The Brain and Music

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Western and Chinese Music: Brain Activity

February 26th, 2007 · No Comments · music and the brain

Music, Brain, Culture

Western or Chinese

Have you ever wondered how the brain responds to familiar-sounding Western music, versus unfamiliar music from other cultures, i.e. Chinese music?  This is the kind of thing that I think is fascinating and now I’ve recently discovered a great site called On this site there was a press release of some very interesting research on how the brain responds to music from other cultures. Let me share this with you, my readers: the subjects brains were observed through an fMRI while listening to music from different cultures. Results showed that brain activation was the same, regardless of cultural bias of the music; although, there were some differences in ability to remember certain kinds of music and brain activation varied based on musical training.
The researchers found similarities in brain activity when the musicians and untrained listeners were exposed to the Western classical and traditional Chinese musical excerpts. All subjects showed significant clusters of activation in the brain regions called the right transverse temporal gyrus and left superior temporal gyrus. However, some differences did emerge based on musical training. The musicians exhibited significantly greater activity in the right superior temporal gyrus when listening to both types of music. The musicians also showed significant brain activity in the right middle frontal gyrus when listening to Western music and in the left middle frontal gyrus when hearing the Chinese music. These findings support the idea that formal training influences patterns of brain activity in response to culturally familiar and unfamiliar music, according to the researchers.By contrast, brain activity was similar among all subjects when comparing English speech to Cantonese. There was significant brain activity in the left insula and lesser activity in the left superior temporal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus that was not present while listening to Cantonese.

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