The neuroscience of music and musical appreciation: Music and the Brain


Music can teach us about our human roots and how the brain works. Music can be used as a therapy tool to stimulate specific brain circuits. Music and psychopathology can also be linked to musical creativity. This paper will provide a brief overview.

A perspective from evolutionary perspectives

Many attempts have been made to identify the behaviours that distinguish our species, Homo Sapiens, from its closest living relatives. As ethnologists and anthropologists continue to observe similarities and not differences, they have rejected the claims of any attributed activities. These include tool-making, theory of mind, empathy, and other cognitive abilities. Our cognitive abilities have been more developed, closely linked to the evolution of our brain’s size and structure. Bipedalism, the use of fire, the development of effective working memory and our vocal language efficient communication have all emerged from these genetic-environmental adaptations over several million years (Pasternak, 2007).

Our ability to create and respond musically and dance to the beats of time are two universal features common to our world.

Our ancestors developed expressive language and emotional expression along the evolutionary path. Susanne Langer, the philosopher, noted that music is the most developed form of this purely connotational semantic (Langer 1951 p. 93). Meaning in music was created before the meaning of words.

The mammalian middle ears were created from the jawbones of older reptiles. They carry sound at specific frequencies. Although it is tuned to sound, the range of frequencies required for speech is greater than natural. The frequency band that mothers use to sing to their babies (or so-called motherese, or child-directed speech), with exaggerated intonation, rhythm and rhythm, corresponds to the one used by composers in their melodies. The infant must have a similar period of brain development to incorporate music.

The increase in auditory processing area in the developed brains Homo Sapiens is one of the main differences between them and the great apes. In other primates, the size of the visual cortex is correlated well with brain size. However, Homo Sapiens has a smaller one. However, there have been increases in brain size in other areas of the human brain, particularly in the temporal and dorsal areas related to the auditory receptions of speech. With the increase in cerebellum size and the connections between the premotor and prefrontal cortex, as well as areas of the premotor and prefrontal cortex that are linked through basal structures, the expansion of association and primary auditory cortices, along with increased brain size, has led to a shift towards an aesthetics based upon sound and the ability to entrain to external rhythmic signals. Our ancestors used the voice as their first musical instrument. The ear is always open, and unlike vision, the eyes, or the gaze, sound can’t be easily obstructed. The rhythmic beats of the mother and infant’s bodies, as well as the primitive rhythmic beating of sticks and wood, and the hand-clapping of proto-speaking ancestors and adolescents, are all part of the infant’s rhythmic environment. Langer ( 1951 p.93) stated that the infant’s rhythm is more flexible than the drum and that voices quickly made patterns. The long, endearing melodies from primitive songs became part of communal celebration. Mithen’s work supports these ideas. He argues that music and spoken language evolved from a protolanguage, a linguistic music system created from primates calls. It was emotional, but it did not have the same words we know.

It is possible that the protolanguage of today was born from a combination of gesture and musicality. Anatomical advancements enabled this flexibility in the brain and the coordination of facial, pharyngeal, and laryngeal muscles. The bicameral brain became different concerning the functions of both sides. It was bipartite, with the two cerebral hemispheres cooperating in coordinating life and the environment.

Music is an experience.

One of the most important findings from brain studies on music listening is the emphasis on the right (non-dominant) side of the brain. The brain damage that results from cerebral lesions can cause impairments in pitch, timbre, and rhythm appreciation (Stewart and 2006). Brain imaging studies have also shown that the right side of the brain is more active when listening to music and that even thinking about music activates this side of your brain (Blood and al; 1999). This does not mean that the brain is divided into a left-right duo. Indeed, traditional neurology has largely ignored the talents of non-dominant brain hemispheres, favouring the dominant (normally right) hemisphere. This is partly due to an emphasis on the dominant hemisphere in propositional language and a lack of interest in prosody (emotional intonations of speech) that give meaning to the expression.

It seems that music and emotion have been linked for a long time. Plato believed that music in different ways would provoke different emotions. As a general rule, most people would agree on the emotional meaning of any piece of music. Major chords can be perceived as cheerful, while minor chords can be sad. This is also reflected in the tempo or movement of time. Slower music seems less joyful than slower rhythms. This is because motion is an important part of the motion. It also reminds us that dance moves as much as the music moves us emotionally.

Musical theorists have tended to focus on the syntax and grammar of music rather than the emotional experiences that music can trigger. Music evokes emotions and physiological reactions, which can now be measured if the music does anything. The ordinary listener may not be aware of the relationship between emotion and musical content. This is because ‘the real stimulus isn’t the musical structure’ but rather the subjective content of one’s mind (Langer 1951 p. 258). This phenomenological approach is directly contrary to the current neuroscience techniques in this area. However, it is relevant to psychiatry and topics like compositional creativity.

Music is a language if it is not a language. Music is a rhythm of life. It has tensions, resolutions and diminuendos. There are delays and silence interludes. Although music does not provide us with a logical language to speak, Langer says that it “reveals the nature and truth of emotions with a detail and truth no language can approach.”

This idea is difficult to grasp for philosophers, as knowledge can exist without words. The problem of describing a language of feelings permeates neuroscience and philosophy research. It highlights the futility of trying to classify emotions.

Music ability and psychiatric disorder

A large body of literature supports the association between creativity and psychopathology (Trimble 2007). These links appear to be different for different types of high achievement. Mood disorders are also over-represented. While there are many creative people, they tend to have more cyclothymia than bipolarity. However, florid manic depressive illness is rare. It is worth looking at biographies of famous musicians for their brain-behaviour associations. It isn’t easy to convert the biographies of famous musicians into DSM diagnoses. This is due to a lack of reliable medical records and autobiographical information. It is of great significance that so many classical composers have been diagnosed with mood disorders. The incidence ranges between 35% to 40% (Mula & Trimble 2009). Although studies have not been published, similar associations may exist in non-Western composers. None of these composers appears to have suffered from schizophrenia. These findings are important in understanding the brain’s structure and function and offer avenues of therapeutic investigation that will differ depending on the diagnosis.

Music therapy

Music is universal and prompts a response. This response is ingrained in our evolutionary development and can lead to significant changes in emotion and movement. According to the anatomical associations mentioned above, music should be considered one of the ways to stimulate the brain. Music is a non-invasive treatment that has received much attention but insufficient empirical research. Music’s cultural role in social learning and emotional well being can partly explain its therapeutic value. Numerous studies have shown rhythmic entrainment can help patients with stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injuries. People with memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease have shown that their neuronal memories are more resistant to neurodegenerative influences than those whose music has helped them. Individually randomised trials have shown that people with depression accept music therapy, associated with improved mood disorders. Music therapy has been shown to have psychotherapeutic benefits for patients with neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism spectrum disorders.

These data indicate that music therapy for patients with neuropsychiatric disorders is effective and cost-effective. To date, most of the work has been done using Western-style music, although Bach and Mozart have been popular choices for interventions. Shantala Hegde’s paper outlines the therapeutic potential of music from other musical genres. Music can be used to learn about ourselves and our brains. It can also be used as a therapy tool by stimulating and accessing specific cerebral circuits.

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