Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
A very interesting prophylactic against depression—though I wish I had read Mindset at the time I was learning music. I still had the idea that if something didn’t come easily, then that meant I could not learn it: bad mistake.
Still, for those with children, music lessons pay off in unexpected ways. Michael Byrne writes at Motherboard:
It’s hard to be distracted while playing music. The player is sort of just there, trapped in the thing itself. One can do intense, vigorous exercise while still watching TV, and one can write blog posts with a dozen beckoning tabs open in the same browser, but, whether its a violin or Max/MSP patcher, playing music asks for more: body, brain, emotions.
The impact of playing music on intelligence is hardly unexplored, but a new studyfrom psychiatrists at the University of Vermont adds a couple of extra dimensions. Musicians are smarter, sure, but it would seem that they also are able to focus better, control their emotions more effectively, and they often wind up with less anxiety.
UVM’s James Hudziak, also director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth and Families, called the new report “the largest investigation of the association between playing a musical instrument and brain development.” Using a database provided by the NIH’s Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Study of Normal Brain Development, the psychiatrists were able to look at the brain scans of 232 children ages 6 to 18.
Using these scans the UVM team examined a known physical indicator of depression and anxiety in developing brains: the thickness of the brain’s outermost layer, e.g. the cortex.
Varying cortical thickness turns out to be tied to all sorts of behavioral indicators, including aggression, attention, and “control issues.” The new findings tie into a model developed by Hudziak called the Vermont Family Based Approach, which attempts to describe the entirety of a given child’s environment—parents, teachers, friends, pets, extracurricular activities—and how it relates to psychological health.
“Music is a critical component in my model,” Hudziak said in a statement.
“This study followed a longitudinal design such that participants underwent MRI scanning and behavioral testing on up to 3 separate visits, occurring at 2-year intervals,” Hudziak and his team wrote in the current study. “MRI, IQ, and music training data were available for 232 youths (334 scans), ranging from 6 to 18 years of age.”
Variations in cortical thickness were observed in the brain zones responsible for “executive functioning, including working memory, attentional control, as well as organization and planning for the future,” the authors explain.
Hudziak’s findings shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The past decade or so has seen an explosion in research correlating brain functioning with musical ability, a subject that’s become all the more crucial as schools across the country race to slash music programs.
The basic idea is that playing music is a singularly focused and challenging neuro-workout. In an NPR interview, Ani Patel, author of Music, Language, and the Brain, summarized the relationship like this: “How do we process sequences with complex hierarchical structure and make sense of them? How do we integrate sensation and action? How do we remember long and difficult sequences of information?”
“These are fundamental neuroscience questions, and music can help us answer some of these questions,” Patel said, “because it’s in some ways simpler than language, but it’s still of sufficient complexity that it can address these very deep and important aspects of human brain function.”
A study released last June looked at both adults and children and how music ability relates to “executive functioning” within the brain, e.g. the “cognitive capacities that allow for planned, controlled behavior and strongly correlate with academic abilities.” . . .
As William Congreve wrote in the play The Mourning Bride, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” And apparently it also helps some with PTSD. Scott Beauchamp writes in Pacific Standard:
Up until a few years ago, when I returned home from two tours as an Infantryman in Iraq, if I referenced the Grateful Dead, the ultimate baby boomer counterculture band, it was usually as the punch line to a joke about their cult-like army of followers or the hours-long jam sessions their live shows consisted of. I never saw myself as the type of person who would listen to them.
I would have stayed the course, listening to more conventionally “cool” music, were it not for the periodic bouts of anxiety that I had brought back with me from Iraq. There was sleeplessness, hyperawareness, diffuse and undefined anxiety, and depression—the typical mélange of symptoms usually attributed to post-traumatic stress. On nights that I couldn’t sleep—and on days that I couldn’t function—I’d spend hours with music. I began with the songs that I was already familiar with—classic and independent rock mostly. But being able to sing along to tunes I knew from childhood and high school became a tedious comfort, and so, with the help of Spotify and YouTube, I began searching for more options.
I don’t remember exactly when I decided on the Grateful Dead; there wasn’t a Eureka moment. I just slowly realized that they were frequently coming up in my playlists. A majority of the time that I was listening to music at all, in fact, I was listening to the Dead. They made me feel blissful, to put it simply. That may be hard to take seriously in a post-modern milieu that demands every thinking person be a cynic, but for me, healing from the experience of war, the nourishment that I received completely overshadowed any knee-jerk embarrassment.
I’M NOT THE FIRST to make a connection between the music of the Grateful Dead and psychological healing. The much-loved neuroscientist Oliver Sacks wrote about just such a connection in his New York Review of Books essay “The Last Hippie.” In it, Sacks tells the story of Greg, a young man growing up in New York City amid the heady, mind-expanding countercultural apex of the late ’60s. Greg goes about checking all of the boxes of the youth movement experience: He moves to the Village, does a copious amount of LSD, attends live performances of the poet Allen Ginsberg, and obsesses over the music of the Dead. Following a familiar trajectory, he eventually trades in his bohemianism for the New Age and joins the Hare Krishnas; as his devotion deepens, Greg’s contact with his family all but ceases. They had no way of knowing he was suffering from health issues.
When his family was finally able to visit him years later in New Orleans, Greg was completely blind and suffering from severe cognitive impairments. A benign tumor had been left to grow in his brain, wreaking havoc on his frontal lobes. His memories of the ’60s were vivid, fresh, and accessible—but he was completely unable to make new ones. Even simple musical melodies that Sacks would play for Greg were quickly forgotten. Sacks suspected that it might be good to expose Greg to music that he remembered from the past, only in a new setting, and so he took him to a 1991 Grateful Dead concert at Madison Square Garden, where, Sacks writes, Greg came alive. The frontal lobes, parts of the brain that play a role in higher functions like memory and personality, had been damaged by the tumor, leaving Greg in something of a stupor. But at the concert, Greg was thrilled, exuberant … blissful.
THE STORY OF MY own relationship with the music of the Grateful Dead isn’t nearly as dramatic as Greg’s, but my epiphany felt just as real. The chill that I get from a transcendent Jerry Garcia solo isn’t mine alone; it has been proven by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro that music can cause obvious and measurable physiological effects. . .
Very interesting column by James Fallows on the music industry that Larry Croce (“Junk Food Junkie”) helped create in West Virginia. From the column:
. . . The national commentariat is used to the idea of outrageous, burdensome real estate prices as a central distorting factor in people’s financial lives. That’s because they are exactly that in a handful of places—New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles to San Diego, D.C., and a few more, where most of the commenting people live.
But in countless other places across the country people don’t have to start out assuming that most of what they take home will immediately go out for the rent or mortgage. And we keep finding in such places—in Duluth and Greenville and Redlands and Holland and Sioux Falls and Burlington and Allentown and larger places like Columbus and Pittsburgh—people who have calculated that they can build their company, pursue their ambition, realize their dream without crowding into the biggest cities.
Of course some people have always preferred the small-town life; of course America has always had diverse regional centers; and of course locational concentration matters in many industries. I knew that before we started these travels. What I hadn’t known is how consistently, and across such a wide range, we would find people pursuing first-tier ambitions in what big-city people would consider the sticks. . .
Fascinating article. Just one paragraph:
Unlike the more pseudoscientific notion of biorhythms, chronobiology is a reasonably well-established feature of most life. In humans, it ranges from slowly moving circadian rhythms to heartbeats to the nasal cycle, the mostly unnoticeable yet continuous cyclic oscillation between congestion and decongestion occurring in humans about once every four hours.