For the past 5 months, the students from North Cambridge Academy and Sir Harry Smith Community College have been training alongside professional musicians thanks to an innovative music programme that seeks to close a gap in school education.
The three-year project focuses on helping students develop both vocal and instrumental skills through regular workshops with professional musicians from Cambridge University’s Associate Ensemble VOCES8 and The Brook Street Band. Using the ‘VOCES8 method’, teachers and students are encouraged to learn through participation, using vocal and rhythmic exercises that develop their music skills and confidence.
In a pharmacological study published in PNAS, Ferreri et al. (1) present evidence that enhancing or inhibiting dopamine signaling using levodopa or risperidone modulates the pleasure experienced while listening to music. This result is the latest development in an already remarkable series of studies by the groups of Robert Zatorre and Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells on the implication of the reward system in musical emotions. In their seminal 2001 study, Blood and Zatorre (2) used the PET imaging technique to show that episodes of peak emotional responses to music (or musical “chills”) were associated with increased blood flow in the ventral striatum, the amygdala, and other brain regions associated with emotion and reward. In a 2011 follow-up study, Salimpoor et al. (3) then relied on [11C]raclopride PET—a technique that allows estimating dopamine release in cerebral tissue—to show that peak emotional arousal during music listening is associated with the simultaneous release of dopamine in the bilateral dorsal and ventral striatum.
Despite their enthusiasm for borrowing from other fields and incorporating new types of source material, many historians remain reluctant to analyze music. For example, when the American Historical Association dedicated its 2015 Annual Meeting to “History and Other Disciplines,” organizers called for work that engaged with anthropology, material culture, archaeology, visual studies, and museum studies, but they were noticeably silent about music and musicology. What explains this aversion?
First, many historians seem to believe that music, more than other cultural practices and products, demands specialized analytical tools. Of course, the field of musicology exists precisely to explicate musical texts and performances in all their specificity, and it does seem foolhardy for historians who lack this specialized training to attempt a technical, formal analysis of music. Yet historians have long since overcome any doubts they may have felt in the face of film or visual art, even though they lack training in film studies or art history. Perhaps they can more easily detect the similarities between films and paintings on the one hand and more familiar, textual sources on the other; they can more readily see the usefulness of the historian’s analytical toolbox for dissecting these sorts of materials: unpacking narratives, decoding symbols, contextualizing meanings, etc. Music, by contrast, seems somehow impenetrable, even ineffable. It is not surprising that many histories of modern, popular music actually focus exclusively on lyrics.
The brain’s auditory system can be shaped by exposure to different auditory environments, such as native language and musical training,
A recent doctoral study by Caitlin Dawson from the University of Helsinki focuses on interacting effects of native language patterns and musical experience on early auditory processing of basic sound features. Methods included electrophysiological brainstem recording as well as a set of behavioral auditory discrimination tasks.
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According to the research conducted at the University of Helsinki, weekly music playschool significantly improved the development of children’s vocabulary skills. Several studies have suggested that intensive musical training enhances children’s linguistic skills. Such training, however, is not available to all children.
Researchers at Cognitive Brain Research Unit in the University of Helsinki studied in a community setting whether a low-cost, weekly music playschool provided to 5–6-year-old children in kindergartens affects their linguistic abilities.
Some music inspires you to move your feet, some inspire you to get out there and change the world. In any case, and to move hurriedly on to the point of this article, it’s fair to say that music moves people in special ways.
If you’re especially into a piece of music, your brain does something called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), which feels to you like tingling in your brain or scalp. It’s nature’s own little “buzz”, a natural reward, that is described by some as a “head orgasm”. Some even think that it explains why people go to church, for example, “feeling the Lord move through you”, but that’s another article for another time.
Alternative and complementary treatments such as creative art, meditation, and yoga have been proposed to bridge many gaps that conventional medicine cannot. But music, because of its ubiquity in our society as well as its ease of transmission, has perhaps the greatest potential among alternative therapies to reach people in deep and profound ways. Music matters and it heals.
Music instruction appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound, language development, speech perception, and reading skills, according to initial results of a five-year study by USC neuroscientists.