Category Archives: Music, Health & the Brain

Piano helps you stay alert as you get older…

via the

Pensioners should revive their youthful dreams of becoming a rockstar, new research suggests.

Learning to play an instrument could prevent their brain succumbing to the effects of old age, scientists claim.

A study found musicians have faster reaction times than those who are unable to play the piano, drums or a guitar.

Alertness is known to decrease in old age, but experts say picking up the skill could keep their brain healthy.

Learning to play an instrument could prevent their brain succumbing to the effects of old age, scientists claim

Learning to play an instrument could prevent their brain succumbing to the effects of old age, scientists claim

Researchers from the University de Montreal, Canada, decided to see if there was a way to prevent the negative effects of aging on the brain.

They compared the reaction times of 16 musicians and 19 non-musicians.

The musicians had started playing between the ages of three and 10, and had at least seven years of training.

There were eight pianists, three violinists, two percussionists, one double bassist, one harpist and one viola player.

All but one also mastered a second instrument, or more.

They were sat in a quiet, well-lit room with one hand on a computer mouse and their index finger of the other on a vibro-tactile device – a small box that vibrated intermittently.

A study found musicians have faster reaction times - which decline in old age because of a breakdown in natural brain processes

A study found musicians have faster reaction times – which decline in old age because of a breakdown in natural brain processes

They were told to click on the mouse when they heard a sound from the speakers in front of them – known as audio stimulation.

While they were also asked to click when the box vibrated – referred to as tactile stimulation.

Music therapy reduces depression in young people, study finds

Music therapy reduces depression in young people, study finds

Researchers from Queen's University Belfast, pictured, and Bournemouth University found young people, aged eight to 16, also enjoyed improved self-esteem compared with those who received treatment without music
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, pictured, and Bournemouth University found young people, aged eight to 16, also enjoyed improved self-esteem compared with those who received treatment without music

The largest ever study of music therapy’s effect on children with depression has found significant benefits.

Recipients, aged eight to 16, also enjoyed improved self-esteem compared with those who received treatment without music, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Bournemouth University found.

More than 250 took part and experts said it suggested the care should now be made available as a mainstream option.

Professor Sam Porter, from Bournemouth University, said: “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs.”

The research found:

:: Young people aged 13 and over who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those given the usual care options alone.

:: Self-esteem was significantly boosted and depression lowered.

:: Even after music therapy had finished, social functioning improved long-term in all age groups.

:: However, most improvements tended to be modest and short lasting and there was a higher drop out rate of 38%.

T he findings were part of a Music in Mind study carried out in partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust.

It concluded the results of the trial strongly indicated the need for further research to ascertain what type and dosage of music therapy was most effective, for whom and in what circumstances.

Mental ill health affects up to a fifth of children and adolescents worldwide, including social, emotional and behavioural problems. Adolescent depression and anxiety frequently co-occur and extend into adulthood, the report added.

The therapy used musical experiences within a patient/therapist relationship to achieve better health.

Dr Valerie Holmes, from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University and a co-researcher, said: “This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group, and is further evidence of how Queen’s University is advancing knowledge and changing lives.”

A total of 251 children and young people were involved in the study, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, which took place between March 2011 and May 2014.

They were divided into two groups – 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems.

The Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust said: ” The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option.

“For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.”

Read the full article at the Belfast Telegraph here

Music therapy helps children cope with illness

Music therapy helps children, families cope with illness


Nine-year-old Hannah Gorham loves to sing.

She loves Carrie Underwood and reading Fancy Nancy books, and she adores Bear-y, the tattered stuffed animal blanket she has had since birth.

Her hero is Calysta Bevier, the 16-year-old ovarian cancer survivor from Hannah’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Ohio, who advanced to the semi-finals on the popular NBC show America’s Got Talent.

And Hannah’s therapeutic savior might just be music.

In ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital since Aug. 31 for severe migraines, Hannah was introduced recently to music therapy, a growing practice for hospitalized children and those with developmental or physical disabilities.

Operated through the hospital’s Child Life program, music therapy helps children and their families cope with stresses related to a child’s illness and the adjustment of a hospital stay. David Putano, a music therapist who owns a private practice in Toledo, visits children like Hannah at the hospital for weekly one-on-one musical sessions.

“When you expose people to music they love, the feeling of success, of hopefulness, reminds them of things they love,” Mr. Putano said. “At a hospital, we sometimes get away from things at home that we love, things that are beautiful.”

On this particular Friday, surrounded by stuffed tigers, monkeys, and dolls, Hannah, a quiet, petite blonde with glasses, finds her place on the keyboard and joins Mr. Putano in making music. The pair first coordinate musical notes to a preprogrammed rhythm (this, time, they choose one reminiscent of an epic space movie; Mr. Putano often uses movie references to get students in the right creative frame of mind). As Mr. Putano plays the guitar, Hannah finds her happy place on the keyboard and joins in.

“OK, start going slower, we are going to sneak up on the ending,” Mr. Putano prompts. “When I count to three, you play one more note.”

Twice, the session is interrupted so that Hannah can take medication. Then, it’s back to the beat.

Hannah watches intently as Mr. Putano searches for the perfect hip-hop beat on the keyboard. She clutches Bear-y as he explains to the young girl that there are 12 notes in music and helps her find the A note on the keyboard.

“Play whatever you want … Atta girl!” he encourages.

“You can tell when someone is really wired for music. You do really well,” he says to his tiny student as they finish up.

She smiles. Quietly.

“My favorite part was doing this with David. It made me happy,” Hannah said after the lesson. “It feels good.”

Soothing the soul

Hannah was diagnosed two years ago with Chiari malformation, a congenital defect in which part of the skull at the back of the head is too small for the brain.

“She started stuttering; she would trip over things and there would be nothing there,” said her grandfather, Rick Tolles, also of Grand Rapids.

Her mother, Heather Gorham, was optimistic that music therapy would help.

“Heck, it’s worth a shot. All of this medication is hard on her little body, but if something like this would work, that would be fantastic,” she said.

The young girl had been getting migraines for about a year, but a week into fourth grade, they became severe, Mr. Tolles said. Now, when she gets a migraine, Hannah runs to her grandfather and hides in the crook of his arm to shield herself from the light.

“I think the biggest thing is the music. It makes her rest easier — I can get her to close her eyes,” he said. “I haven’t found much else that helps.”

Music is considered to be a primary cognitive experience, meaning as human beings, we have no control over the emotions we feel when we experience it, Mr. Putano said.

“If we can identify music that a patient loves, music they have positive associations with … if we can engage them in playing music that they really like a lot, we can instantly have them experience those positive emotions,” he said.

Music versus medicine

Researchers have found that music therapy provides a diversion from negative feelings and helps manage the pain of not only adults but of children with developmental, physical, behavioral, and neurological disabilities, said Al Bumanis, a certified music therapist and now the spokesman for the American Music Therapy Association. Continued research with music shows effects on the subjects’ vital signs: blood pressure goes down, the heart rate slows, body temperature goes up; it calms and relaxes but also motivates.

Read the full article here

Music and the brain

Piano music raising the bar at elementary school

Via CBS News

These days, as Michelle Miller is about to show us. thousands of elementary school students are hitting all the right notes:

The Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School sits in a New Orleans neighborhood stressed by violence, poverty and the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina. But don’t tell that to the music teacher.

“Ooh, everybody has such a beautiful smile this morning! Good Morning!”

Pat Sylvain-Little’s music class is a world apart. And she says there’s a lot more going on here than just a piano lesson.

“It’s something about the keyboard,” Sylvain-Little told Miller. “You have so many things you have to do at once. You’re playing with two hands. You’re trying to read the music. You’re trying to count the rhythms, all at the same time. And what researchers have found is that it sparks the brain.”

Sparking the brain of a child is what motivated Lisha Lercari to create this course that’s now being taught in 14 schools in New Orleans, and 130 in New York City.

Lercari is a music teacher on a mission.

“I think children need to read music,” Lercari said. “I want to raise the bar high for them. I want them to be thinking beings while they’re playing and not just play it. It’s making it a process of thinking about it. It’s a process of using their brains.”

The education program Music and the Brain aims to instruct young people far beyond the rudiments of music.

CBS News

In 1996, Lercari read a Newsweek cover story about children’s brains and how they develop; how exposure to music rewires neural circuits; how, in one experiment, music lessons improved the abstract reasoning of preschoolers.

She then spoke to scientists and researchers, and asked herself: How could she translate what was happening in laboratories back into the real world?

Miller asked, “Why is this necessary?”

“It’s necessary because children don’t have music in their lives,” Lercari replied. “But it’s also necessary because of what it does in other areas of education. We have seen their literacy improve, we’ve seen their language skills in other ways improve. Music sticks. It enhances memory skills. It helps with attention. It helps them focus.”

Decades of budget cutbacks had led to the gutting of art and music classes, so Lercari got funding from various foundations, devised her own program, and called it “Music and the Brain.”

“You’re doing it. Very good job! I love it. You’re doing a great job. Keep up that singing!”

At PS 71 in Queens, New York, Claire McIntire has been teaching the course for 12 years, mostly to kindergarteners and first- and second-graders.

“I don’t want to be a music teacher where it’s taught like ‘drill and skill,’” she told Miller. “Like, ‘Let’s go. You gotta do it again! Again!’ and make it boring.

“When the kids come in the room, I want them to walk in with a smile. I want them to leave with a smile. I want them to feel good about it. Mistakes happen every day, and I want them to know that’s OK.”

Most schools discover the program through word of mouth. And when they do, Lercari arrives bearing gifts: “Keyboard lab with piano, music stands, and keyboard stands and headphones, piano books, teachers’ manuals, theory papers, posters that go along with every page of every book, CDs that are instructional, and CDs that are for fun listening, and rhythm CDs as well.”

Here’s how it works: Students first sing the melodies — classical, world, folk and children’s songs.

Next, they learn the rhythms. Then, the notes. Along the way, teachers add the history, geography and languages associated with the music.

And finally, practice at the keyboard. One or two times a week, 30 to 45 minutes at a time.

Miller asked, “Can anybody teach this?”

“Yeah, if they’re willing to work at it!” Lercari laughed. “I would say the only people who can’t teach this are people who probably shouldn’t be teaching at all.”

Lercari is in constant contact with her music teachers. If a technique works in one classroom, she believes it will work in another. But in all the schools, the key is finding teachers who care as deeply as she does — teachers like Pat Sylvain-Little.

“Pat is one of the most beautiful teachers I’ve ever worked with,” Lercari said. “So many kids in New Orleans need a way out of ‘No Way.’ And she makes sure they find it. Nobody fails in her hands.

“I can tell you she saw every child every day. And we watched the ranking of this school go straight up. Her kids can do anything.”

Sylvain-Little says, if it weren’t for these classes, most of her students would never play the piano … let alone have one at home.

“Parents will say, ‘I didn’t even know my child was studying the piano,” she said. “I have some children that have told me, ‘I practice on the kitchen table.’ You know, they sing the letters and go through the music. And so a keyboard is wonderful, but if you don’t have it, it doesn’t stop you.”

Claire McIntire said, “A lot of the parents will come to me and they’ll say during parent-teacher conferences, they’ll ask me, ‘Miss McIntire, should I buy a keyboard?’ And I always tell them, ‘Listen, it’s better than video games. It’s better than watching TV. And your child really loves it. So why not?’”

Lercari plans to expand Music and the Brain into many more schools.

She’s ready for battle.

Read more here
Or find out about education programs here

Music makes beer taste better

Science: Music makes beer taste better

Music can influence how much you like the taste of beer, according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Their findings suggest that a range of multisensory information, such as sound, sensation, shape and color, can influence the way we perceive taste.

The Brussels Beer Project collaborated with UK band The Editors to produce a porter-style beer that took inspiration from the musical and visual identity of the band.

The ale had a medium body and used an Earl Grey infusion that produced citrus notes, contrasting with the malty, chocolate flavors from the mix of grains used in production. This taste profile was designed to broadly correspond to The Editors latest album, ‘In Dreams’.

Then, a team of researchers led by Dr. Felipe Reinoso Cavalho, from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven, designed an experiment to see if the influence of music and packaging design would result in a more positive tasting experience.

They invited 231 drinkers to experience the beer in three different conditions.

The first served as a control group and drank the beer along with a bottle without a label. In this case, they didn’t listen to any specific song.

The second group, testing the influence of packaging, tasted the beer after seeing the bottle with the label.

The third group drank the beer presented with the label while listening to ‘Oceans of Light’, one of the songs on the band’s latest album which the beer was created to reflect.

Before the test the participants rated how tasty they thought the beer might be. Then after tasting they rated how much they had actually enjoyed the drink.

The results showed that those presented with the label and track reported both greater enjoyment than those presented with the beer and label alone.

Filipe said: “We have been able to see that people tend to feel more pleasure when experiencing beverages along with sounds that are part of the beverage’s identity.

“In this case, we have shown that people that previously knew the song that was used in the experiment, not only liked the multisensory experience of drinking beer more while listening to it, but they also liked the beer itself more.

“It seems that the added pleasure that the song brought into the experience was transferred into the beer’s flavor.”

Speaking about the next steps for this research Felipe said: “We want to keep assessing how sounds can modulate perceived flavor attributes of food and beverages, such as bitterness, sweetness, sourness and creaminess.

“We also want to understand how sounds can influence our decision making process, in order to see if different sounds could, for example, lead people towards healthier food choices.”

Research into the interaction of different sensory information on taste has opened up the way for food and beverage retailers to create a range of novel eating and drinking experiences.

Read more here at

Another Brain Benefit of Music Lessons

Another Brain Benefit of Music Lessons

Helping kids develop the ability to disregard potential distractions…

via, by Tom Jacobs

The term “cognitive inhibition” doesn’t sound particularly attractive, but it describes a vitally important mental process. It refers to our capability to tune out irrelevant information and focus our attention on the matter at hand.

Obviously, this ability to concentrate is more important than ever, in a world where we are constantly beckoned by a wide range of distractions. So how can you help your child develop it?

New research suggests one answer is music lessons.

Belgian researchers report 9- to 12-year-olds who had been taking regular music lessons displayed “enhanced cognitive inhibitory control” compared to a group of same-age peers. Their study, in the journal Musicae Scientiae, adds to the already large body of evidence showing cognitive benefits of musical training.

The study featured 63 Dutch-speaking students from Flanders, ranging in age from 9 1/2 to 11 1/2. Thirty-two of them “had been taking music classes since the age of 5 were younger,” specifically studying the Suzuki method with qualified teachers.

Does cutting music programs still seem like such a great way to balance the budget?

Their parents filled out a form noting how many years they had been playing an instrument, and the average amount of time they spend each day on music training. In addition, they reported the education level of the children’s parents, which was roughly equivalent for the two groups.

To measure inhibitory control, all of the children completed the “Simon task,” in which they were asked to press a certain key when a specific color appeared on a computer screen in front of them.

“Of the trials, 50 percent were congruent, meaning that the position of the circle on the screen matched the position of the required response button,” the researchers explain. “The remaining 50 percent were incongruent, with the position of the circle not matching the position of the required response key.” Participants were scored on whether they pushed the correct buttons, and how long it took them to respond.

The researchers, led by Marie-Eve Joret, found “the magnitude of the congruency effect” was “significantly larger in the control group compared to the music group.” In other words, the young musicians performed significantly better in a task that had nothing to do with music, but required focused attention, quick thinking, and rapid responses.

These superior scores “might be explained by several elements related to music training,” the researchers write. “Playing a musical instrument requires high levels of selective attention. Hence, children need to focus their attention on playing music while ignoring other distracting elements.”

Read more here…

Or get more info about lessons at Jordan Kitt’s Music here!

Your brain’s music circuit has been discovered…

via Nautilus

Before Josh McDermott was a neuroscientist, he was a club DJ in Boston and Minneapolis. He saw first-hand how music could unite people in sound, rhythm, and emotion. “One of the reasons it was so fun to DJ is that, by playing different pieces of music, you can transform the vibe in a roomful of people,” he says.

With his club days behind him, McDermott now ventures into the effects of sound and music in his lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. In 2015, he and a post-doctoral colleague, Sam Norman-Haignere, and Nancy Kanwisher, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT, made news by locating a neural pathway activated by music and music alone. McDermott and his colleagues played a total of 165 commonly heard natural sounds to ten subjects willing to be rolled into an fMRI machine to listen to the piped-in sounds. The sounds included a man speaking, a songbird, a car horn, a flushing toilet, and a dog barking. None sparked the same population of neurons as music.

Their discovery that certain neurons have “music selectivity” stirs questions about the role of music in human life. Why do our brains contain music-selective neurons? Could some evolutionary purpose have led to neurons devoted to music? McDermott says the study can’t answer such questions. But he is excited by the fact that it shows music has a unique biological effect. “We presume those neurons are doing something in relation to the analysis of music that allows you to extract structure, following melodies or rhythms, or maybe extract emotion,” he says.

When it comes to understanding subtle neurological activity, brain scans are more like magnifying glasses than microscopes. fMRI scans highlight activity in specific regions of the brain, but each data point corresponds to hundreds of thousands of brain cells. Until recently, scientists didn’t have a way to disentangle the behavior of smaller groups of neurons. Even if music and language seemed to activate the same regions of the brain, no one knew if they activated the same cells.

The results challenge a persistent claim that the brain processes music and language in the same way.

The MIT team adopted a new technique to break down the fMRI data. They tried to explain the response to each of the distinct sounds at each point in the brain as a sum of a small number of canonical responses, each potentially corresponding to a different population of neurons. It was a little like zooming in on a photograph until pixels appear, and then finding a way to separate each pixel into even smaller components.

The results challenge a persistent claim that the brain processes music and language in the same way. “You have different neural circuitry that’s involved in music and language,” says McDermott. “There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of overlap.” Could music be its own form of communication? “To the extent that music functions for communication, it’s quite different from language in that it doesn’t denote specific, concrete things in the world, like something you would say,” he says. “But it obviously expresses something, typically something emotional.”

Intriguing research by Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Ph.D., a research neuroscientist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that listening to music activates the brain’s mirror-neuron system, a hub in the brain, Molnar-Szakacs says, that includes the limbic system, associated with emotion, that stirs a sense of human agency and “social belonging.”

McDermott says his research “doesn’t really speak to any kind of social activity.” It locates music-selective neurons in an area anterior to the primary auditory cortex. “Beyond the anatomical location,” he adds, “we don’t really know anything more.” Yet McDermott, whose field of study is hearing, and not necessarily music, would love to know the role and purpose of musical circuitry in the brain.
Read more here

Music taste linked to personality traits. Take the quiz!

via the Independent,
by Jess Staufenberg

A test designed to work out whether musical taste is a reflection of someone’s personality has been developed by Cambridge University psychologists.

Fans of James Blunt, cheesy club music and heavy metal have long been stereotyped, but the researchers believe there is a link between the type of music people like and their general characteristics.

So far the researchers have found that those described as “empathisers”, who have a good ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of others, appear to prefer music that is romantic, relaxing, unaggressive, sad or slow such as soft rock and some R&B.

“Systemisers”, who tend to lean towards jobs in maths and science, are less stimulated by how the music makes them feel than by its structural qualities. They tend to prefer more “sophisticated” music such as from the avant-garde, world beat, traditional jazz and classical genres.

“Systemisers” are less stimulated by how the music makes them feel than by its structural qualities (Getty Images)

Empathisers may get a higher dose of a soothing hormone when listening to sad music than another the systemisers, explaining why they enjoy listening to that type of music more.

David Greenberg, one of the Cambridge psychologists who has questioned thousands of people about their musical tastes, told CNN: “People who are high on empathy may be preferring a certain type of music compared to people who are more systematic.

“[Systemisers] are focusing more on the instrumental elements, seeing how the music is mixing together. It’s almost like a musical puzzle that they’re putting together.”

As part of their research, the team created a “Musical Universe” quiz, which is available online here.

The test asks each individual to rate 25 musical excerpts and answer questions relating to the five key personality traits – extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness and emotional stability.

Read more here