Volume IV, Issue 2, Fall 1997

Table of Contents

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The Musical Hormone

The Neurobiology of Musical Learning and Memory

Briefly Noted
The Unconscious Musical Brain

Recent Publications of Special Interest

Matters of Opinion
Music, Neuroscience, Physiology and Medicine

Editor's Note

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The Musical Hormone
Copyright © 1997 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

Music has well established psychological effects, including the induction and modification of cognitive states, moods and emotions. Were it not so, then marches would be played as readily at bedtime as at the half-time of football games, dirges would grace weddings. lullabies would be heard at parades and Gregorian chant would bombard our ears in supermarkets.

Many people think that psychology is one thing but physiology is another thing. There is the mind and there is the body. This common "dualist" assumption scores high on our own psychological "comfort meters". It is always nice when common sense matches scientific reality. When that happens, we feel that we have a good grasp of things and that an issue has been settled. Of course, the dualist position has a problem with the question of just how music affects our private mental lifes. And just where is it that our private mental lifes live anyway? But mind-body dualism has been the dominant belief in the history of the world. Can so many people over so long a time be wrong? Certainly.

Yes, the mind is still mysterious. But it has proven impossible to toss away the brain and still keep the mind. By mind, I refer to our everyday mental experiences, not to the soul or similar formulations. I would not claim that science provides the only type of knowledge or understanding possible. Only that what we consider to be our normal, run-of-the-mill, daily mental experiences necessarily are a product of our brain function. The evidence, quite overwhelming, cannot all be reviewed here. But a few examples. When our level of consciousness changes from waking to sleeping, the electrical activity of our brains changes as well. If one induces a sleeping pattern in the brain by drugs or other means, the behavior goes along. In fact, most drugs that alter our experiences, perceptions, moods, general state of pain, etc. do so by their physiological and chemical actions on the brain, including nicotine and alcohol. (Others, like local anesthetics, can block pain receptors on the body, preventing the brain from receiving messages that it interprets as pain.) Death is medically defined not as cessation of heart beat or respiration but rather by the absence of electrical activity of the brain, literally "brain dead". Finally, but more speculatively, if you exchanged brains with another person (really science fiction!!), where would your mind be ... with your brain or elsewhere?

So there is the mind and there is the body, including the rather important bodily organ of the brain. To begin to understand the power of music on our brains, and therefore on our minds, we need to consider some basic physiology.

The brain sends to and receives messages from the rest of the body ceaselessly, every minute, second and fraction of a second. As for the receiving side of things, the brain gets information from our senses -- vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, etc. We can be constantly aware of these. But there is another major source of input to our brains, and thus ultimately to our mental lives ... our bodily hormones. These are secreted by our endocrine system and include sex hormones, like testosterone and estrogen, and a group usually called "stress" hormones, like ACTH, adrenaline and cortisol.

A capsule summary of the way stress hormones are released into the blood stream is that the brain, sensing stress, ultimately releases ACTH from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, itself controlled by neural and hormonal messages from its link to the brain, the overlying hypothalamus. When ACTH reaches the adrenal glands, they release adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream. These have many effects on target organs, including the release of stored glucose for energy, increasing blood flow to the muscles and increasing blood pressure, all as part of a constellation of bodily mobilization for possible action, defense or whatever. One effect of stress hormones is to dampen down the immune system, so that unfortunately continual stress can reduce the ability to fight disease. Although this counterintuitive effect of stress hormones is not fully understood, it should not be ignored.

While oversimplified, this sketch provides a basis for understanding how music affects the body. And of great interest, how the body then affects the brain. As noted above, the brain also receives the effects of the hormones which it has commanded glands (e.g., the adrenals) to release. So there is "feedback". In other words, our brains and our glands are in a continual pas de deux . Now a fascinating fact is that a major result of the release of adrenaline (also called epinephrine) is to affect the brain, particularly an almond-shaped group of brain cells termed the amygdala. The amygdala can be thought of as a major emotional command center. When the amygdala is particularly active, it is believed emotions are experienced. There is another important effect -- when an experience causes adrenaline to be released and ultimately activate the amygdala (actually through the mediation of another hormone called noradrenaline), memories of the initiating experience are strengthened. That is, the body tells the brain how much adrenaline was released Which in turn modifies how strongly the brain stores the memory of the event which started the whole thing. In short, when we experience something very important, even traumatic, a lot of adrenaline is released which "instructs" and the amygdala to help other parts of the brain store stronger memories.(1) So, as we come to the question of music and hormones, we must realize that hormones secreted in the body and affecting bodily processes, such as the cardiovascular, muscular and immune systems, also affect the brain.

There are now several studies, mainly within the last five years or so, that have addressed the issue of whether music itself actually changes the amount of release of our stress hormones. Most of these have concentrated on measuring levels of cortisol before and after various exposures to music.

We can start with attempts to reduce cortisol levels, or more specifically to prevent increased release of this stress hormone, in conjunction with invasive diagnostic and surgical procedures. Gastroscopy is one such diagnostic technique, involving the oral insertion of a probe into the stomach in the awake and aware patient. This is a highly stressful situation, so any approaches that would reduce stress would be helpful. Dr. Escher and co-workers allowed a group of patients undergoing gastroscopy to select and listen to the type of music they preferred, chosen in consultation with a music therapist. A control group heard no music. The control group showed a large increase in levels of cortisol, and also ACTH, in their blood. In contrast, the music group exhibited a significantly lower level of release of these hormones.(2) In a similar approach, in this case to surgery, Miluk-Kolasa et al measured cortisol levels in patients in conjunction with informing them that they would have to undergo surgery the next day.(3) One group received an hour of music immediately following receipt of this unwelcome news, while another group of surgical patients received no treatment; a third non-surgery group of patients served as additional controls. These workers found that the information about impending surgery produced a 50% rise in cortisol within 15 minutes in both surgical groups. Surgical patients who did not receive music exhibited a higher level of cortisol an hour later than the music group, which had returned to a baseline no different from the non-surgical controls. Thus, music greatly reduced the duration of the cortisol response to stress. Both studies indicate that stress hormone levels can be reduced by exposure to music in a medical treatment setting.

What of healthy individuals who are not in a medically-compromised state? Möckel and several co-workers at the Free University of Berlin undertook just such a study. They examined the effects of three types of music on several physiological measures. They employed a waltz by Johann Strauss because it had a regular rhythm. To contrast with this, a composition by the more contemporary composer W. H. Henze was used; the authors note that its rhythm was markedly irregular. The third piece was by Ravi Shankar, selected for it meditative nature without strong rhythmic characteristics. Levels of cortisol and also noradrenaline were reduced by one type of music, the Shankar piece.(4) Of course, the types of music differed in many ways in addition to rhythm, so the particular aspect of music that was responsible is unknown. Still hormonal control by music seems clear.

While these findings all seem to agree that music lower levels of stress hormones, this is not a universal finding. For example, Brownley et al investigated how music affects cortisol in trained and untrained runners under three conditions: "sedative", "fast" and no music.(5) Following high intensity exercise, the authors observed increased levels of cortisol for fast music, compared to sedative and no music in the untrained runners only. So music can actually increase stress hormones. Indeed, in circumstances where the general stress reaction of bodily mobilization may be desirable, music might be a good way to promote this outcome. Such is the case when strenuous activity is required. The trained runners may already have conditioned their bodies to optimal levels of hormonal state, hence the absence of an effect of fast music.

Other studies also show that music can increase as well as decrease stress hormones. And this doesn't have to happen under conditions of high activity or athletic exercise. In one such study, college majors in music and in biology were exposed to two selections from Holst's The Planets -- Venus and Jupiter. The former was rated as peaceful and the latter as very lively. Hormones were altered by the music, but the effect was not so much due to the type of music (relaxing vs. energizing) as to the field of study of the subjects. The biology majors exhibited a decrease in cortisol, similar to that which might be expected from other studies of the effects of music. In contrast, the music students had significant increases in cortisol. When later interviewed, music students indicated that they were actively engaged in mental analysis of the music, some even "playing" their instruments mentally.(6) The same authors obtained similar findings in a follow-up study in which unpleasant, even tragic music was played to the two groups.(7)

Taken together, these findings indicate that there is no simple relationship between music and stress hormones. It is not only a matter of the type of music played, but also the cognitive and other mental activities that the individual brings to the situation. This seems to be a foundational consideration in understanding the interplay between music, hormones and the brain. Moreover, the longer term consequences of the music experience need to be kept in mind. As pointed out above, increased release of stress hormones can strengthen memories for events that occurred at that time or shortly before. Thus, in cases in which one wants to increase memory, music that produces transiently higher hormone levels might be employed, the "flip side" of musical sedation. Moreover, unlike the prescription for an antibiotic or similar therapeutic drug, a "prescription for music" has to be formulated with appropriate attention to and knowledge of the cognitive state, level of knowledge and likely mental response of the individual receiving the music treatment.

Healthy individuals already self-select music but often without an understanding of how or why certain music affects them in a particular way. If a selection produces certain signs of arousal of the autonomic nervous system, like increased respiration and heart rate, the individual could be "self-dosing" with increased levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones. If done continually, chronic high levels of these hormones might be achieved. Whether this has serious health implications needs to be determined. Although one might not want to consider whether they are "overdosing" on cortisol, it might be prudent to give this some serious thought.

-- N. M. Weinberger

(1) McGaugh, JL and Cahill, L. Interaction of neuromodulatory systems in modulating memory storage. Behav. Brain Res. 1997 Feb, 83(1-2):31-8.

(2) Escher, J., Hohmann, U., Anthenien, L., Dayer, E., Bosshard, C. and Gaillard, R.C. (1993). [Music during gastroscopy} {German]. Schweiz. Med. Wochenschrift, 123, 1354-1358.

(3) Miluk-Kolasa, B., Obminski, S., Stupnicki, R. and Golec, L. (1994). Effects of music treatment on salivary cortisol in patients exposed to pre-surgical stress. Exper. and Clin. Endocrinol., 102, 118-120.

(4) Möckel, M., Röcker, L., Störk, T., Vollert, J., Danne, O., Eichstädt, H., Müller, R. and Hochrein, H. (1994). Immediate physiological responses of healthy volunteers to different types of music: cardiovascular, hormonal and mental changes. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol., 68, 451-459.

(5) Brownley K.A., McMurray ,R.G., and Hackney, A.C. (1995). Effects of music on physiological and affective responses to graded treadmill exercise in trained and untrained runners. International J. Psychophysiology, 19(3):193-201

(6) VanderArk, S.D. and Ely, D. (1992). Biochemical and galvanic skin responses to music stimuli by college students in biology and music. Percept. Motor Skills 74, 1079-1090.

(7) VanderArk, S.D. and Ely, D. (1993). Cortisol, biochemical, and galvanic skin responses to music stimuli of different preference values by college students in biology and music. Percept. Motor Skills 77, 227-234.

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The Neurobiology of Musical Learning and Memory
Copyright © 1997 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

Music may set our toes "a-tapping", cause us to burst into song, send us into deep reverie, initiate recall of a specific experience, induce a deep emotional state, or produce an almost infinite number of mental and behavioral effects. The immediacy of these experiences gives them top billing in our daily lives, or if not attaining quite that exalted a status, at least doesn't force us to think about how the brain does all that. How does music get incorporated into our lives? How do musical experience and knowledge get stored in our brains, so that they can later affect our personal and interpersonal lives?

This is a problem within the larger field of learning and memory, an area of inquiry that is the central focus of much behavioral and brain research, indeed which is foundational to most of life. If you don't agree about the critical import of learning and memory, then reflect for a moment on what your life would be like without the ability of acquire and remember things. At the most immediate level, you would not be reading this, since reading is learned. At a more fundamental level, there would be little if any psychological "you" -- no particular personal identity, no comprehension that you are a human, no set of values, neither knowledge about the people you care about, nor what anything in the world is. No language, no walking .... all of these things (and much more) are learned. Without learning and memory, we would be little more than a bundle of knee-jerk type reflexes.

Is it any wonder, then, that the brain substrates of learning and memory are of widespread interest, from the normal development and education of the very young, through maturity, into problems of learning and memory in the aged such as seen in Alzheimer's Disease? This complex field "the neurobiology of learning and memory" is thus a major focus of modern research and, given the ubiquity and complexity of these processes, one of the most challenging areas of inquiry.

Unfortunately, little attention has been devoted to how the brain learns and remembers musical material and concepts. In animal models of human brain function, it has been determined that learning about a tone actually "retunes" brain cells of the auditory cortex (the highest level of the auditory system) so that thereafter they respond better to the most important tones.(1) Thus, the learned significance of musical sounds appears to be stored in the cortex by the amount of cortical response to each sound.

Recently, a more direct investigation of music learning in the human brain has been accomplished. A study by Eckhart Altenmüeller of the Institut für Musikphysiologie und Musiker-Medizin in Hannover, and his colleagues in Tübingen and Freiburg, Germany, has broken substantial new ground, and so it is the major subject of this essay.

We start with a bit of background. First, memory is not a monolithic process; several types of memory are recognized, two of the main types are "declarative" and "procedural". (For a more detailed discussion of these, see "Music and Its Memories", MRN III, #2, Fall 1966). Briefly, "declarative" knowledge is generally mediated verbally and can be recalled in words as events, this is the common-sense use of "memory" and is the memory system engaged in most education, as when teachers tell students about facts and ideas. "Procedural" knowledge involves active "doing",

such as practice on a musical instrument. In short, "declarative" is akin to learning about something while "procedural" is more like learning "how" to do something.

Second, there is substantial evidence that musicians process music differently than non-musicians. In particular, the processing of melodic component of music in non-musicians seems to preferentially involve the right hemisphere; in contrast, musically trained individuals have a greater left hemispheric involvement. This finding has been obtained in various ways over the years -- determined behaviorally by presenting music either to the right or left ear(2) (the ears send auditory information mainly to the opposite hemispheres), PET scanning of the brain(3), recording brain waves(4), or the "DC" potential of the cortex(5). However, until the present study, it was not known whether such left hemisphere processing was present before musical training (i.e., predisposes one to become a musician) or whether it was acquired by learning.

Thus, Altenmüeller and his colleagues asked two very important questions, in an elegant and incisive way. The first, to paraphrase, "When the same musical knowledge is learned using different types of memory systems, are the underlying brain systems the same or different?"(6) This simple question is important not merely for music but also for the general field of learning and memory because it focuses on the question of whether some neural mechanisms of learning are specific to the content of what is learned vs. the process by which it is learned. The second question -- " Is the left hemispheric dominance for aspects of musical processing in musicians innate or learned"?

The authors taught three groups of general non-musician, students (ages 13-14 years) the concept of the "musical period", which is fundamental to much music. The "musical period" is comprised of a brief melody with two symmetric parts (the "antecedent" and "consequent"), each with different endings. The "antecedent" ends weakly, for example finishes on the dominant pitch, which requires resolution to the tonic of the key (e.g., ends on G in the key of C, rather than on C, the tonic), whereas the "consequent" has a strong, stable ending on the tonic (C in the key of C). One group learned via declarative memory, a second via procedural memory while the third group was a non-learning control for the passage of time between the first and second tests.

The declarative group"was instructed by verbal explanation, visual aids and musical examples; that is, they learned passively . The procedural group was taught " ... how and what to do when dealing with musical periods. No verbal explanation or musical notation was employed; instead all instruction relied on a strict musical communication by singing, clapping, moving, and improvising". That is, they learned actively. The electrical activity of the cerebral cortex (measured by slow "DC" potentials) of all subjects was recorded while they were listening to musical examples, before and after five weeks of bi-weekly instruction.

Before the initiation of actual instruction , all groups had the same modest scores on being able to identify whether made-up musical melodies conformed to the correct form of the "musical period" vs. some other relationship between the two parts (e.g., failure of the consequent to end on the tonic). After five weeks of instruction, both the declarative and procedural groups showed the same level of substantial improvement in correctly distinguishing between correct and incorrect examples (the control group showed no change). Thus, they differed only in the instructional strategy, i.e., the memory system that was engaged, not in the end result. Importantly, this finding reinforces the fact that there is more than one way to effectively teach musical concepts.

More interestingly, the two groups showed different patterns of brain activation. That is, the brain hemispheres and the involved lobes within those hemispheres ("frontal", "temporal" and "parietal") showed different amounts of activity between the groups although they were listening to identical musical material. Thus, when the brain learns the same information using different types of memory systems, it seems to represent that information not merely according to its ultimate useful content per se but rather according to the instructional strategy,and thus the type of memory system employed.

There were two other important findings. First, the procedural group showed more parts of the cerebral cortex involved in learning than did the declarative group. Second, the procedural group showed better retention one year later than did the declarative group. Whether the better memory is due to the greater involvement of the brain is not yet know, but it seems clear that the active music-making regimen was definitely better at producing stronger long term memory than was passive learning.

As to the issue of innate or learned influence on left hemispheric dominance for processing melodic material, Altenmüeller and colleagues found more left hemispheric activation in the learning groups than in the untrained control group. Thus, it seems that analytic instruction in musical ideas preferentially engages the left hemisphere via learning. In short, the brain's way of handling at least some basic musical concepts and knowledge is not inborn but learned.

This "cutting edge" research of Dr. Altenmüeller and his colleagues has provided not only some intriguing findings on fundamental questions of the neurobiology of learning and memory about music, but also should serve as an impetus for other workers to undertake studies in this area. It also underscores the long term benefits of using active instructional strategies, based on fundamental brain-behavior research, thus providing a novel synthesis of previously diverse fields on inquiry.

-- N. M. Weinberger

(1) Weinberger, N. M. (1995). Dynamic regulation of receptive fields and maps in the adult sensory cortex. Ann. Rev. Neuroscience, 18, 129-158.

(2) Bever, T. and Chiarello, LR. (1974). Cerebral dominance in musicians and nonmuscians. Science, 185: 537-539.

(3) Mazziotta, J., Phelps, M., Carson, R. & Kuhl, D. (1982). Tomographic mapping of human cerebral metabolism: Auditory stimulation.,  Neurology, I32, 921-937.

Grafton, S.T., Mazziotta, J.C., Presty, S., Friston, K.J., Frackowiack, R.S.J. and Phelps, M.E. (1992). Functional anatomy of human procedural learning determined with regional cerebral blood flow and PET. Neurosci., 12, 2542-2548.

(4) Petsche, M., Pockberger, H. and Rappelsberger, P. (1985). Musikrezeption, EEG und musikalische Vorbildung, Zeitschrift für EEG und EMG, 16, 183-190.

(5) Altenmüller, E. (1989). Cortical DC-potentials as electrophysiological correlates of higher hemispheric dominance of higher cognitive functions. Inter. J. Neuroscience, 47, 1-14.

(6) Altenmüller, E., Gruhn, W., Parlitz, D. and Kahrs, J. (in press) Music learning produces changes in brain activation patterns: a longitudinal DC-EEG study. Int. J. Music Medicine.

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Briefly Noted
Copyright © 1997 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

The Unconscious Musical Brain College classes have prerequisites. Are there "brain prerequisites" for musical ability? If so, then perhaps the brains of musicians include some sort of "head start", in effect making it easier for them to achieve musical competence or expertise. A group of behavioral neuroscientists has recently attacked this question in a novel way. They have studied how the brain responds in a more-or-less unconscious or "pre-attentive" manner to certain acoustic events. Writing in the journal Neuroscience Letters, (1997, vol. 226, pg 1-4), M. Tervaniemi and co-workers in the Department of Psychology at the University of Helsinki, Finland used certain brain waves to investigate the neurophysiological basis of musicality. They recorded auditory event-related brain potentials (ERPs) from musical and non-musical subjects "... musicality being here defined as the ability to temporally structure auditory information." Subjects read and were instructed to pay no attention to a pattern of repeated sounds that included a rare change in its timing. Previous experiments had established that the brain responds automatically to changes in an ongoing pattern of sound; when this occurs, the brain generates a brain wave termed the "mismatch negativity" (MMN) component of ERPs. As noted, this occurs without the subject's direct attention to the auditory pattern. The authors found that the MMN is significantly larger in musical than non-musical subjects. This facilitation is taken to indicate greater accuracy in sensory memory function in musical subjects. Tervaniemi et al suggest that the ability of the brain to better detect changes in sound patterns, previously thought to require attention and specific cognitive processes, actually occurs automatically, without conscious attention. Thus, some brains notice important aspects of musical structure at a primitive level. This is consistent with the view that music has very deep neurobiological roots. However, whether the relationship between the MMN and musicality is causal remains to be determined.

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Recent Publications of Special Interest

Children and Education

Wilson, Sarah J.; Wales, Roger J.; Pattison, Philippa. (1997) The representation of tonality and meter in children aged 7 and 9. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 64: 42-66.

           Abstract: The aim of this study was to explore the development of the representations of tonality and meter in children. Eighty children with a mean age of 7 (Grade 2) and 9 years (Grade 4) were compared on both melodic and rhythmic discrimination and classification tasks. The findings were considered in relation to their specificity to both task and age effects. The results revealed a developmental progression in the representation of tonality that was consistent across tasks. The rhythmic results also supported the existence of a representation of meter that developed with age, however these findings were more subject to task effects.

Music Perception, Cognition and Behavior

Palmer, Caroline. (1997) Music performance. Annual Review of Psychology, 48:115-138.

           Abstract: This review considers research in music performance emphasizing factors contributing to interpretations, retrieval from memory of musical structures, and skilled, coordinated movements. Also included are reviews of the structural and emotional factors that contribute to interpretations. The fine motor control evidenced in music performance is discussed in terms of internal timekeeper models, motor programs, and kinematic models. The perceptual consequences of music performance are also reviewed.

Hargreaves, David J. and North, A.C. (1997) The Social Psychology of Music, Oxford University Press, New York


Matteis M; Silvestrini M; Troisi E; Cupini LM; Caltagirone C. (1997) Transcranial doppler assessment of cerebral flow velocity during perception and recognition of melodies. Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 149:57-61.

           Abstract:Cerebral blood flow changes were studied during melody perception and recognition tasks. Blood flow velocity in the two middle cerebral arteries of twenty right-handed musically untrained volunteers was simultaneously measured during two minutes of passive melody listening and two minutes of a melody recognition task. With respect to baseline values, a bilateral increase of flow velocity occurred in the middle cerebral arteries with a non-significant trend for the right artery during the melody perception task. During the melody recognition task, a significant increase in flow velocity was recorded on the right side with respect to the left side, where a slight simultaneous decrease was found. The findings suggest that melody perception requires bilateral activation of hemispheres and melody recognition mainly an activation of the right hemisphere.

Sarnthein J; vonStein A; Rappelsberger P; Petsche H; Rauscher FH; Shaw GL.(1997) Persistent patterns of brain activity: an EEG coherence study of the positive effect of music on spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19:107-16.

           Abstract: Motivated by predictions from the structured trion model of the cortex, behavioral experiments have demonstrated a causal short-term enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning in college students following exposure to a Mozart sonata, but not in control conditions. The coherence analysis of electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings is well suited to the neurophysiological investigation of this behavioral enhancement. Here we report the presence of right frontal and left temporo-parietal coherent activity induced by listening to Mozart which carried over into the spatial-temporal tasks in three of our seven subjects. This carry-over effect was compared to EEG coherence analysis of spatial-temporal-tasks after listening to text. We suggest that these EEG coherence results provide the beginnings of understanding of the neurophysiological basis of the causal enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning by listening to specific music. The observed long-lasting coherent EEG pattern might be evidence for structured sequences in cortical dynamics which extend over minutes.


Stewart, David. (1997) The sound link: Psychodynamic group music therapy in a therapeutic community setting. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 11:29-46.

           Abstract: This paper concerns the efficacy of weekly psychodynamic group music therapy with the chronically mental ill in a therapeutic-community setting. The major means of communication was interactive improvised music-making, with time for verbal reflection. Central to the therapist's thesis is that the shared music medium primarily acts as a way of expressing, organizing and containing the experience of individual members and of the group. It allows for contact between members at a pre-verbal, preconscious level. The author states that for this particular patient group, contacts made at this level can be critical to their further ability to tolerate and integrate feelings in a more verbal and conscious way. In addition, the music-therapy setting is seen as aiding the process of linking together these two areas of experience, thus providing patients with a potentially freer, less restricted, way of relating to themselves and each other.

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Matters of Opinion
Copyright © 1997 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

Music Neuroscience, Physiology and Medicine

The following opinions about music. are based on the reports of scientific studies. This does not mean that the opinions carry the same importance as the results of such studies themselves. They are simply opinions, intended to provoke thought and sometimes perhaps even argument, but ultimately to energize and enlarge thought and action on music

This issue of MRN differs from previous issues because it concentrates on biomedical aspects of music research. The two major essays review studies of music on the brain and on the physiology of the body, specifically stress hormones. In one sense, this issue is very narrowly focused. This runs the risk of restricting interest because these subjects are unavoidably a bit technical and because readers tend to prefer to read about something that they can immediately relate to their own experience. However, although apparently narrowly focused in subject matter, this issue is intended to broaden the scope of thinking about music research for what I consider to be a very important goal. We all have brains and we all have hormones. Since our bodies don't come with "user's" manuals (they would probably be as complex as VCR manuals), we often find it difficult to understand how we come to be affected by our experiences, most specifically by our musical experiences. So this issue of MRN is intended to help bridge that gap.

There is a second reason for the current focus on biomedicine. Although not adequately known or publicized, inquiry into and application of findings from biomedical research has accelerated greatly in recent years and is increasingly entering daily experience. A particularly important area is the field of "Music Medicine". This field had actually coalesced by the mid 1980s and has continued to develop at an accelerated pace. A particularly noteworthy event occurred in 1987 with the publication of the book "Musik in der Medizin", which provided an overview of the field written by leading research workers, among them the prime movers and editors, Drs. Ralph Spintge and Roland Droh. Since 1987, these researchers have continued to publish both their own work and lead in synthesizing and disseminating findings.

Music Medicine has developed into an active and comprehensive discipline. New journals have appeared, such as the International Journal of Arts Medicine. A professional organization, the International Society for Music in Medicine, supports research and inquiry, bringing together researchers from around the world in major conferences. An increasing number of physicians has joined with research scientists and therapists to provide for a synthesis of thought and technique. The development of sensitive techniques to obtain information from functioning human brains noninvasively by brain scans also has been a factor. In short, Music Medicine has arrived even as it continues to expand.

There are several interesting implications. First, there has been a substantial "boost" about the importance of music. Music Medicine emphasizes music as a most serious subject for deepest study in human behavior and human health, rather than as a cultural "frill", as it is so often wrongly depicted. Such a view would not have been possible a generation past. This extension to medicine complements earlier and still vital approaches to music research that began as laboratory studies of perception, cognition and related processes.

Second, the enlarged domain of music research and application promotes creative interactions among trained professionals who possess different backgrounds, assumptions, experiences and even interests. This enrichment of music research informs and invigorates the field.

Third, since medicine is to a large extent the application and working out of fundamental biological knowledge and principles, music can serve as a bridge across levels of inquiry, i.e., molecular, cellular, systems, normal function and behavior of an individual, prevention and therapy of behavioral and health problems. And here it is well to keep in mind that music affects behavior and health principally through its effects on the nervous system, particularly the brain and interactions between the brain and the rest of the body.

This returns us to the subjects of the essays in this issue of MRN. For while the research community is well aware of Music Medicine, the wide domain of public readership has remained largely uninformed. So The Neurobiology of Musical Learning and Memory and The Musical Hormone can provide bases for learning about and understanding the challenges and successes of Music Medicine and allied fields. These will expand and increasingly impact daily life. So, "Be Prepared"!

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Editor's Note

In MRN Spring 1997 (IV-1) an abstract of Gardiner et al, "Learning improved by arts training" (Nature, 1996, 381, 580:284) incorrectly emphasized improvements in visuospatial reasoning in 1st graders. The authors have been invited to provide their own summary, herein presented.

"Kodaly music training was integral to test arts. We not only studied 1st graders, but also replicated impact on math in 2nd graders, and also found math learning correlated with years (of) test arts. We found evidence that this arts training improved attitude towards learning, but also proposed another transfer mode "mental stretching" (involving similarities in learned mentation skills) to account for greater arts training impact on math compared to reading."


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