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ISSUE 10 JUNE 2009
BRINGING CUTTING-EDGE SCIENCE INTO THE CLASSROOM
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resource for
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MUSIC, MIND
AND MEDICINE
■ Music and emotions
■Evolution of music
■Music and medicine
■Creativity and music
Moved
by music
How music affects
mind and body
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2 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
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Big Picture on music
It is hard to imagine a world without music. Most of us
hear some form of music every day. It is a popular leisure
activity and it accompanies many of the most significant
points of our lives: our infancy, our marriages, our
funerals. It is a powerful trigger of emotional memories.
Often, we can tell the story of our lives in songs
and music.
Even so, music remains one of life’s great mysteries.
How can it have such a powerful impact on us? What
exactly is it for? When in human history did it appear
and why? Do other animals experience music?
And what exactly is music anyway?
Harmony in my head
Magical 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 to
Johann Sebastian Bach, Inuit throat singing to Razorlight.
It’s a
beautiful
noise
PITCH:
How high or low
a note is. Linked
to the frequency
of a sound wave
TONE:
A regular sound of
distinct pitch; musical
systems are based on
a discrete set of tones
OCTAVE:
Musical interval of eight
full tones (e.g. from C
to the C above it), over
which pitch frequency
halves or doubles
TIMBRE:
Why the same
note on a
trombone
sounds different
to one played
on a violin
RHYTHM:
The organisation
of musical
stresses
over time
HARMONY:
Combining notes of
different pitches to
create new sounds
LOUDNESS:
The volume
of sound.
Dependent on
the amplitude of
a sound wave
TEMPO:
The speed
at which
a piece of
music is
played
MELODY:
A pleasing
arrangement
of notes
In the inner ear, the cochlea converts
sound waves into the language of the
brain: nerve impulses. Within the organ
of Corti, tiny hair cells in the basilar
membrane detect sound vibrations.
Inner hair cells convert mechanical
stimulation to an electrical signal.
Their deformation opens ion channels,
triggering a series of cellular events that
ultimately generates an action potential
in the auditory nerve.
Because of the structure of the
basilar membrane, different parts of the
cochlea respond to sounds of different
pitch. At one end the membrane
is narrow and stiff and vibrates in
response to high pitches. The other
end is wider and more flexible,
responding to deeper sounds.
But information doesn’t just flow one
way. The brain can send signals that
sharpen up responses of hair cells, so
we can concentrate on specific aspects
of sound in complex environments.
www.wellcome.ac.uk/
bigpicture/music
SOUND AND VISION
The sound journey from ear to brain is
summarised at Big Picture Online.
See how the cochlea is beautifully
structured to detect sound and
transmit information to the brain.
The website also includes an
audio library providing auditory
material to complement
the articles in this issue.
ON THE WEB
systems are based on
a discrete set of tones
to the C above it), over
which pitch frequency
halves or doubles
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JUNE 2009 3
How are music and
language related?
Music and language have
much in common. Both
depend upon the brain’s
perception of structured
sound input. Links between
the two were noted by
the ancient Greeks, and
Charles Darwin speculated
about how they might be
related. During the 20th
century, attention focused
mainly on their differences,
with the idea that the brain
had specific ‘modules’ for
decoding music, distinct
from those that handled
language.
In reality, the lines
between language and
music are not always clear
cut. ‘Talking drums’, used
to send messages in parts
of Africa, and the
whistling languages
of Africa, Asia and
South America
resemble music but
convey information
as ‘normal’
languages do. Baby
talk (the cooing
intonation of
‘motherese’
or ‘parentese’)

also blurs the boundaries.
Similarly, the idea that
there are separate music-
processing areas in the
brain has been challenged.
Localised brain damage
can affect specific aspects
of music perception, but
often disrupts both music
and language. An emerging
idea is that there are brain
networks and areas for
music that overlap with, but
are not identical to, those
used in language.
So which came first? Did
early humans chat or sing
round the campfire? One
possibility is that rhythm
and early motherese-like
communication provided
a common foundation
for both language and
music. The two diverged
as language became
the principal tool of
communication,
with well-defined
structures and rules.
Music set off in a
different direction. Yet
their common ancestry
lives on in the shared
processing pathways
in 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 in
frequency, if it does not match an octave, has a much more dramatic impact on
melody and makes the tune harder to spot.
Remarkably, our brains have an innate ability to spot the fact that notes an
octave apart are the same. This capacity is even present in unborn infants, whose
heart 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. Rhesus
monkeys trained to distinguish ‘same’ from ‘different’ can spot the similarity
between different versions of ‘Happy Birthday’ (and other simple songs) but only
when they are played an octave apart.
Early music was passed on from
person to person. Oral tradition
remains the norm in many regions,
including most of Africa. Generally,
though, some form of musical
notation is used.
The ancient Greeks wrote
melodies as lines of letters. But it
wasn’t until eighth-century Church
music that changes in pitches
were shown: diagonal lines
indicated rises or falls in the tune.
More precise changes in pitch
were written in the tenth century,
when a single line represented a
fixed tone and pitch varied above
or below this by set distances.
By the 12th century, staves had
four lines with pitches on alternate
spaces and lines. We now have
five.
In Japanese music there is no
consensus notation because the
music is so diverse. The notation
for the Shakuhachi bamboo flutes
is pictorial: a symbol for each note
with dots and lines for lengths and
intonation.
Talking loud and clear
An African
‘talking drum’.
EXPECTANCY,
CONTEMPLATION
º Consonance/dissonance
º Tempo change VISUAL PERCEPTION
º Performer
º Dancer
º Music reading PERSONALITY
AND PREFERENCE
º Taste
º Subcu|ture
SENSORY ANALYSIS
º Foot tapping
º Singing
EMOTIONS
º Fee|ings ([oy etc.}
º Physica| sensations
(goosebumps etc.)
AUDITORY
PROCESSING
º Pitch
º Rhythm
º Harmony
º Lyrics
º Timbre etc.
MEMORY
º Association
with past
events
Abacab
Brain imaging shows that music
perception involves a wide range of brain
regions. Many are specialised: music
evoking happiness and [oy, for examp|e,
leads to increased activity in a network
including the evolutionarily ancient
emotional areas of the brain.
The experiences of peop|e
with brain damage, often from
in[ury or stroke, te|| us about how the
brain understands music. For examp|e,
people with damage to a particular region
on the right side of the brain can no
longer tell whether a pitch changes to
a higher or lower note. As a result they
cannot perceive a tune’s ups and downs
over time – its melodic contour.
There is overlap between music
perception and other brain functions,
particularly music and language. For
examp|e, anoma|ous or unexpected
events in both music and language are
detected by similar brain regions.
The brain has a complex interconnected
set of pathways for processing music.
Wired for sound
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A Tibetan musical score from a Buddhist monastic ritual, circa late 18th–19th century.
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4 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
Emotions are associated with activity
in a network of brain structures. Music
is very good at stimulating activity in
these areas – a sign of the tremendous
emotional impact of music.
Interestingly, emotional reactions
seem to be an innate aspect of music
perception. Dissonance, combinations
of notes that clash with one another, is
distressing. The phenomenon is often
exp|oited by composers. a contro||ed
change from dissonant to consonant
tones is appreciated as a resolution of
tension in diverse cultures from Hindu
to Western.
The ‘Devil’s interval’ – two notes three
tones apart (e.g. a C and an F sharp),
played simultaneously or one after another
– automatically induces a feeling of dread.
In medieval times it was considered evil
and banned. More recently, it has been
a staple of horror films and heavy metal
(though it also appears in West Side Story
and the theme to The Simpsons).
The |ink with emotions a|so exp|ains
why music is so good at con[uring up
memories. In particular, one region of the
prefronta| cortex responds both to fami|iar
music and ‘autobiographical’ memories
(those most relevant to us as individuals).
Listening to a song heard on a first date
can thus call up powerful recollections of
excitement (or embarrassment}.
Interestingly, this is one of the last
areas to be lost in Alzheimer’s disease,
suggesting that music could help people
to retrieve personal memories even at late
stages of disease.
Heartbeat
Music can trigger powerful
physiological responses.
Music can elicit a remarkable range of
emotions, from elation to the deepest
sorrow. As well as provoking a mental
response, it also has characteristic
effects on the body.
Music can give us the ‘thrills’, ‘chills’ and
‘shivers’. Heart rate and skin conductance
may change. The hairs on the back of our
neck (and elsewhere) really do stand up.
These effects arise from the action
of hormones, triggered by signals from
structures such as the hypothalamus.
Stirring, martial music may stimulate the
release of adrenaline; dance music can
trigger a burst of endorphins, associated
with the experience of b|iss.
Music activates areas of the brain such
as the insula, which seems to maintain
an internal representation of how the
body ‘feels’. Music thus conveys a
sensation that affects our whole body.
Might music even affect our immune
function? The nervous, endocrine and
immune systems are more connected
than once thought, so this is
conceivab|e. Music may, for examp|e,
affect levels of the stress hormone
cortisol, which can influence the
immune system.
My generation
A 2003 study found that sopranos tended
to live longer than altos (and basses longer
than tenors). Possibly, higher levels
of sex hormones (oestrogens in women,
androgens in men) are responsible for both
voice characteristics and longevity.
The power of music is extraordinary. It can inspire, excite and influence our mood
profoundly. It can send chills down our spines and raise the hairs on the back of
our necks.
How can something as simple as a coordinated set of noises have such
dramatic impacts on our mind and body?
More controversially, perhaps, music is often used deliberately to modify
human behaviour – building on a long history of manipulation by music.
In the mood
ctivity In medieval times it was considered evil
e our mood
e back of
ch
dify
.
High-flying adored:
Lesley Garrett,
soprano.
Second
that emotion
Emotion is fundamental
to the musical experience.
All the worst tunes: the ‘Devil's interval’ inspires dread.
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Big in Japan:
Luciano Pavarotti, bass.
People from diverse cultures
agree that certain pairs of notes
are harmonious (consonant) or
disharmonious (dissonant). The
discord comes from interfering
vibrations of the ear’s basilar
membrane, which lead to
conflicting patterns of activity in
the auditory nerve.
But most musical preferences
are learned. They change over
history – sounds dissonant to
medieval audiences might go
unnoticed today. And they vary
between cultures. Melodies that
inspire sadness in one country
may leave people from another
unmoved.
What accounts for individual
taste in music? Some research
has found a link between music
taste and particular personality
traits (see below). We will also
naturally be influenced by the
music we experience as we grow
up – both the prevailing musical
culture and the specific music our
families listen to. Even factors such
as socioeconomic status may be
significant (jazz tends to be more
popular among the well-off).
Our tastes will tend to change
over time. With experience, we
may begin to enjoy more complex
musical pieces. But we also lose
our initial range of hearing.
Changes to the brain can
radically affect musical tastes.
Classical music lovers with
dementia, for example, have
been known suddenly to acquire
a taste for pop music.
So what about musical
quality? A century ago the
question would not have
been thought worth asking:
Western classical music was
seen as innately superior. Colonial
occupations imposed attitudes
and culture as well as armies.
Even today, classical music retains
an association with social and
cultural elites.
Even so, what is seen
as ‘quality’ shifts over time;
composers come in and out
of fashion. Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of
Spring’ sparked a riot when first
performed in 1913 yet is now
widely recognised as a classic.
Moreover, there is a greater
willingness to accept
musical plurality – that
no one musical form is
‘better’ than another.
Buy buy baby
Inevitably, business has also wised up to the
power of music. ‘Audio architects’ develop
soundtracks for shops that are as much
part of the brand as their visual identity.
Sports events have abandoned
marching bands in favour of
booming popular music.
Music affects how fast
people drive and how
they exercise in the gym.
Music volume affects
beer consumption. Style of
music can even affect wine
purchases: when German music
was played in an off-licence,
shoppers were more likely to choose
German wines, while French music
led them to prefer French tipples.
Like a rolling stone
A global study of 36 000 people found a range
of associations between personality traits and
musical tastes – some of them quite surprising.
Opera lovers tend to have high self-esteem
and are creative and gentle; country and western
devotees are typically hard-working and outgoing;
heavy metal fans tend to have low self-esteem
and are not so hard-working, but are gentle.
Conversely, song choice can provide clues
to personality. In one study, strangers were
asked to judge what people were like (extrovert,
adventurous, melancholic, etc.) based on a CD of their favourite
music or other clues. The assessments based on the CD were
significantly better matches than those drawn from looks, clothes
or taste in films.
Good
vibrations
What is quality music?
Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ has graced David
Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Jean-
Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. In 2004, listeners to Radio 4’s Today
programme voted it the saddest classical piece ever written.
A dance version by William Orbit (remixed by Ferry Corsten)
was a top hit in 1999.
Soundtracks are vital to a film experience, tugging at the
heartstrings, stirring the soul or scaring the living daylights out
of us (think Jaws, Psycho). Film score composers are emulating
classical composers, who used music to elicit an emotional
response, from sombre requiems to Beethoven’s uplifting
‘Ode to Joy’.
Interestingly, even cognitive scientists exploit this
phenomenon, using doom-laden works by Prokofiev to induce
low mood in experimental subjects.
More generally, bland, relaxing music (‘elevator music’ or
‘muzak’) is used in public places as a calming influence (and to
encourage customers to browse longer). In 2002, by contrast,
loud classical music was introduced at Copenhagen’s main
railway station to discourage drug dealers and sex workers.
In 1989, loud music was also used during ‘Operation Nifty
Package’, the US Government’s attempt to capture General
Noriega, a military dictator in Panama. Loud music was blasted
at the Vatican diplomatic mission where he had taken refuge.
Music has been used on captives by US forces, for example at
Guantánamo Bay and in Iraq.
We are the world: diverse musical forms
from around the world.
Psycho killer: film scores can evoke powerful emotions.
You shook
me all
night long
As any Hollywood
soundtrack composer
knows, music can be
used to manipulate
people’s state of mind.
JUNE 2009 5
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Andy Hill/iStockphoto
Clockwise from
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iStockphoto, Nancy
Louie/iStockphoto,
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6 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
Slice open the skull and a neuroanatomist could instantly
spot signs of a professional musician. Musicians typically
have an enlarged corpus callosum – the cables that pass
from one side of the brain to the other. Certain areas of
the cortex would also be well developed, particularly those
dealing with sound, motor coordination and hand–eye
coordination.
A violinist’s brain might show enhanced grey matter in
the motor areas specifically associated with the fingers of
the left hand (used for fingering). He or she might also show
greater activation in auditory areas in response to violin
tones than to trumpet tones.
There is also evidence that musicians use their brains
in a different way, engaging a more ‘analytical’ strategy
than non-musicians when listening to melodies.
So musicians’ brains are different. Studies are
now underway to see how the brains of musicians
change as they go through their training.
What does it take to be a good musician? Is it all down to natural
talent or can everyone become a virtuoso, given the chance?
And once learned, do musical skills help us in any other way?
Perhaps they could be applied to help heal the sick. For centuries
music was seen as integral to the healing arts. Now, it is beginning to
make a comeback – though hard evidence of patient benefits is scant.
Things can only get better
Day after day
Is musical ability something you are
born with or does it come with practice?
Could anyone, given the opportunity, become a concert
pianist or are there a select few with the potential to excel?
A would-be musician must learn a new set of skills: generic
skills such as reading music and specific skills associated with
a chosen instrument. Across many areas of human endeavour,
after initial training, further improvements tend to be gradual,
peaking after many years’ effort – exactly when depending on
the skill being learned. Typically, performance then declines
slightly in later life. So an elite performer will generally take at
least a decade – and often much longer – to reach their peak.
Enhanced skills seem to depend on deliberate practice –
repeatedly attempting specified tasks, assessing performance
and striving for improvement. The aim is to prevent playing
becoming ‘automated’ – mastered to the point that it no
longer requires active cognitive thought. Although automation
is an important step in mastering an instrument, to develop
further a player must actively strive to enhance their
performance. So simply rehearsing a piece hundreds of times
will not necessarily lead to improvements.
Typically, reaching a level needed to win international
competitions means devoting more than 10 000 hours to
deliberate practice.
So is it all down to the right kind of practice? Possibly. On
the other hand, a genetic study of isolated Finnish populations
found evidence for genes associated with musical aptitude
on chromosomes 4 and 8. This and other evidence suggests
that innate musical ability will vary between individuals in a
population.
Simply the best
Music has been marginalised in
medicine. Now, though, many
doctors are arguing for its wider
therapeutic use.
Not surprisingly, given its power
to influence mood and behaviour,
its most popular uses are for
psychological and psychiatric
disorders, as well as neurological
conditions and pain control.
Music has proven value in situations
likely to promote anxiety, such
as children’s medical and dental
treatment (right) and cervical cancer
screening. Other well-established
uses include interventions for people
with chronic pain or tinnitus and
children with migraine.
But the effects are often not great
and may not be long-lasting: in
dementia, music reduces disruptive
behaviour at the time but has little
long-term impact.
That said, absence of evidence is
not the same as evidence of absence
– it may just be that the right studies
have not been done to assess a
clinically relevant effect.
What does it take to be musically gifted?
I can
make
you feel
good
What role is there
for music in modern
medicine?
A book of popular songs produced by
Alka-Seltzer in 1937.
Jimi Hendrix.
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In 1998, the Governor of the US state of
Georgia, Zell Miller, decreed that all Georgian
children should be given a tape or CD of
classical music. He believed in the ‘Mozart
effect’ – that listening to classical music could
boost your brainpower.
In fact, Miller was overstating the case.
Listening to Mozart only stimulated spatial
reasoning – people got better at solving
mazes – and only for about ten minutes after
their dose of culture.
And not everyone is convinced that Mozart
is anything special. Some argue that the effect
is simply down to mood and arousal. One
study found a Mozart effect in young children
listening to pop music. It’s also been seen
in rodents navigating mazes. The biggest
effect, though, has probably been on sales of
Mozart’s ‘Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major’
(K. 448).
Yet there is a widespread belief that music is
‘good for you’. Indeed, there is some evidence
that learning to play an instrument can
enhance abilities in other areas – the transfer
effect. For example, some mathematical
reasoning comes more easily to the musically
trained child. Other skills such as reading,
motor coordination and conceptual reasoning
also appear to be improved by musical
education.
Despite the enthusiasm of some parents-
to-be for bombarding their babies with Mozart
while in the womb, there is little evidence that
any benefits result.
In ancient Greece, Apollo was the god of
both healing and music. Music was seen
to be a powerful influence over people.
It was divided into three forms:
● Phrygian: stirring, martial music
● Dorian: solemn and slow, noble
and pious
● I onian: jolly and joyful.
The meaning of these terms has
changed somewhat since then.
Internal balance of the four bodily
humours (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm
and blood) was seen as particularly
important, an idea that survived until
modern times. Music could exert its
influence by acting on the humours.
Music was thought to be detected
in the ear by animal spirits, which
transmitted reverberations through the
body in the bloodstream. The 17th-
century German physician Athanasius
Kircher illustrated the concept by showing
how music affected vessels filled with
different kinds of fluid, representing the
different humours.
As more mechanistic views of nature
developed, the German scientist
Herman von Helmholtz linked the
physics of sounds and the anatomy of
human hearing. He proposed reasons
for perceptions of consonance and
dissonance and later showed how several
physiological factors were affected
by various aspects of music (pitch,
loudness etc.).
Music therapy has often been applied
in mental health. In the 18th century, the
singing of the castrato Farinelli reputedly
brought King Philip V of Spain out of
depression, and a daily dose of singing
kept him well until his death ten years
later. As treatments of mentally ill
people became more humane in
the late 19th century, music sometimes
formed part of therapy – either listening
or music making.
Rock me Amadeus
Does music make you smarter?
Crazy
Tarantism is a peculiar chapter in the story
of music and health.
In regions of Italy and Spain during the 16th and
17th centuries, some women periodically fell into a
stupor from which they could be roused only by music.
The condition was commonly blamed on the bite of a
spider (though not the tarantula of popular imagination).
Musicians travelled the countryside trying different
instruments and songs to rouse the ‘tarantati’. Rapid
repetitive tunes with increasing tempo would bring
patients to a dancing frenzy, often lasting several days.
Thereafter, they would spontaneously dance whenever
they heard a ‘tarantella’ (below).
Many physicians attempted to explain the condition,
drawing upon voguish theories. Today it would be
considered a mass delusion.
Many composers have drawn upon the Tarantella in
their works, and it also appeared in The Godfather and
inspired a jinx (‘Tarantallegra’) in Harry Potter and the
Chamber of Secrets.
I feel fine
Music has a long history in the healing arts.
Franz Mesmer (from whom we get the word mesmerise and, indirectly, hypnosis) developed a form of
therapy that aimed to improve the flow of ‘life forces’ (‘magnétisme animal’) through the body, often
using a glass harmonica in his therapies. The French King Louis XVI ordered a high-level enquiry – which
inc|uded Antoine Lavoisier, Ignac Gui||otin and Ben[amin Frank|in - into Mesmer's c|aims. They found
no evidence for Mesmer’s supposed new fluid.
Listen with mother: playing music to unborn babies.
● In a recent study of keyhole surgery,
surgeons who played a musical instrument
were significantly faster at suturing than
those who did not.
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Why did music evolve?
There are two ways to explain the
evolution of music. The first, the
adaptationist view, is that music must
serve some purpose that has led to its
selection. An alternative argument is
that it has no direct purpose itself but
is a by-product of some other human
capacity (see below).
If we assume music has some survival
value, what might it be? Charles Darwin
suggested sexua| se|ection might be at
work. Good singers or musicians might be
signalling their fitness to potential mates.
● In 1925 the anthropologist Malinowski
described a noted singer on the island of
Kiriwina: “Mokadayu, of Okopukopu, was
a famous singer. Like all of his profession
he was no less renowned for his success
with the ladies. ‘For,’ say the natives,
‘the throat is a long passage like the wila
(vagina), and the two attract each other.’
‘A man who has a beautiful voice will like
women very much and they will like him.’”
There is some evidence to support
this idea (such as the renowned success
of pop stars at attracting mates). More
recently, symmetry – generally thought to
be a sign of ‘good genes’ – was found to
be associated with an attractive voice. On
the other hand, music is typically a group
activity, and associated with rituals rather
than courtship.
The alternative view is that music acts
as a bonding agent and emerged as
part of the development of social groups.
Among primates, humans are intensely
social; much of our success has relied on
our ability to coordinate our actions and
communicate our state of mind to others.
A coherent collaborating group would have
been able to hunt better, see off enemies
and protect vulnerable infants.
She bangs the drums
When did music first appear?
Music is a part of essentially all human cultures,
suggesting that it is very ancient and evolved early in
human history.
Early music may have relied on the human voice or
basic percussion using natural materials. Some ancient
artefacts may have been used to generate sounds,
but the earliest unambiguously musical instrument is
probably a flute discovered in Germany, which is about
36 000 years old.
Bone flutes 8000–9000 years old have been found
in China and play notes in ancient Chinese musical
systems.
Two 4000–5000-year-old marble statues show that well-defined
musical forms had developed by the late Stone Age. They show
a flute player and a musician playing a triangular lyre or harp. By
the time documented civilisations appear, all have well-defined
musical traditions.
What of other human species? What may be a 43 000-year-old
Neanderthal flute was recently found in Slovenia, while Steven
Mithen has argued in his book The Singing Neanderthals that the
anatomy of their vocal systems would have allowed them to sing.
His proposal is part of a growing reassessment of Neanderthals
and their culture, suggesting that they were neither as brutish nor
dim as once made out.
What is the point of music?
Perhaps the biggest mystery in music is what it is actually for. A
classical evolutionary perspective would argue that, as a seemingly
innate aspect of human behaviour, music must have some purpose
– provide some kind of survival advantage. But how would musical
ability have helped our ancient ancestors? Perhaps instead it is an
evolutionary quirk, a by-product of our advanced brains.
The times they are a-changing
8 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
I heard it through
the grapevine
Far left: An
early South
American flute
made from a
bone. Near
left: Frieze
depicting
dancing
figures.
Jump to the beat:
did music unite
early humans…
…or was it a love thing?
Eat to the beat
Stephen Jay Gould popularised the idea that not all features of an organism are
necessarily adaptive (as classical Darwinian thinking would maintain). He used the analogy
of ‘spandrels’ – the spaces between the arches in cathedrals, which served no structural
function but were often filled with paintings by artists. They may have looked stunning but
they were only there because a cathedral needs arches to stop it falling down.
The writer Steven Pinker describes music as “auditory cheesecake”. We never evolved
to find cheesecake tasty – it taps into our innate fondness for energy-rich foods.
JUNE 2009 9
Can animals make music?
Many species of animal – such as birds and whales –
produce sounds sharing at least some similarities to human
music. Mice also sing, though at frequencies too high for
humans to hear.
The highly evocative and complex sounds of humpback
and blue whales are made during the mating season,
suggestive of sexual selection. Humpbacks also appear to
make feeding calls, suggesting a role for communication.
Sexual selection and communication also lie at the heart
of birdsong and gibbon song. Gibbons duet with one
another, and also use song to warn of approaching
predators.
Birdsong has inspired numerous composers, old and new,
from Beethoven and Wagner to Pink Floyd and Kate Bush
(notably Olivier Messiaen). Indeed, it can trigger powerful
emotional responses (beautifully captured
in Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’).
The palm cockatoo is a proficient
drummer. A male will fashion a
‘drumstick’ from a twig it has broken
off a tree and, as part of a courtship
ritual, hold it in its foot and bang it
against a hollow log.
Music can be a
powerful bonding agent.
Music is an individual experience. But
it also has a striking collective impact,
helping to establish bonds that unite
individuals around a common identity.
National anthems, enough to
reduce sports players to tears, can
inspire loyalty to a national cause.
Some countries have ‘national’
instruments (the bagpipes in
Scotland, bouzouki in Greece).
Several composers have been seen as
personifying national values (Chopin
and Poland, Wagner and Germany).
Particular musical forms characterise
certain ethnic groups (reggae among
African Caribbeans, soul music in
African Americans) and are often a key
part of a population’s cultural heritage.
Social identity theory suggests
that we draw upon external influences
when developing a sense of who
we really are – particularly during
adolescence, as we begin to establish
identities independent of our families.
Musical preferences are a way we
can identify similar ‘ingroup’ members
and distinguishing ourselves from
‘outgroups’. This may lead to the
‘subcultures’ often associated with
adolescence – the emos, goths, etc.
Why is music so important in this
process? It seems to have a ‘special’
role, with characteristics – rhythms,
melodies, harmonies, sound and
words – that reflect the lives and
states of mind and body of those
who belong to the subculture.

All around the world
Music, like language, shows much
regional variation.
Western music has tended to be polarised into ‘high’ and
‘low’ culture, with social elites favouring the classical
tradition. But this formal music has always coexisted
alongside informal music traditions – folk music. Towards
the end of the 19th century, interest grew in European and
American folk music, with composers such as Béla Bartók
travelling widely in eastern Europe documenting songs and
incorporating traditional music into their own compositions.
In the UK and the USA, Cecil Sharp was influential in the
revival of interest in folk music, and did much to ensure that
traditional music and dance was recorded for posterity. It was
probably Sharp’s interest that kept Morris dancing alive.
Interestingly, because many traditional songs were passed
on from person to person without being formally written down,
they often varied from place to place. The ancient ballad
‘Barbara Allan’ (mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diaries)
exists in many different forms. Indeed, Cecil Sharp likened the
process to evolution by natural selection – whereby different
variants appear and those proving most popular in a particular
population thrive and are passed on.
In the 20th century, many efforts were made to capture
and document traditional music. In recent decades, a surge
of interest in ‘world music’ has seen many traditional forms
of music reach Western ears. New and old forms of music
have been combined in fusion music, including dance music
incorporating traditional sounds and modern electronic beats.
African musicians have absorbed Western instruments such
as the electric guitar, creating unique and distinctive new
forms of music.
Nonetheless, creeping globalisation runs the risk of
swamping local and traditional forms of music, just as other
forms of Western culture threaten ancient ways of life.
Pleasure and pain
Music plays a central role in healing
and medicine of the Circassian or
Adyghe people of eastern Europe.
A particular rite known as ‘Chapsh’
was used for injuries such as
snakebite or bullet wounds. A violinist
would play songs and children
perform dances, often epic tales
of heroes. Their aim was to soothe
and distract the patient and identify
with the heroes’ courage.
The roots of this rite are said to lie
in the treatment of Kodgeberduko,
hero of the Caucasian war, who had
a bullet removed from his leg,
with a folk tune acting
as anaesthetic.
Leader of
the pack
House of the rising sun
● The song of the canyon wren is said to cascade
down the musical scale like the opening of Chopin’s
‘Revolutionary Étude’.
Above (left to right): Music from Nepal, Argentina and India.
Bottom: Two Circassian accordion players.
Music is central to
youth subcultures.
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Bring the noise
Loss of hearing is an occupational
hazard for musicians – and a problem
for those who listen to them.
Loudspeakers and amplified music have
increased many people’s listening pleasure, but
at considerable cost. High-volume music may
be pleasurable at the time but it can store up
problems for the future.
The main problem is that sounds are detected
by physical deformation of fragile hair cells,
which can be damaged by loud sounds. The
first to go are hair cells sensing high-frequency
sounds in the first part of the cochlea.
Short-term signs of damage include ringing in
the ears (tinnitus) or temporary deafness. In the
long term, these can become permanent.
At particular risk are musicians regularly
exposed to loud music. In the early days of
rock, the dangers of loud music were not so
well appreciated, and many musicians now
suffer from impaired hearing (e.g. such as the
Who’s Pete Townsend, who now works to raise
awareness of the dangers).
Why is loud music so appealing? There is
some evidence that loud music can stimulate
ear structures outside the hearing system –
creating a ‘physical’ sensation as
well as an aural one. Indeed, part
of the attraction of some
forms of music, such as
reggae or bass-heavy
dance music, may lie in
its physical impact.
Music may be near-universal but people’s
musical experiences may differ greatly. Some
people may struggle to perceive structures
in music that are obvious to others. Some
may experience music constantly playing
in their head while a few even ‘see’ music.
Understanding how unusual perceptions
come about can reveal much about how
the brain interprets music.
Now you’re gone
● A six-month-old baby from
Taiwan had epilepsy triggered
by loud music (musicogenic
epilepsy). She was particularly
sensitive to the Beatles.
Imagine having a song on
permanent play in your head.
That is what people with
musical hallucinations have to
contend with.
We may all know the feeling of having a song
‘on the brain’. But a musical hallucination is
different: it is just like actually hearing the song.
They are seen in a variety of groups, such
as people who become deaf in middle to later
life, people with schizophrenia or some types
of brain damage, and even as a side-effect of
drug treatments. They are not always seen as
a nuisance – in one study, around a quarter of
people found them pleasurable.
They may arise because the brain mistakenly
characterises brain activity in musical
processing areas as externally generated.
A study in Wales found that the condition
tended to affect older people with hearing
loss. They experienced all kinds of songs,
from ‘Three Blind Mice’ to ‘Don’t Cry for Me
Argentina’, though hymns were particularly
common among the religious. It appears that
songs from the past, with a deep emotional
connection, are those that bubble up in
the brain.
Sound of the crowd
Hairs on a sound-detecting hair cell in the inner ear.
● After collapsing in 2000, a 52-year-old radio
announcer recovered well but completely lost the
‘shiver down the spine’ he had previously always
had to Rachmaninov – probably because of
damage to his ‘emotional brain’ areas.
10 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
creating a ‘p
well as an a
sensitive to the Beatles.
Imagine having a song o
permanent play in your
That is what people with
musical hallucinations ha
contend with.
We may all know the feeling of hav
‘on the brain’ But a musical hallucina
I can’t get you out of my head
Not everyone can hold a perfect
tune. Some can’t but don’t really
care, while some – tone- or tune-
deaf people – can’t actually tell
they are out of tune.
True tone deafness (or amusia) affects about
5 per cent of the population. Generally,
people with amusia cannot perceive music
normally because of an underlying deficit in
processing pitch and melody. It seems to be
linked to characteristic brain abnormalities,
including fewer ‘white matter’ connections
between different areas of the brain.
Some people with amusia still enjoy music.
For others, though, music is just a cacophony
– as one person put it, “like pots and pans
falling on a stone floor”. Amusia may develop
after head injuries or strokes, but in most
cases people are born with it.
Perception of a bum note triggers two
characteristic types of electrical activity in the
brain. Interestingly, one of these signals is also
seen in tone-deaf people, suggesting that
their brains have spotted the discordant note
even though it does not register consciously.
Less often, people with amusia can hear
tones but cannot hear any meaning in a
sequence of notes – a melody. Others lack
only the ability to distinguish timbre. Some
specifically cannot perceive dissonant tones.
Intriguingly, these people typically have
lesions in the brain area involved in
emotional judgements.
● Revolutionary icon Che Guevara may have suffered from congenital amusia.
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JUNE 2009 11
In 1980, |egendary [azz guitarist Pat Martino had an app|e-sized
knot of blood vessels removed from his brain. The operation was a
success but left Martino with severe amnesia. He had no memory
of his past life as a guitarist. Years later, he picked up the guitar
again and gradually revived dormant musical skills.
Car accidents and strokes can also instantly destroy someone’s
musical appreciation – or a highly specific aspect of it. Bizarrely,
some people actually gain musical obsessions and skills after brain
damage. In his book Musicophilia the neurologist Oliver Sacks
describes how a man struck by lightning developed a consuming
desire to hear and play music. He taught himself to play the piano
and now composes music.
A speculative idea is that damage to the brain is releasing (or
‘disinhibiting’) a block on musical processing in the brain. Normally,
the brain dampens down music networks as it has so many other
tasks to attend to. If this inhibition is lost, music may flood
the brain.
An echo of this may be seen in people with unusual mental
abilities. Children with Williams syndrome are highly sociable
and have a natural affinity for music (though not necessarily high
ability). People with the condition have lost a set of genes on
chromosome 7, and have characteristic abnormalities in
brain structure.
Even more extraordinary are musica| savants, peop|e born
mentally disabled but with astonishing musical abilities. They
can play pieces of music almost perfectly after hearing them only
once. Musical savants are often blind and have perfect pitch.
Red red whine
Jazz musician Pat Martino, sub[ect of the We||come Trust-funded documentary Martino Unstrung.
● Composer Robert Schumann suffered musical
ha||ucinations in |ater |ife. In 1854, he experienced the note
A, which evolved into “magnificent music, with instrument
of splendid resonance, the like of which has never been
heard on Earth before”. He worked
the tune into a violin concerto.
● US singer Gloria Lenhoff, who has
Williams syndrome, cannot subtract five
from twelve or write her name legibly,
and has an IQ of 55, but has a repertoire
of hundreds of songs in a dozen
languages. She cannot read music but
has memorised each and every song.
Colour-coded keyboards developed
by Russian composers A|exander
Scriabin (top) and Nikolai Rimsky-
Korsakov (bottom). Rimsky-Korsakov
was a genuine synaesthete, but
Scriabin’s system was an intellectual
attempt to identify the ‘natural’
colours of notes.
Say hello, wave goodbye
In most people, the auditory nerve
ferries signals from the ear’s hearing
apparatus to sound-processing areas
of the brain. In people with certain
forms of synaesthesia, however, these
connections seem to take detours. As
well as hearing music, they may also
‘see’ it or ‘taste’ it.
Sound–vision synaesthesia is relatively
common. Musical sounds generate
distinctive visual experiences. Particular
notes may be associated with specific
colours. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
is said to have had synaesthetically
coloured musical keys, while Franz
Liszt would startle orchestras by
asking: “Gentlemen, a little bluer, if you
please!” According to jazz pioneer Duke
Ellington: “If Harry Carney is playing,
D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges
is playing, G becomes light blue satin.”
Perhaps even more remarkably, a
case recently came to light of a musician
with synaesthesia for musical notation.
As well as seeing notes as particular
colours, she could also taste intervals
between notes (e.g. a major second
was bitter, a major sixth tasted like low-
fat cream). Interestingly, consonant tone
intervals produce pleasant sensations,
dissonant ones unpleasant ones.
Very strikingly, the ability to recognise
musical intervals is something that has
to be learned, and so the synaesthesia
has ‘evolved’ along with her
musical training.
● A severely deaf 86-year-old woman
had worked in the City for 40 years. After
developing tinnitus, she began to hear
songs from the 1920s. She en[oyed her
musical hallucinations and would try to
sing along with them, only complaining
when they broke up into short musical
phrases (like a scratched record).
Musical interests can fade away – or suddenly appear.
HURT
Musicians are at risk
of a wide range of
conditions. Read
about the dangers
of tinnitus, repetitive
strain injury and ‘cello
player’s scrotum’
at Big Picture
Online.
People with synaesthesia may experience music in radically different ways.
www.
wellcome.
ac.uk/
bigpicture/
music
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12 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
What is this thing we call creativity
and how does it apply to music?
Artists of all forms are credited with ‘creativity’.
Although difficult to pin down precisely, it can
be seen as a mental process generating a new
idea or way of doing something, as opposed
to copying what has already been done before.
In that sense, creativity is not solely the domain
of the artist but covers all innovative thinkers –
including scientists.
All composers and songwriters are to some
degree creative, producing novel works. But
some are generally considered more innovative
than others. Classical composers such as
Mozart, Beethoven and Johann Sebastian
Bach developed new forms of composition that
profoundly influenced those that followed. Louis
Armstrong pioneered innovations in jazz. Chuck
Berry, some argue, invented rock and roll, while
Kool Herc and others in New York created
rap music.
Do these disparate individuals have anything
in common? Some models of creativity
emphasise individual personality traits –
creative people may be more ‘complex’, in that
they can hold apparently paradoxical views in
their heads, or they may be better risk-takers,
or less worried about upsetting the status quo.
Neuroscientific perspectives emphasise the
importance of ‘divergent thinking’ – opening
up new possibilities rather than closing them
down. The prefrontal cortex, the high-level
‘thinking’ area of the brain, may be particularly
important. In a 2008 study comparing trained
musicians and matched controls, the musicians
showed greater divergent thinking and stronger
activation in this region of the brain.
Other work suggests that the ‘emotional
brain’ and dopamine-based reward pathways
are also important.
On the other hand, creativity does not operate
in a social vacuum. The musical expression
of creativity is rooted in the circumstances of
people’s lives – be it Mozart’s hothousing in
Vienna court life or rap pioneers’ urban
New York. Igor Stravinsky, arguably the
most influential classical composer of the
20th century, was part of a broader
‘modernist’ movement.
An ability to see the world differently is a
feature of both the highly creative and the
mentally ill. Is creative genius one step
from madness?
Anecdotally, there is a fine history of
odd behaviour among musical geniuses.
Mozart was renowned for his eccentricity
(some suggest he had Tourette syndrome).
A commonly hypothesised cause is bipolar
disorder (manic depression), where individuals
experience alternating periods of depression
and intense highs. The young Rossini was
astonishingly productive, writing 39 operas by
the age of 37 (but none thereafter), possibly
driven by mania. German composer Robert
Schumann attempted suicide and spent his
last two years confined to a mental institution
(at his own request).
Oddly, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
have a genetic component. Why are risk genes
not eliminated? One possible explanation is
that ‘mild’ forms, associated with enhanced
creativity, actually improve reproductive
success. A recent study of UK poets and visual
artists provided some support for this idea.
Creative people are more likely to act outside
conventional norms of behaviour. On some
measures of ‘abnormality’, they rate as highly
as people with schizophrenia. Ideally, they can
channel this instinctive non-conformity towards
positive ends. Unfortunately, with no suitable
outlet, or when swamped with negative
emotions, these ways of thinking can become
highly damaging.
Making your mind up
You drive me crazy
Musical geniuses: are they all mad?
L-R. Pioneer rappers NWA, Mozart, Chuck Berry and John Lydon of the Sex Pisto|s.
Ravel may have had an unusual form of dementia
affecting the frontal lobe of his brain, which could have
influenced his compositions. People with this disorder
have a tendency to repeat acts over and over, which
could account for the repetitive style of his most famous
work, ‘Boléro’). Curiously, Anne Adams, a scientist who
also had a form of dementia affecting one part of her
brain, was overtaken by an urge to produce visual art,
including representations of music in paint, and became
obsessed with Ravel.
Let’s talk about sex
According to a recent study, the average US adolescent hears around
84 references to substance use (mostly positive) every day in music
(depending on what type of music they listen to). In 279 of 2005’s
popular US songs, more than a third contained references to sexual
activity (often degrading sex references). In this and another US study,
published in February 2009, adolescents’ sexual behaviour appeared
to be strongly influenced by their exposure to sexual lyrics.
Great composers and songwriters constantly innovate. But
what do we know about human creativity and its application
in music?
New forms of music are often in the vanguard of social
change. Are they driving change or simply reflecting new ways
of thinking and behaving? And how much are they influencing
the way people act – perhaps in antisocial or undesirable ways?
She blinded
me with science
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Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. A study found musicians
less likely to commit suicide than painters,
writers or sculptors.
JUNE 2009 13
Music is commonly accompanied by
dance – indeed, the two may have
evolved together.
Music and dance often go hand in hand and
it seems likely that their origins are closely
entwined. The brain’s locomotion systems
and auditory systems clearly interact. When
we hear a sudden noise, we may blink or
jump without intending to (the acoustic startle
response), which involves pathways running
directly from the ear to the spinal systems
controlling movement. Of relevance to music,
babies listening to six-beat rhythms can
perceive it as a march (three pairs of beats) or
a waltz (two sets of three) depending on how
they are bounced on someone’s knee.
Dance is often associated with rituals and
plays an important social role. An attractive
theory is that dance, like music, evolved to
strengthen social groups. Music and dance
would have provided a mechanism to reinforce
group identity – and to impress potential
enemies.
Later, music and dance were appropriated
by ruling elites to reinforce social structures
and promote conformism. Religious
movements in particular have used music and
dance as a form of group identity – from the
hymns of Christianity, the Gospel music of
Southern Baptism to the Islamic adhan (call to
prayer). Music has a special place in Tibetan
Buddhism. Monks use music to recite sacred
texts and at various festivals.
Dance has fared less well, suffering
from its association with pagan rituals and
entertainment. Even so, it remains at the
heart of many religions, including strands of
Christianity and Islam. In Hinduism, the entire
universe is thought to have been conjured up
through the dance of the Supreme Dancer,
Nataraja. A version of ritualistic dance
survives today in the form of South Indian
Classical Dance.
Rhythm
is a
dancer
Lesson of Kathak, a classical Indian dance.
Dictators have been quick to apply music
to social control. Rousing anthems may be
used to cohere populations. And anything
seen as vaguely subversive has rapidly
been banned. Nazi Germany had firm
guidelines on the type of music that could
be performed. Wagner, Beethoven and
Bruckner were in; Mendelssohn, Mahler
and Schoenberg (all Jewish) were out.
Conversely, it has also been a rallying
call for dissenters. Folk music has often
been a medium for commentary on social
[ustice. In the USA, singers such as Woody
Guthrie pioneered the modern ‘protest
song’ during the Great Depression.
Songs such as Billie Holliday’s ‘Strange
Fruit' high|ighted racia| pre[udices. Later,
‘We Shall Overcome’ became strongly
associated with the US Civil Rights
Movement.
‘We Shall Overcome’ was also heard in
Europe during the collapse of the Soviet
Bloc. Particularly striking was the ‘Singing
Revolution’ of Estonia, marked by public
singing of patriotic songs, forbidden under
Soviet rule.
Like the written word, song can
communicate powerful ideas, but can
also unite groups and appeal to deep
emotional forces in a way that books
cannot. Evolution has crafted our brains to
be especially predisposed to music – and
performers tap into this primeval instinct to
inspire, influence and inflame.
Music has been used both to
suppress and to promote
dissension.
Kick over
the statues
Left: A Soviet-era song festival poster, used in the
2006 documentary The Singing Revolution. Above:
Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King.
● In China in the 1940s,
Communist authorities launched
a huge campaign using revolutionary
songs based on traditional folk
music to educate the illiterate
masses on Party goals.
www.wellcome.ac.uk/bigpicture/music
THE
MESSAGE
ON THE WEB
Are bands corrupting the young by coding messages into
their songs? Big Picture Online looks at the odd history
of ‘backmasking’ – messages supposedly audible when
songs are played backwards.
●In The Jungle Book’s ‘I Wanna Be Like
You’, the orang-utan ‘king of the swingers’
King Louie wanted to know the secret of fire:
“Give me the power of man’s red flower”.
Ironically, the syncopated ape and his cronies
may already have had a key human attribute
– the ability to sing and dance together.
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14 Big Picture 10: Music, Mind and Medicine
Picture
Big
Real voices
Adrian North
What do you do?
I’m a music psychologist and Director
of Psychology at Heriot–Watt University,
Edinburgh.
How did you first get into music?
I started playing the guitar at age ten and still play now, although I
am absolutely terrible! A career as a musician was never
a possibility.
What part does music play in your life?
While lots of music psychologists study the process of making
music, I examine the listeners’ point of view. One thing I’m
exploring at the moment is the possible negative effects of rap
and heavy rock music on young people. I also research the use of
music in commercial environments such as restaurants and shops,
which is a multimillion-dollar worldwide industry.
My research means that I have become sensitised to the music
that we hear around us, and I’ve realised how prevalent music is
in our everyday lives. Also, I’m sure I’ll be monitoring what my son
listens to when he’s older!
Who has been the greatest musical influence
on you?
It has to be the Beatles: clearly the best band in the world! They
have wonderful melodies combined with wonderful musicianship
and wonderful lyrics. There’s also the cultural aspects: they were at
the forefront of the change that showed pop music could be art.
Why do we have music?
It’s clear that people use music as a badge of identity, but they also
use it as a medicine – dosing themselves throughout the day to
get what they want from a situation. Just think of the kind of music
used in gyms.
iPods and other technology are changing the way we use music.
When I was doing my A levels I’d walk around college with a bag
full of cassettes, which still only covered a tiny proportion of my
music collection. Now, people can take their entire collections with
them. For many young people today, listening to music is a much
more throwaway experience. There will be times when you really
get into the music, but sometimes it’s just sonic wallpaper, on in
the background.
What’s your desert island disc?
It has to be the Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour, the most tuneful
of the lot.
Troi ‘DJ Chinaman’ Lee
What do you do?
I’m a DJ and events organiser who was
born deaf. I founded www.deafrave.com.
How did you first get into music?
When I was about ten I got my first Walkman. I’d put the
headphones not over my ears, but over my hearing aids. People
would look at me strangely, but that’s how I listen to music. I went
to my first (hearing) rave when I was 17, and that really got me into
the rave scene. I found that deaf people didn’t really understand
raves though – it wasn’t in their culture.
When I was 20 I was involved with a pirate radio crew and got
my first decks. A deaf girl was having a house party and asked me
to DJ there. My cousin, a professional DJ, lived round the corner,
so I got a wheelbarrow and loaded his speakers in. It was a great
party and a turning point for my career. Afterwards, at deaf nights
in the pub, people kept asking me when the next party was. I
decided to host one for 700 and Deaf Rave was born!
What part does music play in your life?
For the last six years I’ve been putting on parties and raves for
deaf people. These events are really important as they give deaf
people a chance to get out and socialise. Nearly everyone at the
parties knows each other.
All people are welcome but I’d say around 95 per cent of people
that come are deaf. There are different levels of deafness – some
people have hearing aids or cochlear implants, but the majority
don’t. Some parts of the parties could seem strange to hearing
people, for example performers signing along to songs instead of
singing them.
Who or what has been the greatest musical
influence on you?
The people I grew up with made a massive impact. Musician-wise,
it has to be Public Enemy and Bob Marley.
What’s the point of music?
Music brings people together, and without music there’s no
energy. When I’m listening to music at home it makes me move,
makes me feel emotion. I can’t imagine life without basslines
and beats.
What’s your desert island disc?
‘Fattie Boom Boom’ by Ranking Dread, a Jamaican singer who’s
dead now. I play it everywhere I go.
What does music mean to you? We asked three peop|e with quite different experiences of music to reñect on
their personal interests and perceptions of music’s wider role – and to share with us their ‘desert island disc’.
JUNE 2009 15
Education editor: Stephanie Forman
Editor: Ian Jones, Isinglass Consultancy Ltd
Writers: Ian Jones, Harriet Cole
Illustrator: Glen McBeth
Pro[ect manager. Jennifer Trent Staves
Advisory board: Nan Davies, Tim Griffiths, Peregrine Horden, Nigel Osborne,
Michael Reiss, Laurent Stewart, Michael Thaut
All images, unless otherwise indicated, are from Wellcome Images.
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no. 210183). Reflecting the profound impact today’s research will have on society,
the Wellcome Trust also seeks to raise awareness of the medical, ethical and social
implications of research and promote dialogue between scientists, the public and
policy makers.
ISSN 1745-7777
© The trustee of the Wellcome Trust 2009.
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MP-4388/7.6K/05–2009/RL
Melodic
marvels
Jennifer Rohn
What do you do?
I’m a scientist studying the genetics of cell shape
and movement at University College London.
How did you first get into music?
I started piano lessons when I was five years old and guitar lessons
when I was eight. I also played trombone in a band and sang in choirs. I
had always wanted to be a musician but I was interested in science too,
so it was a struggle deciding what to do at university. In the end I wasn’t
talented enough to be a professional musician, and I loved science
more. At university I fell out of music but started to get back into it when
I began working as a scientist. I’ve recently joined a band called Frank-
a-delic as the singer. We’re a bunch of ageing scientists, ex-scientists
and publishers – all in our 40s.
What part does music play in your life?
I use it a lot in work. Science is quite laborious and there’s a lot of
manual labour in my job – the mindless moving of small amounts of
liquid from one tube to another. At those times I really appreciate music.
Music is very important to labs and it’s hard to find one where there isn’t
a CD player or radio on.
Who has been the greatest musical influence on you?
I like all kinds of music. Playing the piano, I was raised with classical
music, but my Dad is very eclectic. He has a huge record collection and
loves everything: country and western, jazz, classical. I like most things
too, including pop music. The only stuff I don’t enjoy is some types of
jazz and modern music. Music has to make me want to move around.
Why do we have music?
I think it’s a way to bring us together. Other animals vocalise, birds sing.
It’s all about finding a mate or warning somebody off, communicating
really basic emotions. I think we use music to communicate too.
What’s your desert island disc?
I’m a romantic; it would have to be Woodface by
Crowded House. It’s not fashionable but it makes me smile!
A series of student activities exploring auditory
effects has been developed to go with this
issue of Big Picture. A variety of downloads
relating to music, mind and medicine can be
found in an audio library at www.wellcome.
ac.uk/bigpicture/music. Teacher and student
notes will guide you through exercises relating
to these mp3 files.
The exercises are designed to be ñexib|e, a||owing
you to pick and choose which areas to exp|ore and ñt
them into your teaching. Within the various exercises,
students will have the chance to learn about the nature
of auditory illusion, the effect of music on our minds
and bodies, and the potential for music in medicine.
A special homework activity lets students investigate
the impact different types of music have
on their mood.
The activities are all free to download
and are relevant to the post-16
specifications in England,
Scotland and Wales. Everything
you need to run these exercises
in school is available at www.
wellcome.ac.uk/bigpicture/music.
ONLINE ACTIVITY
students investigate
ic have
wnload
c.
www.wellcome.ac.uk/bigpicture/music
ON THE WEB
How exactly do deaf people experience music?
Hear more about Troi Lee's life and work at
Big Picture Online.
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●Music is part of all human cultures.
● It is thought to have appeared very
early in human evolution.
● Music may have appeared before
language but the relationship between
the two is uncertain.
● Early music may have involved the
human voice and rhythmic percussion
using natural materials.
● Many animals make sounds with
similarities to human music.
● The original purpose of music is not
known for sure.
● Its evolution may have been driven
by sexua| se|ection or the beneñts
of group bonding.
● Alternatively, music may have no
adaptive value but be a by-product
of other human capacities.
● Music has a number of distinct
characteristics, such as pitch,
timbre and rhythm.
● Music is processed in the brain by
a number of interconnected areas.
● Damage to these areas can selectively
remove specific aspects of musical
appreciation.
● Music has strong connections
to the emotional areas of the brain.
● Composers use music to
manipulate listeners’ moods.
● Music was an important part
of medicine for many centuries.
● Although music is now rare in medicine,
it has been shown to be effective in
some areas.
● Elite musical performance is primarily
the result of intensive practice.
● Learning musical skills has spin-off
benefits in some other areas.
● Rituals involving music are an important
part of many cultures and religions.
● Music has been used as both a means
of expressing socia| discontent and
a tool to suppress dissent.
● Music is particularly effective at
establishing group social identities.
● Musical preferences provide particularly
strong insights into individual identities.
● Abnormalities in musical perception
are seen in a number of conditions.
● Enhanced musical appreciation and,
occasionally, musical skills are seen
in some conditions.
● Musical creativity may be associated
with particular unconventional ways
of thinking.
MUSIC, MIND
AND MEDICINE
ons
he brain.
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i di i
● M si is ti larl effe ti t

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