Neuroscience of Music is Serious Study

musicMB asks: “I am a musician and a teacher and I am very much interested in researching about neuroscience of music. It is a basically new field of study since the year 2000. Neuroscientists basically study the impact that music education has on the brain, especially at an early age and how it promotes brain and cognitive development . . . 

“I would like to know if there is any connection between this field and new age. I would like to dedicate more time to research in this area to promote music education in schools as a mandatory curriculum, but I want to make sure that I am not venturing in things that are against my faith.”

There seems to be no New Age connection to the study of the neuroscience of music. This appears to be a serious study with plenty of peer-reviewed research to back up findings of how the brain and body respond to music and how these responses can be used in therapy and to improve academic performance.

This article reviews a recent study in which a team of researchers from Montreal wanted to know why music makes the body feel so good. Why does it make the pupils in our eyes dilate and our pulse and blood pressure rise? Do we want to tap our feet and dance because music makes the cerebellum – a region of the brain associated with bodily movement – become active?

In order to answer these and many other questions, scientists used PET and fMRI scanning to study the brain activity of subjects while they listened to their favorite songs.

“ The first thing they discovered . . . is that music triggers the release of dopamine in both the dorsal and ventral striatum. This isn’t particularly surprising: these regions have long been associated with the response to pleasurable stimuli. It doesn’t matter if we’re having sex or snorting cocaine or listening to Kanye: These things fill us with bliss because they tickle these cells. Happiness begins here.”

Interestingly, in this study, researchers discovered that subjects showed an anticipatory response just before their favorite parts of the music were played. The various phases of the song involved a dopamine release from different parts of the brain.

This type of research is important for improving the use of music in therapies such as the Dalcroze Method and Neurologic Music Therapy which focus on rhythm, structure and movement in music in order to help patients with motor difficulties. The Nordoff-Robbins method, which focuses on music creation with the help of a therapist, has been found to be effective for children with autism, mental disorders, emotional disturbances and developmental delays.

The impact on music on academic development is even more interesting.

A number of studies have been conducted which found that music students have a higher grade point average than non-music students. Experts say music education assists students in improving their writing, communication and analytical skills. And because of the great deal of self-discipline required to be successful in music, it’s not surprising that music majors tend to have higher SAT scores.

The bottom line is that the neuroscience of music is a serious scientific pursuit that is firmly rooted in sound scholarship. I would have no hesitation in pursuing this field of study.

 

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