Do We All Have a Musical Brain?
Cross Section of a Musical Brain (Artist Rendition)
Sixteen 2nd graders each sit in front of a computer in the lab. They all have headphones on and are following the instructions on the program to do their practice example of the test. The purpose of this test is to better assess musical aptitude in identifying pitch and rhythm.
You can see students smiling as the program explains how they are to help a little dog get back to his dog house. They go to a different window and listen to two rhythm patterns at a time. Some examples are the same and some are different. They need to click on the answer they think is correct. Students cannot tell if they are correct during the course of the test. Instead, each answer adds a paw print taking the dog closer to the house. Students are not punished for getting the wrong answer but the visuals are an encouragement to continue and concentrate through the 60 examples.
My school piloted this program before including it in the testing criteria for our gifted performing arts program. This software program uses a friendly interface to test same or different tones (pitch) and rhythms. It takes a total of 40 minutes with a 5 minute break in the middle. There is some correlation between the ability to recognize examples at a high rate of accuracy and the ability to sing and play music in tune and on time.
Note that this does not test musicality or emotional feel in a performance. This was just one of the building blocks in the total picture of a child's music assessment.
Bonus Points - Which musical excerpt is included in the title brain collage?
The answer is above the comments section.
Gordon and Audiation
Edwin E. Gordon along with others developed this software program which is called the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation. He is a Research Professor at the University of South Carolina. Gordon is also an author, lecturer and researcher into the field of music education.
His focus is on:
1 How to teach music sequentially and methodically initially without music notation
2 How to scientifically measure these results with accuracy and meaning
I am not necessarily a proponent of everything Gordon does. I found some of his sequential lessons a little too dry. However, I applaud his desire to make music more capable of being studied scientifically.
Gordon coined the word audiation. Audiation means to hear the music inside your brain without outside cues. Can you hear the song My Country Tis of Thee in your head right now without singing or humming? Just like a visual artist can imagine their work of art without seeing, a musician can 'hear' the tones and rhythms in their head without actually hearing.
His Music Learning Theory starts instruction without notation or any written music. The students learn tonal and rhythmic patterns and internalize them.
Gordon's Book on Music Learning Theory
This book is dry and academic, but accurately describes Edwin E. Gordon's theory of audiation and music instruction.
Experts on Music and the Brain: Jessica Grahn does a wonderful TED talk on music and the brain.
Edwin Gordon explains the practical applications of his music learning theory.
Have you always wanted to see inside Oliver Sack's brain? Here's your chance!
Few people know that Bobby McFerrin is an educator as well as a musician.
Your Brain on Music
Music Brain Map
Brain on Music
Current Research shows a direct relationship between learning music and brain development. As you grow, your brain increases its neural pathways and connections based on its experiences. It is proven that music changes brain anatomy; certain parts of the brain actually increase in size!
Performing music has even more benefits because in order to play correctly, you need to coordinate many parts of the brain simultaneously:
Auditory - Visual - Cognitive - Motor - Emotional
In the past, it was thought that music only stimulated the right hemisphere of the brain. Now we know it stimulates different parts of the brain including math and language centers. Dr. Gottfried Schlaug at the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Harvard Medical School says science can demonstrate the relationship between ability in detecting music pitch and ability in hearing and working with language sounds (phonemic awareness).The National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada found musicians have a rehabilitative advantage by the way their brain uses multi-sensory processing.
Translation: If a musician has a stroke or brain injury, they have chances for a better recovery because of their multi-sensory neural brain networks. In the Music Educators Journal, Donald A. Hodges says all humans respond to music no matter their ability, disability, or age. Even the hearing impaired can respond to rhythm and vibration. He also agrees with other experts in that music registers in different parts of the brain and that music training changes how the brain is organized (for the better).
In Conclusion: Whether utilized or not, we all have a musical brain. Lifelong learning in music helps sustain brain power. So, get out that piccolo and dust off that tuba!
Music Training Sharpens Brain Pathways, Studies Say by Sarah D. Sparks 2013
More Evidence that Music Benefits the Brain by Megan Brooks 2013.
Music Educators Journal 2002
image used for educational purposes no infringement of copyright is intended.
Ability Development by Shinichi Suzuki
This book is an easy read although somewhat ackward in the translation from Japanese. Shinichi Suzuki has gotten astounding results in young children in their very musical performances of violin and other instruments. He makes a case for his philosophy of 'every child can.'