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Music and Health (Archive in wellness.)

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Music and Health (Archive in wellness.)

Posted by Walt Stoll on September 22, 2003 at 09:49:39:

Misty L. Trepke

Rhythm, melody, life - Human hearts have always warmed to the
rhythm of music


By Ronald Kotulak
Tribune science reporter
Published September 21, 2003

A popular melody reels around in the brain against our will. Music
sets the toe to tapping and the blood to racing. It marks our
happiest and most solemn occasions. It forges bonds. It reflects all
of our moods. We remember far more songs than we do speeches.

Music, it turns out, has more of a grip on our mind and body than we
realize. When couples smile at each other and murmur "They're
playing our song," for instance, they may be repeating a universal
behavior that goes back to the dawn of humankind.

It is becoming more evident in scientific circles that music was an
early form of communication, especially for attracting sexual
partners, and that it may predate language.

No one knows for sure whether language or music came first, but
there is growing evidence, as well as debate, that music is as much
of a part of our genetic inheritance as language is.

How else can you explain observations such as music being an
integral component of every culture in the world, past and present;
that primitive musical instruments appeared long before any other
form of artistic expression; and that infants know rhythm and pitch
almost from the first time they hear music?

Some studies even suggest that children are born with perfect pitch
but lose it through disuse.

Unlike language, which has grown into an indispensable tool for
conveying knowledge and ideas, music may be a once-dominant capacity
that has become grossly underdeveloped.

Music is primal and more basic than language, say researchers, who
say there are many more musical similarities across cultures than
there are lingual similarities.

Almost everybody enjoys a beautiful melody. It takes root in the
brain, priming the imagination, arousing passions, sedating
anxieties and inspiring the body to move in rhythm. A person who is
born deaf and never has heard a note still can learn to dance by
feeling the vibrations music makes.

Much still unknown

But music really is a mystery, like sleep. Science does not know the
full biological purposes of either, although it is clear that a
person deprived of enough slumber will die.

A life without music may not kill, but it could warp a brain.
Researchers are finding that lullabies, which are similar throughout
the world, and the sing-song talk of mothers are essential for

The dance between child and caregiver--eye tracking, laughter and
the imitation of sounds and movements--facilitates the sharing of
emotional states.

"It's very clear that if you don't have language abilities you're
going to have a very hard time functioning in society, whereas if
you have no musical abilities it might be awkward at times but
you're still going to do just fine," said Petr Janata, a Dartmouth
College cognitive neuroscientist who is tracing music's paths
through the brain and how they differ from the paths taken by

"People look at that and say language is clearly evolutionarily
important and music isn't," he said. "I personally believe that if
you completely remove music from human cultures around the world it
would definitely have a devastating impact on society."

Although language was thought to occur in the brain's logical left
hemisphere and music in the creative right hemisphere, Janata found
considerable overlap between the two hemispheres for both language
and music. Both work through the forefront of the brain, where
emotions and higher thinking reign.

"The overall picture that emerges is that music really engages the
whole brain," Janata said. "Music has a certain degree of complexity
to it that makes it interesting to our brain. So our brains don't
get bored with it, they're always finding something interesting in

When some of the brain's musical circuits become blocked, as they
can because of brain damage caused by stroke or congenital defects,
music disappears in the first case and never appears in the second,
according to findings by Isabelle Peretz of the University of

"The evidence points to the existence of at least two distinct
processing modules: one for music and one for speech," she
said. "Music works through different functions like emotions,
attachments and social cohesion. That's really the idea behind

Why does music exist?

Did music evolve to help us communicate? To express emotions? To
organize the brain for learning, as proponents of the "Mozart
effect" contend?

Albert Einstein said: "I often think in music. I live my daydreams
in music. I see my life in terms of music. ... I get most joy in
life out of music."

When the world's most famous scientist was asked whether music
influenced his research he said: "No. Both are nourished by the same
sort of longing, and they complement each other in the release they

Music is mathematical. The ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras
discovered that the most pleasant sounds occur in exact proportions.
Notes are sound waves created by vibrations.

A vibration that is twice as high as another is an octave. Other
notes that are pleasant together are those whose vibrations are a
fifth or fourth higher. Music expressed mathematically is 1:2:3:4,
as Pythagoras said. Those often are the same proportions used in
designing beautiful buildings, which is why architecture has been
called "frozen music."

Einstein may have hit the nail on the head as far as how music makes
a person feel, but to find out why, scientists need answers, and
they are beginning to search for them.

Charles Darwin thought that before early humans learned enough words
to say, "I love you," they attracted mates with some form of music,
not unlike the way birds use song to get together. Elephants,
monkeys and many other animals sing songs with patterns that are
amazingly close to those of humans' songs. Whale songs have been
made into records.

How humans became musical is much debated. Theories range an
evolutionary hand-me-down from animals to an attribute that is
uniquely human to a fortunate accident of nature, a byproduct of
language that is not essential for survival.

Steven Pinker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dismisses
musicality as a frill, a bit of "auditory cheesecake" that may be
pleasant but has no survival purpose.

Most scientists disagree with that explanation, though, and say
music played an essential role in the development of the modern
human mind.

Inside the brain

Today's scientists use imaging technology to look inside the brain
when it processes music. They have developed sophisticated
techniques to learn how a fetus responds to music while in the womb
and how music exists as a distinct entity in the brains of stroke
victims who have lost their speech but still can sing.

"Just as the ability to understand spoken language emerges
effortlessly in infants, the ability to appreciate music likewise
requires no explicit training," John Spiro, associate editor of
Nature Neuroscience, wrote in a recent issue focusing on the
emerging research in music.

"Music is fascinating to study, and may offer a unique window onto
the brain," he said. "But of course it can also simply be beautiful
or just plain fun."

The power of music for infants may arise from its social nature and
its link to positive emotions, Sandra E. Trehub, a University of
Toronto psychologist, reported in Nature. Trehub has shown that
infants as young as 4 months who have been exposed to little music,
nevertheless have a similar appreciation of pitch and rhythm as do
trained musicians. By 16 weeks they fuss, cry and turn away from
dissonant chords, and smile and turn toward harmonious chords.

"Music is not communicative in the sense of sharing information,"
she said. "Instead, it is concerned with sharing feelings and
experiences and the regulation of social behavior."

Trehub argues that music appreciation is something people are born
with and may be why people like music without knowing why they like

"People who have been trained in music are not so different from
people who haven't had training, except they don't know the names of
things," she said. "In terms of their perception of music, it's
really not very different in trained and untrained listeners. Maybe
the trained listeners are somewhat more accurate but it's really
very similar qualitatively."

Music's ability to strum the emotions may be the reason it has
become such a persistent evolutionary hanger-on. Who didn't master
the alphabet by memorizing the "A-B-C" song? In ancient times
important historical events were recorded in songs that were passed
down from generation to generation, a practice still used by
Australian aborigines.

Both music and language are highly structured, but notes don't carry
the same kind of specific meanings as words do.

What music seems to do is attach emotions not only to words, but to
our feelings and experiences, like tags that can be filed away in
different parts of the brain for recall.

The clue to music's ability to manipulate emotions is the battery of
brain hormones it may affect. Music appears to soothe anxiety by
reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Trehub discovered
that mothers' singing to distressed babies lowers cortisol.

"All you have to do is observe mothers with infants who are fussy or
crying and they sing to them and the stress disappears," Trehub
said. "Music gets their attention and changes their moods and
mothers everywhere know that. Those who care for infants slip into
that kind of thing automatically."

Physical reactions

Neuroscientists speculate that music's ability to tame aggression
may be because it lowers the male sex hormone testosterone, a
phenomenon that some nursing homes use to calm agitated Alzheimer's

Music inspires feelings of love because it may increase oxytocin
levels, a hormone that is known to promote bonding in animals and
that is suspected of doing the same in humans. Premature babies who
are sung to and who listen to background music leave intensive-care
units sooner.

Scientists hope to use music as a probe to understand implicit
learning, that "Eureka!" moment when you know you know something but
you don't know how you know it. Perhaps it's because the brain can
retrieve memories that have similar emotional tags and bring them
together in new ways, a process that has been called intuition or
abstract thinking.

Does music promote learning, as advocates of the "Mozart effect"
propose? There is no clear answer yet, but evidence suggests it may
help youngsters learn math and reading faster.

Children enrolled in an orchestra, for instance, scored 21 percent
higher on vocabulary tests than children of similar socioeconomic
backgrounds who did not take music, according to a new study in the
journal Neuropsychology. The better vocabulary scores persisted when
the students were retested a year later, said Agness S. Chan of
Chinese University of Hong Kong.

And the potential emotional benefits of music may not be limited to
Mozart or classical music. Jazz, pop, gospel, folk and other forms
of music may be helpful as well.

"In the past, music was sometimes forbidden because of fears it made
people feel good," Trehub said. "Feeling good is a way of promoting
all kinds of things, not only well being in general, but it can also
be used to promote learning and societal harmony."

Among those who believe music came before language is Dr. Mark
Tramo, a Harvard neuroscientist who studies how music travels
through the brain.

Pre-lingual communication

Before there was language, emotions were conveyed by vocal sounds
such as moans and groans that are still in use today--ahh, ow, mmm,
ooh, oh, eeeee, uh-huh, aagh, aieee.

"There is no speech without music, but there can be music without
speech," Tramo said. "Inflection of the voice is the critical
element. Humans use voice inflection or melody or intonation for
communication as the basic element of language.

"On top of all that modulation of intonation, somehow we were able
to put syntax and morphology and come up with the complex
constructions that could convey the complex meanings that we are
able to share today."

Dale Purves, director of Duke University's Center for Cognitive
Neuroscience, says music and language are so intertwined in the
brain that they probably developed together. His study of 500 people
found that harmony comes from the vocal sounds people were capable
of making during evolution.

The points at which sound is concentrated in the speech spectrum
predict the chromatic scale--the scale represented by the keys on a
piano keyboard, he said. Chords are pleasant when they mimic the
human voice and dissonant when they do not.

According to Ian Cross of the University of Cambridge, music
promotes the development of metaphorical thinking, the ability to
turn everyday experiences into symbols, which become the shorthand
for fresh ideas, "the hallmark of our species."

Cross studies ancient musical instruments, including the earliest
one found: a bone pipe from Wurttemberg in southern Germany that was
played 38,000 years ago.

The flute-like pipe was found in surroundings that link it to use by
modern Homo sapiens at the beginning of the time archeologists call
the "cultural explosion." During this period, a sudden emergence of
visual art occurred, such as cave paintings and symbolic carvings,
evidence of the blossoming of modern human cognitive capacities.

Cross says finding a musical instrument that old means early humans
were making musical sounds with their voices a lot earlier, probably
accompanied by gestures, to communicate feelings.

"One thing we know for certain is that music leaves few traces--
except in the minds of those who engage with it," he said. "It is
quite likely that the traces that it left in our ancestors' minds
still resonate in our contemporary, everyday world, in the agility
of our thought and in the complexity of our social interactions.
Without music, it could be that we would never have become human."

Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune

Re: Music and Health (Archive in wellness.)

Posted by
Marian on September 22, 2003 at 16:17:49:

In Reply to: Music and Health (Archive in wellness.) posted by Walt Stoll on September 22, 2003 at 09:49:39:

Forgive me for sounding other worldly here but it is my belief that when we pass in to the great 'beyond', it will be a continuous, blissful existence immersed in music.

Good article.

Follow Ups:

Re: Music and Health (Archive in wellness.)

Posted by
Zarin on September 22, 2003 at 17:37:07:

In Reply to: Music and Health (Archive in wellness.) posted by Walt Stoll on September 22, 2003 at 09:49:39:

I think music comes naturally to everyone. Thank you for that article Dr. Stoll. I am tuned into an easy listening channel from the time I wake up. the dogs love it as well. If there is a particularly rhythmic tune, Kanchan(my Goldie) will often jump up and hug my housekeeper around her waist and the two of them will dance together. A Wonderful sight to behold.

Follow Ups:

Re: Music and Health (Archive in wellness.)

Posted by Buzz on September 23, 2003 at 08:00:10:

In Reply to: Music and Health (Archive in wellness.) posted by Walt Stoll on September 22, 2003 at 09:49:39:

Love that article:)

Follow Ups:

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