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Big Picture: Music, Mind and Medicine

Big Picture: Music, Mind and Medicine

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Published by Wellcome Trust
Most of us hear some form of music each day. It is a popular leisure activity and accompanies many of the most significant points of our lives.Even so, music remains one of life's great mysteries. How can it have such a powerful impact? And what exactly is music? FInd out in this free educational publication. 'Big Picture' is a free post-16 resource for teachers that explores issues around biology and medicine.
Most of us hear some form of music each day. It is a popular leisure activity and accompanies many of the most significant points of our lives.Even so, music remains one of life's great mysteries. How can it have such a powerful impact? And what exactly is music? FInd out in this free educational publication. 'Big Picture' is a free post-16 resource for teachers that explores issues around biology and medicine.

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Published by: Wellcome Trust on Jun 26, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs


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JUNE 2009
 F R E E
 reso u rce  fo r  teac he rs
Music and emotions
Evolution of music
Music and medicine
Creativity and music
Movedby music
How music affectsmind and body
   A   l  e  x  a  n   d  r  u   /   S   h  u   t   t  e  r  s   t  o  c   k
 Big Picture 10:Music, Mind and Medicine
Big Picture
on music
It is hard to imagine a world without music. Most of ushear some form of music every day. It is a popular leisureactivity and it accompanies many of the most significantpoints of our lives: our infancy, our marriages, ourfunerals. It is a powerful trigger of emotional memories.Often, we can tell the story of our lives in songsand music.Even so, music remains one of life’s great mysteries.How can it have such a powerful impact on us? Whatexactly is it for? When in human history did it appearand why? Do other animals experience music? And what exactly is music anyway?
Harmony in my headMagical mystery tour
Music always involves combinations of pitch, timbre, rhythm, loudness, tempo, melody and harmony.These elements can be combined to create a huge diversity of music – from African drumming toJohann Sebastian Bach, Inuit throat singing to Razorlight.
It’s abeautifulnoise
How high or lowa note is. Linkedto the frequencyof a sound wave
 A regular sound ofdistinct pitch; musicalsystems are based ona discrete set of tones
Musical interval of eightfull tones (e.g. from Cto the C above it), overwhich pitch frequencyhalves or doubles
 Wh y  the same no te on a  trombone sounds di f feren t  to one pla yed on a  violin
he oganisaion o musical sesses oe ime
Combining notes ofdifferent pitches tocreate new sounds
he olume o sound. Dependen on he ampliude o a sound ae
The speedat whicha piece ofmusic isplayed
 A pleasing aangemen o noes
In the inner ear, the cochlea convertssound waves into the language of thebrain: nerve impulses. Within the organof Corti, tiny hair cells in the basilarmembrane detect sound vibrations.Inner hair cells convert mechanicalstimulation to an electrical signal.Their deformation opens ion channels,triggering a series of cellular events thatultimately generates an action potentialin the auditory nerve.Because of the structure of thebasilar membrane, different parts of thecochlea respond to sounds of differentpitch. At one end the membraneis narrow and stiff and vibrates inresponse to high pitches. The otherend is wider and more flexible,responding to deeper sounds.But information doesn’t just flow oneway. The brain can send signals thatsharpen up responses of hair cells, sowe can concentrate on specific aspectsof sound in complex environments.
www.wellcome.ac.uk/ bigpicture/music
 The sound journey from ear to brain issummarised at Big Picture Online.See how the cochlea is beautifullystructured to detect sound andtransmit information to the brain. The website also includes anaudio library providing auditorymaterial to complementthe articles in this issue.
discrete set of tones,which pitch frequencyhalves or doubles
JUNE 2009 
How are music andlanguage related?
Music and language havemuch in common. Bothdepend upon the brain’sperception of structuredsound input. Links betweenthe two were noted bythe ancient Greeks, andCharles Darwin speculatedabout how they might berelated. During the 20thcentury, attention focusedmainly on their differences,with the idea that the brainhad specific ‘modules’ fordecoding music, distinctfrom those that handledlanguage.In reality, the linesbetween language andmusic are not always clearcut. ‘Talking drums’, usedto send messages in partsof Africa, and thewhistling languagesof Africa, Asia andSouth Americaresemble music butconvey informationas ‘normal’languages do. Babytalk (the cooingintonation of‘motherese’or ‘parentese’)also blurs the boundaries.Similarly, the idea thatthere are separate music-processing areas in thebrain has been challenged.Localised brain damagecan affect specific aspectsof music perception, butoften disrupts both musicand language. An emergingidea is that there are brainnetworks and areas formusic that overlap with, butare not identical to, thoseused in language.So which came first? Didearly humans chat or singround the campfire? Onepossibility is that rhythmand early motherese-likecommunication provideda common foundationfor both language andmusic. The two divergedas language becamethe principal tool ofcommunication,with well-definedstructures and rules.Music set off in adifferent direction. Yettheir common ancestrylives on in the sharedprocessing pathwaysin our brains.
 Always on my mind
Our brains recognise octaves as special.
‘Happy Birthday’ is a well-known tune, written surprisingly recently (technically,it is still in copyright). As with all songs, if its notes are all raised by an octave(or multiple octaves) it remains instantly recognisable. A much smaller shift infrequency, if it does not match an octave, has a much more dramatic impact onmelody and makes the tune harder to spot.Remarkably, our brains have an innate ability to spot the fact that notes anoctave apart are the same. This capacity is even present in unborn infants, whoseheart rate changes when they experience novel sounds. An octave shift, though,has a relatively small effect on heart rate.Perhaps even more remarkably, other primates share this ability. Rhesusmonkeys trained to distinguish ‘same’ from ‘different’ can spot the similaritybetween different versions of ‘Happy Birthday’ (and other simple songs) but onlywhen they are played an octave apart.Early music was passed on fromperson to person. Oral traditionremains the norm in many regions,including most of Africa. Generally,though, some form of musicalnotation is used. The ancient Greeks wrotemelodies as lines of letters. But itwasn’t until eighth-century Churchmusic that changes in pitcheswere shown: diagonal linesindicated rises or falls in the tune.More precise changes in pitchwere written in the tenth century,when a single line represented afixed tone and pitch varied aboveor below this by set distances.By the 12th century, staves hadfour lines with pitches on alternatespaces and lines. We now havefive.In Japanese music there is noconsensus notation because themusic is so diverse. The notationfor the Shakuhachi bamboo flutesis pictorial: a symbol for each notewith dots and lines for lengths andintonation.
Talking loud and clear
 An African‘talking drum’.
(goosebumps etc.) AUDITORYPROCESSING
 
with pastevents
Brain imaging shows that musicperception involves a wide range of brainregions. Many are specialised: music
leads to increased activity in a networkincluding the evolutionarily ancientemotional areas of the brain.
with brain damage, often from
people with damage to a particular regionon the right side of the brain can nolonger tell whether a pitch changes toa higher or lower note. As a result theycannot perceive a tune’s ups and downsover time – its melodic contour.There is overlap between musicperception and other brain functions,particularly music and language. For
events in both music and language aredetected by similar brain regions.
The brain has a complex interconnectedset of pathways for processing music.
Wired for sound
   P   h  o   t  o   d   i  s  c
 A Tibetan musical score from a Buddhist monastic ritual,
late 18th–19th century.

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