What makes music an universal language is its ability to communicate across cultural and linguistic boundaries via emotion, mood and desire. We infer emotions through a wide variety of neural systems to our brain.
Music has long been recognized as an effective form of therapy for mental health issues. There were over 400 published scientific papers that have emphasized the importance of music, especially “music as a remedy”.
Music has benefits on the mental an physical health so that’s why it is included in the treatment of schizophrenics where it helps in their social functioning. It is also efficient in reducing chronic pain, depression, anxiety.
Music is very important for young children, because it changes the infant’s brain in a way that will have benefits for the whole life. According the initial results of a five-year study by USC, neuroscientists found that an early exposure to music improves the area responsible for sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills.
In 2012, a five-year study was initialized by the Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) at USC, in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) to investigate the relationship between music and the development of emotional, cognitive and social properties.
It showed that musical features speed up the maturation and efficiency of the auditory pathway. The study, published recently in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, provides evidence of the notion of using song in schools when it was relatively unfamiliar domain in many schools around the United States and other countries.
Assal Habibi, the study’s lead author and a senior research associate at the BCI in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, claimed that they were especially interested in the impact of notion of music and its influence on the socio-emotional, brain and cognitive development of children. The results point out that the children who experienced music were more accurate in processing sound that the two other groups.
In order to analyze the brain development and behavior, the neuroscientists monitored a group of 37 children from underprivileged neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Thirteen children, ranging from 6 to 7 years old started experiencing music with the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles program at HOLA.
This music training program was inspired by the El Sistema method, the one which Gustavo Dudamel had been in when he was growing in Venezuela.
Learning to Play
The children were involved in a program of practice seven hours a week where they learned to play instruments in groups. They were divided into several groups, 11 children practices soccer program and 13 were not involved in any program in order to monitor the changes that were about to happen as the children grew.
Some of the techniques involved were EEG to follow the electrical activity in the brains, MRI to monitor changes through brain scans, test of behavior and many others.
The neuroscientists, within two years of study, noticed that the auditory systems of children in the music program were developing faster than in all the other children. This is a result of neuroplasticity, a physiological change in the brain that reacts to its environment in this case a result of the music exposure.
The auditory system reacts when it stimulated by music, a fundamental notion for language development, excellent communication and great reading skills.
The neuroscientists are continuing to study the possibility of development of language and reading on the basis of fine-tuning of children’s auditory pathways.
Ear to Brain
Hearing is the result of the collaboration between the ear and the auditory brain. The ears receive the sounds in the form of vibrations and encode them into neural signals. These neural messages are sent to the brainstem via specific nerves and different relay stations analyze and decode the message to produce a percept in the cerebral cortex.
How the child develops with time is measured by EEG, a previously mentioned technique, that tracks electrical signals called “auditory evoked potentials”. The greatest focus of the study was put on the a potential called P1 that measures the development of brain’s auditory pathways by tracking the number of neurons involved called amplitude, the speed of the signal called latency.
Both of these measures decrease as the children develop with time, meaning that they become more efficient in processing sound.
Before and after the period of study, the children completed a task measuring their abilities to distinguish tone. While EEG recorded their electrical signals, they listened to piano, violin and single-frequency tones. They were also asked to identify tone and rhythm in 24 different melodies, pointing out the ones that were different and the ones similar in tone and rhythm.
All the groups could easily identify when the melodies were similar but the ones in the orchestra program were more accurate at detecting tone and rhythm and they had a smaller P1 potential amplitude than the other two groups.
The scientist concluded that there was a significant decrease in P1 measures in the music group after two years of training in contrast to the increased measures to sport.
The Biology of Music
According to Mark Jude Tramo, a neurobiologist at the Harvard University Medical School, there is biology of music that specializes within the brain for the processing of music and as well as it is an aesthetic part of life.
The neuroscientists at McGill University by scanning the changes in neural activity found out that the part of the brain activated by music is dependent on whether the music is pleasant or no, so, the pleasant the music, more active the brain.
Scientist from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, claimed that male musicians have larger brains than males who did not experience musical training. This is so because the brain reacts to music as the muscle reacts to exercise.
The power of music affects neural activity no matter where, from primitive regions to evolved areas. We can conclude that crucial factors for brain activity are harmony, rhythm and melody.