April 9th, 2009
Music and its effect on the development of the human brain
Why is music so important to us as human beings? What draws us to music and how can studying the brain and the effects that music has on the brain help us to understand our relationship with music? Does age and training affect our knowledge and understanding of music, or are we all hardwired with a musical capability?
Now, if we think about it, how is music interpreted by our brains? Vanessa Dylyn's interest towards the creative process of the brain and how our brain understands music came up with this statement, “Music does not exist outside the brain. A single note begins as vibrations that travel through the air which cause the ear drum to vibrate. Inside the ear the vibrations are converted into nerve impulses which travel to the brain, where they are deconstructed into elements of music such as pitch, tempo, and melody. When recombined the elements form a pattern, which we recognize as music. In other words the brain itself creates the musical sounds we think we hear.”(Dylyn) This definition of music not existing outside of the brain challenges our knowledge of music. I thought that music would exist in and of itself but according to Vanessa Dylyn this is not the case. We depend on our ears to pick up these musical vibrations and they are interpreted by our brain and fall into musical patterns. We can say that sound exists outside of our brain, because many different things make sound like rushing water or blowing wind, to qualify as music our brains need to be intellectually involved and engaged in a thought process.
Even if music does not exist of its own accord, it has nonetheless played an important role in the development of human civilizations. “Throughout recorded history, music has been a part of every Puigmarti 2
culture. The oldest musical instrument in existence is a Neanderthal flute. Many scientists think that music played an essential role in human evolution. In primitive societies where trust and bonding were vital elements of village life, the word for music and motion are one and the same”(Dylyn) Humans gather around each other and can relate to each other through music, music is universal in that sense that we all understand its basic forms. “Music would have been used for the transmission and preservation of knowledge. Before there was writing a way to encode words, so that they would be better remembered, music would have been used by our ancestors to comfort one another, and to form social bonds.” (Levitin, 63) “Singing together releases the hormone oxytocin, which engenders feelings of trust and bonding.” (Levitin, 84) “Music is a very powerful force for social cohesion.”(Sting) We as humans yearn for the acceptance and friendship of others, and long to be part of a group in society. We want to be united with one another and feel the peace and love which emanate through musical and vocal expression. “Man's singing voice is his oldest musical instrument, rich in harmonic content, of wide tonal compass, eminently portable...played by its owner alone.”(Critchley, 78) So ever since the beginning of human existence we have been able to identify that our voice is our main instrument in which we communicate our different emotions and moods, whether it be singing or talking.
It is not only through our voice that we communicate, but movement also remains an essential form of communication and self expression. “I tended to always just kinda make the audible, visible...what better way to do that than through movement.”(Feist) Our brains instruct the body to react and move to the beat of songs that we enjoy. “Humans are the only species that can synchronize their movements to music...we do it naturally and as infants.”(Levitin, 186) This distinction is due to the development of the human brain over time. “Why does the brain command the body to move to music? Because...