The Brain and Music

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Music, the Brain, and Rapture!

June 20th, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

Music, Brain, Rapture

Music and Rapture

Have you ever experienced pure rapture when listening to a piece of music?  Have you listened to a piece of music that sent tingles up and down your spine and made your breathing and heart rate increase?  Have you experienced such emotion that you truly felt you were in an altered state?  Yes, music can do that!  People have experienced cold chills when listening to and participating in music for thousands of years,  and we inquiring minds have wondered why this happens.

With the advances in neuroscience and brain technology, scans of all kinds, and the general rise in interest in neuroscience, we are beginning to know today what takes place in the brain and body of someone who is listening to a piece of music that gives them cold chills up and down their spine, or induces a sense of intense pleasure so that they wish the piece of music would never stop!

Recently a report on a fascinating study came out in the The Guardian.  The study was conducted at Harvard University by a graduate student at the University of Southern California.  In order to get subjects for this study, the researcher, Matthew Sachs, “put out a call” to music lovers in the area asking for volunteers who loved music but either “did” get chills when listening to certain music or definitely “did not” get chills when listening.  Of the over 200 people that responded, Sachs and colleagues at Harvard and Wesleyan University in Connecticut chose 10 each for “did” and “did not.”  These subjects took online personality tests and then came into the lab with their own playlists.  The music ranged widely from Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Coldplay’s Strawberry Swing toBag Raiders’ Shooting Stars and Blue Devils Drum Corps’s Constantly Risking Absurdity.

According to the authors, “The brains of people who felt the chills had more nerve fibres running from the auditory cortex, needed for basic hearing ability, to two other regions, namely the anterior insular cortex, involved in processing feelings, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which is thought to monitor emotions and assign values to them.”  So, it would seem that we are genetically set up to have these denser fibers in our brains, which lead to the abilility to feel chills or simply to really enjoy the music and perhaps even experience ecstasy or rapture, but without chills.

Would love to hear your comments!

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Music, Brain, and Pain

May 3rd, 2016 · music and the brain

One of the scariest things going on in the world today is all of the addiction to prescription pain-killers.  Nobody wants pain, but pain is a reality for most of us at some point in our lives.  Physicians and scientists around the world are looking for non-addictive ways to treat pain, the the powerful pills that are now out there, are what many people.

Just this past weekend, there was a wonderful story on NBC news about a hospital near New York City that now has a harpist playing in their Emergency Room to calm people down without giving them drugs right away.  Of course we know that music is never going to take the place of drugs for people that are in acute or chronic pain, but it can certainly begin to relax patients in a non-pharmacological way.  The story on NBC was about very compelling and I wanted to share it with you! This hospital fights opiod addiction with music

Educating the public about the power of music in healthcare settings is an ongoing challenge for me, but it is happening.  I think most of us know intuitively that music makes us feel better, but most people just don’t believe that it can actually take the place of medication, or definitely supplement and enhance the power of medicine.

This story on NBC went on to say that the leading cause of accidental death in the US is now overdose of prescription drugs.  Drug manufacturers seems to have limitless advertising budgets and the evening news is always full of advertisements about the newest prescription drugs and the wonders they can perform for you.  I’m sure you’ve also noticed that at the end of the advertisement, the announcer has low-volume warning/disclaimer that he reads so fast that you can barely understand it!

Next time you’re about to take a new prescription med, ask the Dr. if some music/music therapy might help you or decrease the amount of the drug you need!

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Music puts the brain to sleep

April 9th, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

Genie sleepingAlmost every week people bring me their issues with insomnia.  Is it possible that music puts your brain to sleep?  Insomnia is at epidemic levels these days.  I see about 20 therapy patients per week and I’d say that well over half of them suffer from insomnia.  Can music put the brain to sleep?  Well, yes and no!  If you remember what I’ve taught you about rhythmic entrainment, you know that slowing down a steady pulse, can gradually slow down your heart-rate, your breathing, and even your thought activity.  But this must be done slowly and gradually.  That’s why people talk about winding down in the evening.  Whether adults or children, having a bedtime routine is important, especially if you ten to suffer from insomnia.

Many therapists will tell you not to watch the evening news or any violent shows at all in the evening.  if you have serious issues with insomnia.  Probably best to just have quiet conversation, some quiet calming music, a nice warm bath and soft lights until bedtime.  THEN, that’s when you choose the music that will best help you drift off into a gentle, deep slumber.  Many people also like to have environmental sounds such as softly chirping crickets, gentle bird songs, or babbling brooks.  Some people like a combination of soft music and environmental sounds in the background.

It takes some time and experimentation to figure out what music works best for you, but as with so many things in life, having a plan and a routine is best.  In our society with iphones, iPads, and laptops, video games and wide-screen TVs, there are constant distractions.  One of the things that is so difficult for people who are lying in the bed with their eyes open and not sleeping is to resist looking at your phone to see what time it is, or if you have new messages.  If you can resist that, choose some music that you know will slow your mind and body down, and if insomnia is truly affecting your quality of life, then music can definitely be a component of your solution.  Sweet dreams!

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Children, Epilepsy, and Mozart

March 1st, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

A fascinating study has come out on children, epilepsy and Mozart.  Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain.  It continues to baffle neuroscientists, brain researchers and parents.  The social consequences are severe because the person tends to isolate from others, fearing that they could have a seizure and embarass themselves.

The study comes from Taiwan and states that:  “Increasing numbers of reports show the beneficial effects of listening to Mozart music in decreasing epileptiform discharges as well as seizure frequency in epileptic children. There has been no effective method to reduce seizure recurrence after the first unprovoked seizure until now. In this study, we investigated the effect of listening to Mozart K.448 in reducing the seizure recurrence rate in children with first unprovoked seizures.”

To read the entire abstract, go to   “Mozart K.448 listening decreased seizure recurrence and epileptiform discharges in children with first unprovoked seizures: a randomized controlled study.”

I think it is so interesting that the Mozart piece they chose is the same Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, that the whole “Mozart Effect” study was based on.  It is a great piece for sure, but who would have thought that this one sonata could have so many beneficial outcomes for humanity!

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Studying the Brains of Musicians

January 6th, 2016 · how the brain works, music and the brain

I’ve been a musician all of my life.  As I get older and read about what happens to the brain as we age, I can’t help but wonder what mine must look like!  Apparently, the brains of musicians are interesting to neuro-scientists.  Each day, I read new studies about how music affects the brain, and how great it is to give children music lessons, and provide lots of instruments for them to try out and then choose one to master.

So I was very excited, the other day, to see that a study had been done on the brains of musicians, and how they differ from the brain of someone who had done a lifetime of “other” work!  Actually, this particular study was looking at the brains of children under 10, but the results were still fascinating.  So the question remains, do the smarter kids gravitate toward music, or do those who take music lessons begin to be able to use more of their brains.

The music teacher in this article is quoted as saying, “The brain continues to fire on all cylinders” 45 to 90 minutes after practice on a musical instrument, Wenger said.”  He believes that music class, gym class, and art class should be interspersed throughout the day with other classes, because these subjects provide a boost of energy and not just passive sitting and listening!

Just a little more proof that music is really good for humans!  Perhaps the best medicine of all!

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