of honoring that other culture. In my lifetime I've probably heard more Western European classical music that any other type, but there are millions of other types and genres of music that could bring comfort and peace to many people. Listen to this beautiful performance of some of the music from "Schindler's List" (written by American John Williams) sung and played by a Chinese group of musicians! Listening to it again brought tears to my eyes, thinking of the atrocities visited on the Jewish people in the 30's and 40's. The more people don't forget this, this less likely it will ever be perpetrated again on anyone! Sing for Peace!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Musical Training Shapes Brain Development" reports medical study

Commentary from Lutz J√§ncke (Thanks to Dr. Ellen Taliaferro for sharing this study with me)

This study supports my own interpretation of the brain's capability for experience-dependent influences on brain anatomy and function. In concrete, this study demonstrates that 6-year-old children receiving instrumental musical training for 15 months not only learned to play their musical instrument but also 
showed changed anatomical features in brain areas known to be involved in the control of playing a musical instrument. This is the first longitudinal study demonstrating brain plasticity in children in the context of learning to play a musical instrument. 
One of the major questions in cognitive neuroscience is whether the human brain can be shaped by experience. 

In order to examine use-dependent plasticity of the human brain, mostly cross-sectional studies are undertaken comparing subjects with specific skills with appropriate control groups. A classical approach is to compare highly 
skilled musicians, sportsmen, or subjects with other exceptional skills (e.g. synesthesia) with control subjects using neuroanatomical and neurophysiological measures (please see refs [1] and [2], on which I am an author, and refs [3,4]). Using this approach, several anatomical differences have been identified which can be attributed to the specific training influences these particular subjects have experienced. However, although these cross- sectional studies have uncovered several important findings, cross-sectional approaches are not valid enough to 
attribute the discovered between-group differences entirely to different learning influences. The only experimental approach which is suitable to more validly identify experience-dependent influences in humans is the longitudinal experimental approach. Using this approach, the authors of this paper have examined 31 children (with a mean age of 6 years) during the course of a 15-month period. Fifteen of these kids received musical instrument training (a weekly half-hour training outside the school system) while the 16 remaining kids did not attend these classes. However, all kids received the regular music lessons in their school, including playing with drums and bells. Thus, the 15 kids receiving keyboard lessons only differed in this particular feature. It turned out that these kids showed increased brain volumes in several brain areas after 15 months. Most of these brain areas are part of the cortical motor system. There were also structural changes in the auditory system.

Taken together, this study is the first longitudinal study in children demonstrating structural changes in children receiving instrumental musical training. Thus, this study sheds new light on the plasticity of the human brain. Faculty of 1000 Medicine: Evaluations, Dissents and Author responses for: [Hyde KL et al. Musical training shapes structural brain development.

J Neurosci 2009 Mar 11 29 (10) :3019-25] 2009 Apr 1. 


A Computerized Test Battery Sensitive to Mild and 
Severe Brain Injury Implantation of a Responsive Neurostimulator Device 
In Patients with Refractory Epilepsy 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Your Brain on Bach

Thanks to my friend Glenda Neely, a Vanderbilt alum for sending me this excellent article:

Musicians really do think differently than the rest of us. Vanderbilt psychologists have found that professionally trained musicians more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking, and use both the left and right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.  
Previous studies of creativity have focused on divergent thinking—the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems. Highly creative individuals often display more divergent thinking than their less creative counterparts.
Vanderbilt researchers Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley and Sohee Park recruited 20 classical music students from the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music and 20 non-musicians from a Vanderbilt introductory psychology course.
“We were interested in how individuals who are naturally creative look at problems that are best solved by thinking ‘out of the box,’” says Folley, MA’02, PhD’06, a postdoctoral fellow. “We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, and we found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity.”
The two groups were matched based on age, gender, education, sex, high school grades and SAT scores. The musicians each had at least eight years of training and played a variety of instruments, including piano, woodwind, string and percussion. Overall, researchers found that the musicians had higher IQ scores than the non-musicians, supporting recent studies that intensive musical training is associated with an elevated IQ score.
Research subjects were shown a variety of household objects and asked to make up new functions for them, and were also given a written word association test. Musicians provided more correct responses than non-musicians on the word association test—something the researchers believe may be attributed to enhanced verbal ability among musicians. Musicians also suggested more novel uses for the household objects than their non-musical counterparts.
In a second experiment the two groups again were asked to identify new uses for everyday objects, but this time they also were asked to perform a basic control task while activity in their prefrontal lobes was monitored using a brain-scanning technique called near-infrared spectroscopy, or NIRS.
“When we measured subjects’ prefrontal cortical activity while completing the alternate-uses task, we found that trained musicians had greater activity in both sides of their frontal lobes,” Folley says. “Because we equated musicians and non-musicians in terms of their performance, this finding was not simply due to the fact that the musicians invented more uses; there seems to be a qualitative difference in how they think about this information.”
One possible explanation for the musicians’ elevated use of both brain hemispheres is that many musicians must be able to use both hands independently to play their instruments.
“Musicians may be particularly good at efficiently accessing and integrating competing information from both hemispheres,” Folley says. “Instrumental musicians often integrate different melodic lines with both hands into a single musical piece, and they have to be very good at simultaneously reading the musical symbols, which are like left-hemisphere-based language, and integrating the written music with their own interpretation, which has been linked to the right hemisphere.”
Folley and Park are investigators in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. Park is a professor of psychology and psychiatry and a member of the Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience. Gibson, BA’04, was an undergraduate student and research assistant in the psychology department at the time of the study. Their research, which was partially supported by a Vanderbilt University Discovery Grant, will appear in the journal Brain and Cognition.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Music and the Paris!

Well, I'm always looking for connections between my life, my brain, and the music I love. My brain has really been enjoying Paris and all the sights, smells, tastes and sounds! There are certain senses that are activated in a certain way, only in Paris. These have come back to me powerfully on this trip to Paris which is my first extended visit since 1987. Before that, it was 1974! Anyway, take a look at these photos and you'll see what my 5 senses have been processing over the past 11 days! Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

There are so many times when music can greatly assist in brain-related injuries and disorders. I've written in this space about music with strokes, dementia and Parkinson's disease. But when one has a sports-related injury to the head that could have been prevented or greatly minimized by wearing a helmet, it's doubly tragic. Why Natasha Richardson did not wear a helmet is unknown, but the reasons most people give are:
It's too heavy
It obstructs my vision
It ruins my hair
I'm just going on a short run
etc., etc.

Here's the story, as quoted in the New York Post:

Actress Natasha Richardson is brain dead - after falling in a ski accident in Canada - and is now on sad journey home to New York, friends told The Post today.
Richardson, who was being treated at a Montreal hospital, is being transported to New York this afternoon so her mom Vanessa Redgrave, two children and other loved ones can say goodbye before she's taken off life-support, friends said.

If you ski, ride a bike, skateboard, snowboard or do any sport where helmets are recommended, please put on a helmet! Thank you!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

How does music enter the brain?

You may have heard that music enters the brain through the 8th cranial nerve. I believe that, though, that music also enters the whole body, as well as the brain through every pore of the body. Dr. Alfred Tomatis, with whom I studied in 1991, stated that rather than the ear being differentiated skin, actually the skin of the entire body is also like an ear, receiving sonic vibrations and relaying them to the brain. Makes sense to me. Therefore when I started hearing and reading about the value of music during surgery I thought "it would be so beneficial if the ideal music for surgery could come directly into the brain through headphones...through the 8th cranial nerve." Different people have promoted ambient music in the operating room, but the fact is, the patient needs the opposite music from the surgeon! The surgeon needs upbeat, active music to focus his energy. The patient needs slow, steady, soothing music.
For that reason, I now have patented and begun to sell my wireless, pre-programmed headphones for surgery. You can also simply buy the music in download format and put it on your own iPod! For the headphones, go HERE.
For the download go HERE. Any questions, email me through my website Thank you!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Improving Test Scores with Music

One simple way students can improve test scores is by listening to certain types of music such as Mozart's Sonata for Two Piano's in D Major before taking a test. This type of music releases neurons in the brain which help the body to relax. The effectiveness of Mozart's sonatas can be seen by the results from an IQ test performed on three groups of college students. The first group listened to a Mozart sonata before taking the test. The second group listened to a relaxation tape before their test. The third group did not listen to anything before the test. The first group had the highest score with an average of 119. The second group ended up with an average of 111, and the third group had the lowest score with an average of 110.
William Balach, Kelly Bowman, and Lauri Mohler, all from Pennsylvania State University, studied the effects of music genre and tempo on memory retention. They had four groups learn vocabulary words using one of four instrumental pieces - slow classical, slow jazz, fast classical, and fast jazz. Each of the four groups was divided into smaller groups for the recall test. These sub groups used either the same (i.e. slow classical, slow classical) or different (i.e. slow jazz, fast classical) pieces when taking the recall test. The results did show a dependency on the music. Recall was better when the music was the same during learning and testing. These same researchers did another test which restricted the changes in the music to just tempo (i.e. slow to fast jazz) or just genre (i.e. slow jazz to slow classical). Surprisingly, the results showed that changing the genre had no effect on recall but changing the tempo decreased recall.
for more info, see

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Music and Brain Tumors: a story in the news

Brain cancer survivors find inspiration in CD's healing message Joe Nagy of Derry was losing hope for recovery from a brain tumor when he encountered the healing message of David Bailey’s music. He drew on that strength while facing his second brain surgery, Nagy said Tuesday at Integrative Medical Advisory Council’s announcement of a new music therapy initiative involving Bailey’s music.“We’ve already seen, firsthand, the power that this music bring to those with brain cancer,” council co-founder Barry Ritko said Tuesday during the announcement at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.A good friend of Ritko and his wife, Mary Ann, was given one of Bailey’s compact discs after he was no longer able to talk or watch television due to his brain cancer.“It hasn’t affected his ability to find inspiration in lyrics that speak of hope, faith and strength,” Barry Ritko said. The Integrative Medical Advisory Council promotes alternative and complementary therapies to help seriously ill patients survive longer and live better, Ritko said. The council has selected brain cancer as its focus for the year and launched events with Tuesday’s program.Council leaders and Dr. Alfred Bowles, Memorial’s chairman of neuroscience, presented copies of Bailey’s latest CD, “Hope – An Anthology,” to members of the hospital’s brain tumor support group. The council has purchased 100 copies of the CD for area brain tumor patients. With support from Conemaugh Health Foundation, the council also provides children’s yoga classes inDale and massage therapy for seriously ill patients with Conemaugh Region- al Hospice and in Memorial’s pallia-tive care unit.The organization maintains an online directory of specialists in complementary and alternative therapies at recalled contacting Bailey through an Internet forum for brain cancer survivors. The folk singer is a 12-year survivor and has recorded several CDs of inspirational music.“The first surgery was not a lot of fun,” Nagy said. “The tumor was recurring during the radiation treatment.”Nagy asked Bailey if he should have another craniotomy to remove the new tumor.“He said, ‘You have to, because I should be dead right now, but I’m not. There is nothing working as well as this is’,” Nagy said. “I discovered he’s right.”Nagy is now an 11-year survivor, and like Bailey, he spreads the message: Don’t give up.
By RANDY GRIFFITH The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, PA, US)

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Musical Brain

This is a wonderful article, written by my mentor, Dr. Arthur Harvey. I know you'll like it!

by Dr. Arthur Harvey
From recent brain research on learning styles, it has been esti­mated that 80-90% of what is experienced and learned is non­verbal, with what sometimes is described as a "right-brain" mode of processing.
We know that for most children and many adults, music is a "right-brain" dominant activity. Based upon that, music may be a powerful and perhaps dominant means of facilitating positive and expressive feelings that can be experienced individu­ally and in groups to take them outside themselves.
In other words, music provides a symbolic means of objectifying feelings and emotions, which then can be dealt with. Music-making can be an emotionally cathartic experience, as feelings which are often "bottled-up", sometimes due to lack of words to identify and describe them, are released through music. After music-making, we often hear musicians, young and old, com­menting that they feel better, energized, and renewed.
UP: Music has the wonderful ability to lift UP spirits. Parades, pep rallies, school socials, church services, concerts, radio and television, and recordings are examples of situations and pro­cesses through which most of us have experience our moods, emotions, and feelings being lifted. There are both psychological and physiological explanations for why and how music can and should be used for this purpose during a stressful time.
As music stimulates creative and imaginative thinking linked with positive emotional feelings, individuals experience a transformation or transition of being lifted UP from mundane concerns. When these are the result of music experiences that produce what psychologist Abraham Maslow termed "peak experiences", there is a temporary sense of being lifted UP beyond the limitations of normal time-space constraints, often resulting in a sense of non-linear time and feeling of being "one with the music".
Maslow describes these experi­ences as necessary steps toward what he called the "self-actualiza­tion" process, and suggested in a symposium at Tanglewood that music may be the most effective means of lifting individuals UP toward emotionally healthy growth. Psychiatrist John Diamond, a pioneer in behavioral kinesiology, has focused his career and publica­tions on exploring the power of music to give us "life energy". In his books, Your Body Doesn't Lie and Life Energy in Music, he shares how music can increase our strength and lift us UP mentally and emotionally.
In recent years a significant amount of research has been done exploring the connection between music and how it affects the human brain. With the discov­ery of the neuropeptide endor­phins, it was found that music can stimulate its production, reducing pain reception as well as lifting UP spirits.
Throughout the history of mankind, music has been known as a media­tor between the physical world and the spiritual world, and has been an integral part of all cultures and most religions. Music can alter our consciousness, helping us to transcend our sensory-limited, inwardly-focused experiences, and expand beyond our experience­ based reality. Mystic, meditative and spiritual experiences are often initiated through music, as well as heightened by music.
Albert Schweitzer wrote, "All true and deeply felt music, whether sacred or profane, journeys to heights where arts and religion can always meet".
In recognizing the power of music to enhance our lives, Charles Darwin wrote, "If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature".
Music can have a positive influence on many aspects of our lives. In a recent release from the American Music Conference, the following 10 Fast Facts were included concerning the impact music can have on learning, health, and wellness.
(1) Music has an obvious impact on the brain and should be supported and encouraged, especially in early childhood education and through­out all stages and ages of learning.
(2) Playing an instrument strength­ens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills, as well as concentra­tion, memory, and attitude.
(3) Research shows that music training improves spatial-temporal reasoning in preschool children. which is necessary for learning math and science, as well as other subjects.
(4) A recent study showed that a curriculum combining piano lessons, educational math software, and fun math problems, helped second graders achieve scores on advanced math concepts and Stanford 9 math scores comparable to those of fourth graders.
(5) Students who make music have been shown to get along better with classmates and have fewer disci­pline problems.
(6) Young people who are involved in making music in their teenage years score 100 points higher on the SAT's than those who don't play music.
(7) Senior citizens who are actively involved in music-making enjoy significant health benefits. For example, studies show that music activates the cerebellum and therefore may aid stroke victims in regaining language capabilities.
(8) Many of the challenges that plague older Americans appear to respond positively to active music­ making. For example, scientific studies show improvements in the brain chemistry of people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
(9) Studies show that older Ameri­cans who are actively involved in music-making show improvements in anxiety, loneliness, and depres­sion-three factors that are critical in coping with stress, stimulating the immune system, and improving health.
(10) A breakthrough study demon­strated that group keyboard lessons given to older Americans had a significant effect on increasing levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which is implicated in such aging phenomena as osteoporosis, energy levels, wrinkling, sexual function, muscle mass, and aches and pains.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Music, Power, and the Brain

A man named Laurence O'Donnell has written a fascinating paper. and subsuquently a website called "Music Power." I highly recommend that you check out both. He writes a lot about music and the brain. One thing he says is "Responses to music are easy to be detected in the human body. Classical music from the baroque period causes the heart beat and pulse rate to relax to the beat of the music. As the body becomes relaxed and alert, the mind is able to concentrate more easily. Furthermore, baroque music decreases blood pressure and enhances the ability to learn. Music affects the amplitude and frequency of brain waves, which can be measured by an electro-encephalogram. Music also affects breathing rate and electrical resistance of the skin. It has been observed to cause the pupils to dilate, increase blood pressure, and increase the heart rate. " Check it out! It's full of information that I think you'll enjoy!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Music and Epilepsy

Using the sound of her violin, concert violinist Martha Curtis teaches hope, and the power to overcome anything. Curtis has suffered from epilepsy her entire life, even having seizures on the biggest concert stages in the world.
15 years ago, Curtis put her career and love for music on the line, undergoing three major brain surgeries removing the part of the brain causing her seizures. Curtis was the first professional musician to undergo the procedure that has reportedly caused blindness, and losing the ability to hear music. A day after her third surgery, Curtis again played the violin, playing an excerpt from beethoven. The surgery was a success. Curtis has not suffered a seizure ever since, and now travels around the world talking to people from all walks of life, teaching them never to give up.
Martha Curtis' story has been featured on CBS's 60 minutes, and she is currently writing a book. Curtis credits music for saving her life, allowing beauty into her heart, not just an illness.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Brain and Strokes: Pay Close Attention

This is really pretty hard to believe, but it is true. This woman had studied the brain and then she, herself, had a stroke. What she discovered during that process is something we would do well to learn more about. Pay attention!