The Brain and Music

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Brain Surgery with Music: from the patient!

August 29th, 2015 · how the brain works, music and the brain

There are many kinds of surgery for which music through headphones can be a huge asset.  Every day now, patients are using the Surgical Serenity Headphones for joint replacements, heart surgery, abdominal surgeries, labor and delivery, C-sections and more.  About the only surgeries for which the headphones are contraindicated are head and neck surgeries, ear surgery and that’s about it!

For people who need brain surgery, it’s a whole different surgery.  The skull and brain have no pain receptors, so the only pain is for the skin incision on the skull.  This is taken care of with local anesthesia.  According to the Ohio State University, Wexler Medical Center, “Patients undergoing awake brain surgery are anesthetized just enough so they will doze during the incision in their skin and removal of a section of the skull. Anesthesia is then withdrawn and patients are coaxed into consciousness so they can speak during procedures on the brain itself.”

One of the most amazing videos I’ve seen on YouTube, shows a professional singer actually singing during his brain surgery.  See for yourself, the miracles of the brain and modern surgery!

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The Brain and Rhythm: Is it the secret to groovy drumming?

July 30th, 2015 · how the brain works, music and the brain

Recently, the online site, published an article talking about fractals in music.  I found it fascinating because I’ve always loved teaching rhythm to students who previously thought it was all indecipherable!

Rhythm in music and in life is a major key indicator of health.  What is the first thing a doctor does when she enters the examining room?  She shakes your hand and exchanges a few pleasantries, noting the firmness of your handshake and listening carefully to your vocal strength, pitch and timbre.  Then she lifts her stethoscope and listens to your heartbeat and respirations.  This tells volumes about the rhythm of your overall health.

When we are in a state of health and wellness, as opposed to dis-ease, our breathing is rhythmic and deep, fully oxygenating our blood.  When we are not well, breathing is often shallow and erratic.  This causes the heartbeat to respond accordingly and have a more rapid and sometimes erratic beat.

The rhythms of the body represent and predict the overall state of health.  Having a steady, predictable beat in music then allows you to consciously deviate from that beat/pulse but always return to the steady beat.  When students are taught to understand how the basic pulse in music is created, divided and subdivided, they can choose to deviate from that beat/pulse in order to create more exciting music!

Read this article!  I know you’ll enjoy it!



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Great Information on How Learning an instrument helps the brain

June 26th, 2015 · how the brain works, music and the brain

I am always fascinated about how music affects, shapes and even heals the brain.  Today, one of the wonderful sources of information about all of that is the famous “Ted Talks.”  It is common knowledge today that taking music lessons as a child or an adult helps the brain.  If your parents gave you lessons as a child, take every opportunity to thank them.  If they didn’t, rush to your local music store or college campus music department and find yourself a private teacher for whatever instrument you always wanted to play!  Keep your brain young and have some fun too!!

Here’s a TedTalk that will tell you more!  Enjoy!

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Music, Memory and the Brain

May 26th, 2015 · how the brain works, music and alzheimer, music and the brain

As we age, music from our past means more and more to us.  Part of that is the fact that we know more and more music and our inner library of “oldies” keeps growing and expanding.  Have you ever heard a piece of music that you haven’t heard in years and years, or even decades?  Have you experienced a flood of visual images; faces, places, conversations, all triggered by that snippet of music?  Music is so powerful in its ability to bring back memories that even Alzheimer’s patients who don’t recognize family members or friends, can still hear a piece of music from their “Courting Years” and respond positively to that music, sing along, and possibly even reminisce awhile!  It is quite dramatic to see this happen with a patient who has been non-verbal perhaps for months.

But even if there is not a disease process going on, music from our past can certainly provide a lot of pleasure and wonderful memories for us; memories that might have been long-forgotten.  Whether you’re feeling nostalgic or maybe blue or depressed, music is a quick and simple way to change that, at least temporarily!

Recently a study was published, looking at the parts of the brain that are affected by music from your past and the memories that are brought forth.  Here’s what they found:

“Test subjects went under an fMRI brain scanner and listened to 30 different songs randomly chosen from the Billboard “Top 100” music charts from years when the subjects would have been 8 to 18 years old. They signaled researchers when a certain 30-second music sample triggered any autobiographical memory, as opposed to just being a familiar or unfamiliar song.

“This is the first study using music to look at [the neural correlates of] autobiographical memory,” Janata told LiveScience. His full study is detailed online this week in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

The students also filled out the details of their memories in a survey immediately following the MRI session, explaining the content and clarity of their recollections. Most recognized about 17 out of 30 music samples on average, with about 13 having moderate or strong links with a memory from their lives.

Janata saw that tunes linked to the strongest self-reported memories triggered the most vivid and emotion-filled responses – findings corroborated by the brain scan showing spikes in mental activity within the medial prefrontal cortex.

The brain region responded quickly to music signature and timescale, but also reacted overall when a tune was autobiographically relevant. Furthermore, music tracking activity in the brain was stronger during more powerful autobiographical memories.

This latest research could explain why even Alzheimer’s patients who endure increasing memory loss can still recall songs from their distant past.”  To see the entire article, go to .

Happy Listening!


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Music and the Brain: Fountain of Youth?

May 6th, 2015 · music and alzheimer, music and the brain

There is so much wonderful information out there today about the brain and how you can stay young and even reverse aging by using your brain for new tasks, such as foreign language learning, taking up a new musical instrument, or taking new pathways around your town or just your house.  Experts tell us that something as simple as brushing your teeth or hair with the non-dominant hand, can create new neural pathways that are fresh and viable!  Wow!  I remember hearing a professor say that at night you should try not turning on the lights, and finding your way around your house, just by feel and sensory clues other than vision.

Music has so many applications for keeping the brain young.  A piano teacher of mine once said that if your really know your music, you should be able to go to the piano in the dark and play your pieces with no light on at all!  That was a radical idea to me, but I tried it!  With no visual cues it is considerably harder, but a good way to test how well you know that music.

Of course we know that many blind pianists, who were born blind or who lost their vision at an early age, like Ray Charles, developed their ears and their sense of touch so powerfully that they played as well as sighted pianists.  So…the brain really is an amazing organ, probably still far more powerful than we realize today.

When I was working with patients with Alzheimer’s disease many years ago, I was constantly amazed at the way they could remember songs and words to songs, when they couldn’t tell you their own name or recognize family members and friends.  Alzheimer’s is such a cruel and tragic disease, but music is a powerful intervention that can often be quite effective, right up until the end of their life!  There are so many videos on YouTube that show music therapists working with Alzheimer’s patients and if you haven’t seen them, you should really take a look.

As for the Baby Boomers, I really believe we should listen to our popular “oldies” from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  I know that for me, it brings back floods of memories in a way that is 99% pleasurable and loads of fun, and free!!  Recently I was reminiscing about how I used to race home from school to watch “American Bandstand” and how badly I wanted to be on the show.  My mother said that I could be on it for my 15th birthday, but then, when that came around, she discovered it was broadcast from Philadelphia!  We lived in S.C., so it wasn’t going to happen.  Despite that, I still have fond memories of Dick Clark, American Bandstand, and all of the songs that made my youth happy and can do it for me even today!!  I believe that music can definitely be a source of the Fountain of Youth!

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