Music and the Brain

The Musical Brain

This past weekend, CTV presented an interesting documentary called "The Musical Brain". Famous musicians Sting, Michael Bublé, Feist, Wyclef Jean and David Kane participated in the documentary. Studies were conducted on babies, the elderly, the non-musician and the professional musician to better understand music's effects on the brain. It was validating to see on a scientific level why we musicians are so brain-dead after an intense day of teaching/performing/practicing/listening to music. After all, many areas the the brain are firing signals at breakneck speed, analyzing and processing information, thinking ahead, drawing upon past and current emotions and memories to emote in the moment and using delicate sensory, auditory and motor skills in a fraction of a second. And let's not forget the great internal war that sometimes happens throughout all this when nerves and doubt creep into the picture.

Sound engineer turned neuroscientist/author Dr. Daniel J. Levitin has published two books on music and the brain and did the brain scan on Sting and Michael Bublé. In the end, Sting was a little uncomfortable with the results.

Psychologist Petr Janata and his team determined that some portions of the brain are 5% larger in expert musicians than non-musicians, that the auditory cortex in professional musicians is 130% denser than in non-musicians and that the corpus callosum can be up to 15% larger than non-musicians. The other parts of the brain that are further developed in musicians are the planum temporale, cerebellum, gray and white matter.

Dr. Charles Limb did a fascinating study with jazz musician David Kane, which showed what creativity looks like as a brain scan as Kane improvised.

Here's an interview that Dr. Levitin gave on TVO:

For me, it was almost the right amount of scientific detail. I found the percentages from a different study. Any more and it would take away the mystery and passion of our merry music making. Sting admitted afterward that he's quite content with being "happily lost" with this science stuff.

Here is The Musical Brain:

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