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Music and the Brain

The beneficial powers of music on the human brain

The beneficial effects of music on the brain have been well-documented both in the popular press and in academic journals (see ‘links to further information’ below to see some examples). Extensive studies show that music has a variety of beneficial effects on cognitive ability. The bottom line to all these studies:

Musical training has a profound impact on other skills including speech and language, memory and attention, and cooperation and motivation.

Overview

Functional brain imaging has shown that music is processed in many different areas of the brain, rather than having a ‘centre’. Computational areas stimulated by music include:

  • Corpus callosum: connects left and right hemispheres
  • Visual cortex: reading and interpreting symbols
  • Motor cortex: movement
  • Hippocampus: memory
  • Auditory cortex: listening, perception and analysis
  • Sensory cortex: tactile feedback
  • Prefrontal cortex: expectation
  • Cerrebellum: movement and emotional responses
Music and Language

A variety of publications indicate that music and speech are intimately connected in early life and that the musical elements of ‘infant directed speech’ pave the way to linguistic capacities earlier than phonetic elements:

“The processes and brain structures involved in the perception of syntax and semantics in music have considerable overlap with those involved in language perception, underlining intimate links between music and language in the human brain” (S. Koelsch, Neural substrates of processing syntax and semantics in music, 2005)

Rhythm and Dyslexia

Recent research at Cambridge University has found that the ability of children to hear the beats in music is a “remarkably strong predictor of reading and spelling development”. The research team looked at the link between children’s ability in language listening tasks and their reading and spelling development and concluded that rhythmic ability is important in developing awareness of the sounds within words.

Professor Usha Goswami, leader of the research team, suggests that introducing individuals to music and rhythm could help them prepare for reading; promoting an individual’s ability to discern rhythm could hold the secret to overcoming dyslexia.

Furthermore, areas of the brain respond when people just think about music. Researchers have found activity in brain regions that control movement even when people just listen to music without moving any parts of their bodies. “If you’re just thinking about tapping out a rhythm, parts of the motor system in your brain light up,” says Dr Mark Jude Tramo, a  neuroscientist at the Harvard Medical School.

Links to Further Information