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New Research Links Music Study and Increased Brain Size

New research findings that show playing a musical instrument increases the size of the sound-processing area of the brain were published in the April 23 issue of Nature magazine. Neuroscientist Christo Pantev and colleagues at the University of Muenster in Germany used magnetic source imaging to compare the brains of skilled musicians and people who have never played a musical note. They discovered that the musicians' auditory cortex, which responds to pitching a sound on a piano, was about 25 percent larger than their non-musical counterparts. The researchers also found that the younger the musicians began their training, the more the cortex developed.

Pantev told the Reuters News Service in April that the brain processes acoustic stimuli, such as musical notes on a piano, as so-called tonotopic maps. Neurones--cells that transmit nerve impulses-- are grouped together on the maps in the brain according to pitch. But because musical tones are different from ordinary sounds, more neurons are needed to process the more complicated notes.

A musician's training develops the area of the brain in a different way. More neurones are involved and are working more harmoniously, which Pantev said could explain how young musicians develop such extraordinary talent. The more experienced musicians had larger tonotopic maps.

The study supports earlier research that showed a difference in the part of the brain controlling the left and right hand fingers of string musicians. "We found that the representation of the fingers of the left hand are bigger than the representation of the fingers of the right hand," Pantev told Reuters.

Music makes us smarter

According to research conducted at the University of California at Irvine. The positive effect of music has been understood for a long time. Plato once said that music "is a more potent instrument than any other for education." Now scientists know why.

According to Newsweek magazine, music trains the brain for higher forms of thinking. Researchers at the UCI studied three year olds and found that after taking piano lessons and choir for 8 months, they became expert puzzle makers, scoring 80% higher than their playmates did in spatial intelligence.

"Early music training can enhance a child's ability to reason'" says Irvine physicist Gordon Shaw. According to researchers these skills later translate into complex math and engineering skills. Shaw believes that as children listen to classical music they exercise their cortical neurons, which also strengthens circuits used for higher-order thinking skills. Einstein, who was a violinist, speaking about his theory of relativity said, "it occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. The discovery was the result of musical perception."

For more information check out the UCI web site : http://www.musica.uci.edu

Your Brain on Music
Ongoing research shows that classical music is good for the brain:

The cerebellum is larger in classically trained musicians than in people who don't play a musical instrument, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported at the Society of Neuroscience convention in 1998. The cerebellum is a region of the brain responsible for posture, balance, coordination and fine motor movements.

Research pursued at the University of California , Irvine , led by psychologist Frances Rauscher, Ph.D, and neuroscientist Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., shows that there is "an unmistakable causal link between music and spatial intelligence, reversing the once commonly held view that music education is irrelevant to intellectual development."

In this study in the mid-1990s, researchers concluded that spatial-reasoning abilities are crucial for such higher brain function such as music, complex mathematics and chess. Results showed that the spatial-reasoning performance of 18 preschool children who took eight months of music lessons far exceeded the spatial reasoning of a demographically comparable group of 15 preschool children who went without music lessons.

A similar study in the late '90s by Shaw and Rauscher showed that children who received piano training performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring spatial temporal ability than children instructed in computers.

"It has been clearly documented that young students have difficulty understanding the concepts of proportion (used in math and science) and that no successful program has been developed to teach these concepts in the school system. The high proportion of children who saw dramatic improvements in spatial-temporal reasoning as a result of musical training should be of great interest to scientists and educators," the research team noted.

Students who study music scored higher on both the verbal and math portions of the SAT than did non-music students, according to the College Entrance Examination Boards, as reported in Symphony, 1996.

Music on the Mind 
Scientists are finding that the human brain is pre-wired for music. Could this sublime expression of culture be as much about biology as art?

Author: Sharon Begley

If you were to peek inside Sandra Trehub's lab, you might easily mistake it for one of those obnoxious superbaby classes. Beaming 6- to 9-month-olds sit transfixed in a parent's lap as a few seconds of melody pours from the speakers, and become more alert when the tempo or pitch changes. But the University of Toronto psychologist isn't trying to teach infants the finer points of Vivaldi. She is, instead, trying to shed light on whether the human brain comes preloaded with music software the way a laptop comes preloaded with Windows. In one test, Trehub varies the pitch, tempo and melodic contour of music, and finds that babies can detect changes in all three. The infants recognize that a melody whose pitch or tempo has changed is the same melody, for instance, suggesting that they have a rudimentary knowledge of music's components. The real surprise, though, comes when Trehub plays consonant (pleasant) and dissonant passages in an attempt to tease out whether our musical preferences are shaped by culture alone or wired into our brain from birth. Infants, she finds, smile when the air is filled with perfect fourths and perfect fifths--chords or sequences separated by five half steps, like C and F, or seven half steps, like C and G, respectively. But babies hate the ugly tritone, in which two notes are separated by six half steps, like C and F sharp, and sound so unresolved and unstable that in medieval times it was known as "the devil." What seems to be a biologically based preference "may explain the inclusion of perfect fifths and fourths in music across cultures and across centuries," says Trehub.

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, but scientists are finding that it works those charms through the brain. At a recent conference of the New York Academy of Sciences, Trehub and dozens of other scientists interspersed their PET scans and MRIs with snatches of Celine Dion and Stravinsky as they reported on the biological foundations of music. Besides the musical babies, several other lines of evidence suggest that the human brain is wired for music, and that some forms of intelligence are enhanced by music. Perhaps the most striking hint that the brain holds a special place in its gray matter for music is that people can typically remember scores of tunes, and recognize hundreds more. But we can recall only snatches of a few prose passages ("Four score and seven years ago..."). Also, music affects the mind in powerful ways: it not only incites passion, belligerence, serenity or fear, but does so even in people who do not know from experience, for instance, that a particular crescendo means the killer is about to pop out on the movie screen. All in all, says psychologist Isabelle Peretz of the University of Montreal, "the brain seems to be specialized for music."

The temporal lobes of the brain, just behind the ears, act as the music center. When neurosurgeons tickle these regions with a probe, patients have been known to hear tunes so vividly that they ask, "Why is there a phonograph in the operating room?" The temporal lobes are also where epileptic seizures typically begin, and for some epilepsy patients "the power of music" is no cliche: music triggers their seizures. But not any music. The seizures are style-dependent. In one patient only salsa triggers seizures; in another, only classical does; in others, only operatic arias or pop tunes do.

The most controversial finding about the musical mind is that learning music can help children do better at math. When a researcher at the recent conference in New York brought up these studies, he got an auditoriumful of laughs. Yet the link, reported in 1997 by Gordon Shaw of the University of California, Irvine, and Frances Rauscher at the University of Wisconsin, has held up. Last year Shaw compared three groups of second graders: 26 got piano instruction plus practice with a math video game, 29 received extra English lessons plus the math game and 28 got no special lessons. After four months the piano kids scored 15 percent to 41 percent higher on a test of ratios and fractions than the other kids. This year, Shaw reported that music can help bridge a socioeconomic gap. He compared second graders in inner-city Los Angeles to fourth and fifth graders in more affluent Orange County, Calif. After a year of piano, the second graders who received twice-a-week piano training in school scored as well as the fourth graders, who did not; half of the second graders scored as well as fifth graders.

But might music work its magic simply by making school more enjoyable, or because music lessons bring kids more one-on-one time with teachers? If that were so, then music should bring about improvements in many subjects. But it doesn't. Although kids who receive music training often improve somewhat across the board due to the "good mood" and attention effects, finds psychologist Martin Gardiner of Brown University, "they just shoot ahead in math. This can't be explained by social effects or attention alone. There is something specific about music and math." That something might be that music involves proportions, ratios, sequences--all of which underlie mathematical reasoning.

The brain seems to be a sponge for music and, like a sponge in water, is changed by it. The brain's left and right hemispheres are connected by a big trunk line called the corpus callosum. When they compared the corpus callosum in 30 nonmusicians with the corpus callosum in 30 professional string and piano players, researchers led by Dr. Gottfried Schlaug of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found striking differences. The front part of this thick cable of neurons is larger in musicians, especially if they began their training before the age of 7. The front of the corpus callosum connects the two sides of the prefrontal cortex, the site of planning and foresight. It also connects the two sides of the premotor cortex, where actions are mapped out before they're executed. "These con-nections are critical for coordinating fast, bi-manual movements" such as those a pianist's hands execute in an allegro movement, says Schlaug. The neural highway connecting the right and left brain may explain something else, too. The right brain is linked to emotion, the left to cognition. The greatest musicians, of course, are not only masters of technique but also adept at infusing their playing with emotion. Perhaps this is why.

Whatever music does to the brain, scientists figured you would have to actually do music to get the effects. Well, maybe not. Researchers led by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone of Beth Israel taught nonmusicians a simple five-finger piano exercise. The volunteers practiced in the lab two hours a day for five days. Not surprisingly, the amount of territory the brain devotes to moving the fingers expanded. But then the scientists had another group think only about practicing--that is, the volunteers mentally rehearsed the five-finger sequence, also for two hours at a time. "This changed the cortical map just the way practicing physically did," says Pascual-Leone. "They make fewer mistakes when they played, just as few mistakes as people actually practicing for five days. Mental and physical practice improves performance more than physical practice alone, something we can now explain physiologically."

Pianists Artur Rubinstein and Vladimir Horowitz were legend-ary for hating to practice. Rubinstein simply disliked sitting in front of the piano for hours on end; Horowitz feared that the feel and feedback of pianos other than his beloved Steinway would hurt his concert performance. But both men engaged in extensive mental rehearsals. "Mental imagery may activate the same regions of the brain as actual practice, and produce the same changes in synapses," says Josef Rauschecker of Georgetown University. Advice to parents trying to get children to practice: keep this to yourself.

Untrained: With no practice, `transcranial magnetic stimulation' shows little activity in specific regions
Physical practice: After five days of keyboard practice, more of the motor cortex is activated (red)
Mental practice: Just thinking about tickling the ivories produces the same brain changes

Newsweek, July 24 2000 US Edition, Section: Science and Technology, Page: 50