Singing in the Brain
I never met someone who says they don’t like music. Music is accepted as a universal language, enjoyed by all cultures. Yet, despite being universal, there are many different types of music. We like some of them; we hate some of them. Why is that?
I am a part-time musician, and I have been very curious about how the brain reacts to different types of music. When we decided to tackle music and the brain and write a series of posts on the subject, I picked up a couple of books. “This is Your Brain on Music” by neuroscientist and musician Daniel J. Levitin is the first book that made me realize that the subject is way more complicated than I initially thought (1). There is more to be curious about!
How is music different than speech? Or how is it similar? Why does someone stutter when they are talking but can sing perfectly when they are singing? Why do we want to listen to certain types of music in different moods? Or how does music change our mood?
Historically, music has been used in sanitoriums to help mental health patients. Today the music therapy is still widely used (2-4). So how does music help our mental health? What are its limits? Can it be used for other health problems, like pain?
Levitin also reminds us how complex a musical piece is, with its rhythm, sounds, and melody (1). He asks the question: how can we recognize a song even if it is played by different instruments or at different speeds? What information do we keep in our brain to be able to do this vast recognition?
The interaction between memory and music is very complicated. I have been playing guitar for decades. Sometimes I find it easier to remember a song I played 20 years ago than one I played recently. How is that possible? Or how can I play a solo if I don’t think of it but screw it up if I start to think about the next note?
There are so many questions. Scientists started to find answers for some of them, but not all. We are starting our next series on music and how it is related to our brains. It will be a very interesting series that we will also learn a lot about. Keep following our page if you would like to learn more too! If there is anything you are curious about, feel free to ask it on our Twitter account. I am sure it will trigger our curiosity as well.
Blog by Emine Topcu
1. Levitin DJ. This is Your Brain on Music. Dutton Penguin; 2008.
2. Cohen D, Maxwell E. Music therapy for depression. Am Fam Physician. 2020;101(5):273–4.
3. Carr C, Odell-Miller H, Priebe S. A Systematic Review of Music Therapy Practice and Outcomes with Acute Adult Psychiatric In-Patients. PLoS One. 2013;8(8).
4. Gold C, Solli HP, Krüger V, Lie SA. Dose-response relationship in music therapy for people with serious mental disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Rev [Internet]. 2009;29(3):193–207. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2009.01.001