Document Research File

For my documentary idea, I want to study the effects of music on the brain, along with how different genres effect different people, and the levels at which it does this.

Secondary research

The power of music –
Written by Oliver Sacks – Clinical Professor of Neurology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine New York, USA – for Oxford University Press (2006)

“Another passionately musical philosopher, Nietzsche, said, ‘We listen to music with our muscles.’ This, at least, is something we can see. It is evident in all of us—we tap our feet, we ‘keep time’, hum, sing along or ‘conduct’ music, our facial expressions mirroring the rises and falls, the melodic contours and feelings of what we are hearing. Yet all this may occur without our knowledge or volition.”

• This opens the question that we universally respond to music in some way, whether it is voluntary or involuntary.

“Anthony Storr, in his excellent book Music and the Mind, stresses that in all societies, a primary function of music is collective and communal, to bring and bind people together. People sing together, dance together, in every culture, and one can imagine them doing so, around the first fires, a hundred thousand years ago.”

• Music is a big part of societies around the world in different ways.

“This primal role of music is to some extent lost today, when we have a special class of composers and performers, and the rest of us are often reduced to passive listening.”

• Looks into the possibility that the original primal reaction to music is lost and we listen to music without thinking too much about it or resisting it.

“We see the coercive power of music if it is of excessive volume, or has an overwhelming beat, at rock concerts where thousands of people, as one, may be taken over, engulfed or entrained by the music, just as the beat of war drums can incite extreme martial excitement and solidarity. (There is now, indeed, a whole genre of modern dance music called ‘Trance,’ designed to have such an effect.)

• Music with “excessive volume” or “overwhelming beat” can entrance people.
• Something to consider while creating playlist.

“And the evocative power of music can also be of immense value in people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, who may have become unable to understand or respond to language, but can still be profoundly moved—and often regain their cognitive focus, at least for a while—when exposed to music, especially familiar music that may evoke for them memories of earlier events, encounters or states of mind that cannot be called up in any other way. Music may bring them back briefly to a time when the world was much richer for them.”

• Music can evoke memories for everybody.
• Something to consider when making questions/making conclusions.

“All of us have had the experience of being transported by the sheer beauty of music—suddenly finding ourselves in tears, not knowing whether they are of joy or sadness, suddenly feeling a sense of the sublime, or a great stillness within.”

“Writing that music not only has the power to recall past emotions, but to evoke ‘emotions and moods we have not felt, passions we did not know before.’” – Suzanne Langer

“Thus, [Leo] Tolstoy was deeply ambivalent about music—it had, he felt, a power to induce in him ‘fictitious’ states of mind, emotions and images that were not his own, and not under his control.

“An eminent psychologist friend of mine, who is intensely sensitive to music, cannot have it on as background when he works; he must attend to music completely, or turn it off, for it is too powerful to allow him to focus on any other mental activity.”
“We do, of course, listen selectively, with differing interpretations and emotions, but the basic musical characteristics of a piece—its tempo, its rhythm, its melodic contours, even its pitch—tend to be preserved with remarkable fidelity. It is this fidelity—this almost defenseless engraving of music on the brain—which may play a crucial part in predisposing us to certain excesses, or pathologies, of musical imagery and memory, excesses that may even occur in relatively ‘unmusical’ people.”

Research shows listening to different musical genres leaves lasting impact on brain

Lifehacker article on music genres and it’s effects on the brain

“Our brains actually respond differently to happy and sad music.”

“We can understand the emotions of a piece of music without actually feeling them, which explains why some of us find listening to sad music enjoyable, rather than depressing. Unlike in real life situations, we don’t feel any real threat or danger when listening to music, so we can perceive the related emotions without truly feeling them—almost like vicarious emotions”

Youtube Video: Exploring the Impact of Music on Brain Function

I watched the first 20 or so minutes of Aniruddh Patel talking about music and the impact on brain function video on Youtube. The section I was interested in was when he was talking about the emotional reactions to music.

No single music centre in the brain neuroimaging reveals music processing is widely distributed in the brain.
Brain activity greater in regular listening than irregular.

Impact can be put into two conceptual categories, transient effects (“Music in the moment”) and lasting effects (lasts weeks, months or years and mediate via neural plasticity)

The role of emotion and music’s power of it is remarkable.

Why does the brain respond so strongly to music?

Because it activates at least 6 different pathways to the emotion in our brains – Brainstem reflexes, implicit associations with emotional events, emotional contagion from voice like emotional sounds, visual imagery evoked by music, episodic memory (soundtrack of our lives), musical expectancy.

No single pathway is unique to music, but music is unique.

TED Video: Music and Emotion Through Time (Michael Tilson Thomas)

“For him, it wasn’t so much the way the music goes as about what it witnesses and where it can take you”

“But what’s the actual difference between these two chords? It’s just these two notes in the middle. It’s either E natural, and 659 vibrations per second, or E flat, at 622. So the big difference between human happiness and sadness? 37 freakin’ vibrations.”

Anecdote about an old man:

“The question remains: What happens when the music stops? What sticks with people? Now that we have unlimited access to music, what does stick with us?
17:00 Well let me show you a story of what I mean by “really sticking with us.” I was visiting a cousin of mine in an old age home, and I spied a very shaky old man making his way across the room on a walker. He came over to a piano that was there, and he balanced himself and began playing something like this. (Music)
17:24 And he said something like, “Me … boy … symphony … Beethoven.” And I suddenly got it, and I said, “Friend, by any chance are you trying to play this?” (Music) And he said, “Yes, yes. I was a little boy. The symphony: Isaac Stern, the concerto, I heard it.” And I thought, my God, how much must this music mean to this man that he would get himself out of his bed, across the room to recover the memory of this music that, after everything else in his life is sloughing away, still means so much to him?”

Closing line:

“You don’t need to worry about knowing anything. If you’re curious, if you have a capacity for wonder, if you’re alive, you know all that you need to know. You can start anywhere. Ramble a bit. Follow traces. Get lost. Be surprised, amused inspired. All that ‘what’, all that ‘how’ is out there waiting for you to discover its ‘why’, to dive in and pass it on.”


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