Can musical training influence brain connectivity? Evidence from diffusion tensor MRI

Brain Sci 2014 Jun 10;4(2):405-27

Can musical training influence brain connectivity? Evidence from diffusion tensor MRI

(Moore E, Shaefer RS, Bastin ME, Roberts N, Overy K)*


“In recent years, musicians have been increasingly recruited to investigate grey and white matter neuroplasticity induced by skill acquisition. The development of Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DT-MRI) has allowed more detailed investigation of white matter connections within the brain, addressing questions about the effect of musical training on connectivity between specific brain regions. Here, current DT-MRI analysis techniques are discussed and the available evidence from DT-MRI studies into differences in white matter architecture between musicians and non-musicians is reviewed. Collectively, the existing literature tends to support the hypothesis that musical training can induce changes in cross-hemispheric connections, with significant differences frequently reported in various regions of the corpus callosum of musicians compared with non-musicians. However, differences found in intra-hemispheric fibres have not always been replicated, while findings regarding the internal capsule and corticospinal tracts appear to be contradictory. There is also recent evidence to suggest that variances in white matter structure in non-musicians may correlate with their ability to learn musical skills, offering an alternative explanation for the structural differences observed between musicians and non-musicians. Considering the inconsistencies in the current literature, possible reasons for conflicting results are offered, along with suggestions for future research in this area.”

And for our Italian friends:

In tempi recenti i musicisti sono stati sempre più spesso reclutati per indagare la neuroplasticità della sostanza grigia e bianca indotta dall’acquisizione di nuove abilità. Lo sviluppo della risonanza magnetica a tensore di diffusione (DT-MRI) ha permesso un’indagine più dettagliata delle connessioni della materia bianca all’interno del cervello, permettendo di rispondere a quesiti che interessano lo sviluppo della neuroplasticità indotta dal training musicale. In questo studio, si discutono le potenzialità di questo metodo e si evidenziano le differenze di connettività riscontrate nel cervello di musicisti e non musicisti. Globalmente, la letteratura attuale tende a supportare un aumento della connettività interemisferica indotta dalla pratica musicale, con differenze significative trovate nelle varie regioni del corpo calloso dei musicisti rispetto ai non musicisti. In ogni caso, le differenze nelle fibre intra-emisferiche non sono sempre replicate, mentre le osservazioni riferite alla capsula interna e al tratto corticospinale sembrano essere contraddittorie. Esiste anche una recente evidenza che suggerisce che la variabilità nella struttura della sostanza bianca nei non musicisti possa correlare con la loro capacità di acquisire nuove abilità musicali, offrendo una spiegazione alternativa per le differenze strutturali osservate tra i musicisti e i non musicisti. Considerando le incongruenze nella letteratura, gli Autori propongono una possibile spiegazione per i risultati contraddittori, suggerendo una strategia per la ricerca futura in quest’area delle neuroscienze.

*(1 Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), Reid School of Music, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9DF, UK; 2 SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA; 3 Centre for Clinical Brain Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; 4 Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC), University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UK; 5 Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD),Reid School of Music, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh EH8 9DF, UK)

“Neuromusic News” edited by Fondazione Mariani.
Contributors: Luisa Lopez, Giuliano Avanzini, Maria Majno and Barbara Bernardini.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (

CALL FOR PAPERS – 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (Long Beach)

APCAM 2014 Call for Papers

The 13th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition and Action Meeting (APCAM 2014) will be held on Thursday, November 20 (at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach Hotel) in Long Beach, California. APCAM is a one-day satellite meeting affiliated with the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society. The goal of APCAM is to bring together researchers from various theoretical perspectives to present focused research on auditory cognition, perception, and aurally guided action. APCAM is a unique meeting in its exclusive focus on the perceptual, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of audition. Another unique aspect of APCAM is that it recently has become a FREE EVENT FOR ALL ATTENDEES.

The Organizing Committee welcomes not only empirical, but also general theoretical and methodological submissions on a variety of auditory topics, including (but not limited to) the following areas:

Localization, motion perception, and spatial cognition
Object, event, and pattern perception
Aurally guided action and navigation
Auditory scene analysis
Timing and attention
Pitch, loudness, and timbre perception
Music perception, cognition, and performance
Comparative auditory processing
Behavioral neuroscience
Memory and source identification

Submissions should include an abstract of 300 words or less, the title of the proposed presentation, names and institutional affiliation information for all contributing authors as they should appear in the conference program, as well as e-mail contact information for the primary/submitting author. Abstracts should be submitted online by following the Submit link on the APCAM website (; this submission portal is expected to become active prior to the end of June. Authors also can communicate directly about submissions with the Chair of the Organizing Committee at

Each submission also should indicate whether there is a preference for an oral or poster presentation. The committee will make every effort to accommodate presentation preferences, though it may not be possible to honor all requests. Given the limited number of oral presentations, authors traditionally have only been permitted a single oral presentation. If there are more accepted abstracts with an oral presentation preference than there are available presentation slots, preference will be given to papers judged to represent the strongest contributions, as well as to participants who did not deliver an oral presentation at the immediately preceding APCAM.

Additionally, the Organizing Committee welcomes proposals representing either a cluster of 3-4 related abstracts or a possible (45- to 60-minute) panel discussion on a unified topic. Related abstracts can be submitted separately, along with a separate abstract (still 300 words or less) from the coordinating author. Proposals for panel discussions will only require this latter type of abstract. The abstract from the coordinating author should indicate the motivation for, and the nature of, the proposed session, including a brief overview of the fundamental issue(s) that it hopes to address. A listing of contributing authors for the session also should be provided, along with a brief statement about what each author will discuss. Such abstracts are expected to be included in the printed program if a proposal is accepted. Preference will be given to proposed sessions that cut across research domains and that have important theoretical implications and/or practical applications. Additionally, panelists for proposed sessions should be selected based upon their areas of expertise, and thus their ability to actively contribute to the discussion. Panel discussions should be designed to allow for at least 10-15 minutes of questions/participation from the audience either at the end of the session or interspersed throughout the panel discussion.

The deadline for submission of abstracts and all program proposals is October 1. While this traditional deadline is very close to the conference date, all authors are expected to be notified about the status of their submission very rapidly after the submission deadline. Travel and reservation information can be located through the APCAM website (, which includes a link to details found on the Psychonomic Society site (

If you are interested in attending APCAM, but do not anticipate being a contributing author, then you can register simply by sending a brief e-mail that includes your name and affiliation to Contributing authors will be registered automatically, but are asked to indicate at the time of submission which authors are expected to attend the meeting.

Phenomenological Experience in Music: Between a Referential and Absolute Approach

photo (6)

Last weekend, experts across the board in the field of music and science convened to present Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music. Presented by the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at University of California San Diego, the symposium brought together the fields of music, psychology, computational and affective neuroscience, ethnomusicology, composition and education.

Organized by a series of four talks entitled Systems, Communication, Transmission and Translation, and Convergence, the symposium played host to a multitude of research and education in a musically unifying setting. The panels of the day covered topics including the temporal dynamics of neural processing (Mark Tramo, UCLA), phenomenological experience in music (David Borgo, UCSD), music and language in early development (Gwendolyn McGraw, artist/educator), and the speech-to-song illusion (Diana Deutsch, UCSD).

One dialogue I found to be of particular interest was the closing discourse of the first panel. Originating in conversation with the differing approaches to creating music, the dialogue surrounded American musicologist Leonard B. Meyer’s two theories of music and emotion. Referential composition tends to use association and experience as main creative tools, whereas absolute composition relies on solely intramusical structures and relationships. As these two theories (which might also be translated into nature vs. nurture) are not mutually exclusive, they were broadly debated. While songwriter Mark Tramo provided a case for the referential composition process, expressing an opinion that popular music is mainly associative/emotion-driven and serious music absolute, composer Lei Liang offered a more integrative, alternative estimation.

In describing his experience upon coming to UCSD, Liang spoke in regard to a newer, particular generation of composers:

“It’s a very interesting tension. The music can make you not only have fun, but also… you can cry with it, because you can tell that they’re not just creating an absolute piece that engages their brain, but in fact I was amazed by how much trauma, how much pain and joy they’re open to bringing into the public arena. As a way of responding, I feel like the composers and what they are willing to engage with in their material has been changing a great deal, and there is this kind of merge from the performer’s point of view as well. There is a lot of interaction taking place.”

While the referential style relies more heavily on calling upon experience from the past (frequently resulting in the release of oxytocin or dopamine in the composer’s brain), the absolutist method has strictly to do with music and expectancies generated by tonal relationships, and thus focuses more prominently on theory, structure and analysis.

Building on his prior explanation of the role music plays in phenomenological experience, Professor David Borgo offered concise thoughts in regard to the referential/absolute dichotomy:

“For me, it does often come back to the relationship between what I do as a performer, creator, and improviser, and the kinds of questions I’m interested in. When one is thrust into that moment of musicking, in some ways, there is no dividing line between the things that you bring to bear on the moment, be it a lifetime of experience, or dealing with/expecting certain things. Ultimately to open oneself to the moment means to be aware of all of the referents, all of the context that’s happening at that moment, the rich complexity of the room, and the people you’re playing with and for. For me, it can all come down to the fact that these sets of resources that might seem distinct are also thrust together in the musicking moment.”

The symposium also included noteworthy talks by ethnomusicologist Alex Khalil on The Gamelan Project, Dane Harwood on music as a communication system, Gwendolyn McGraw on music and language in early development, composer Katarina Rosenberger on the complex relationship we have with our voice, and principle of the Museum School Carl Hermanns on the importance of music in education. Building on this year’s momentum, the conference is set to reoccur next year to again provide a platform to confront and address divergent attitudes and philosophies in the understanding of music and science.

Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment

 “Here, at a point when the will is the highest danger, art approaches, as a saving, healing magician. Art alone can turn those thoughts of disgust at the horror or absurdity of existence into imaginary constructs which permit living to continue.”

– Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Though I’ve held an interest in music’s healing capacities for many years, it’s only recently come to my attention just how quickly the field is growing. Music therapy is a practice in which an MT (Music Therapist) uses music-based interventions to address non-music goals with a client. As music is multi-modal, engages the brain and body across multiple domains, and is adaptable for people of all abilities, it continues to show promise in the medical field. With the growing prevalence of conditions such as autism and Alzheimer’s as well as the steady improvement in diagnostic means, the demand for music therapy professionals in higher than ever.

With the many recent developments in the field of dementia research, I have often found myself in dialogue with friend and colleague James Gutierrez (Ph.D. in progress, UCSD), especially in regard to current criticism of music therapy. As we both appreciate the consequence of the more basic, affective measures of music in creative practice as it applies to the therapeutic setting while retaining a firm belief in the necessity of empirical, effect-based evidence, I’ve had the pleasure of benefitting from many edifying conversations of this nature.

In music therapy, a common issue arises from the type manner research is conducted within the field, which is often achieved in the form of anecdotes, observations, and more qualitative data. As this is the case, many professionals and scholars in the field of medicine tend to “write off” such evidence as circumstantial and struggle to find the distinction between music therapy and “music as therapy.”

In the recent paper, Music Therapy in the Care of Cognitive Decline: Between affective and effective treatment (2014) Gutierrez does an excellent job of addressing many of these current issues, choosing to focus most intently on the application of music therapy in patients suffering from dementia. Coming from a place of unique understanding, he combines solid, objective exploration in conjunction with more personal, poignant observations into concepts of identity, agency, and consciousness seldom found in an often dispassionate world of research. The following edit consists of excerpts I have found to be of particular interest to the layman and scientist alike. The paper may be read in its entirety here.

 Medical science in the modern age has, in the spirit of modernism, delighted in expunging any and all traces of the magical and mystical from the proper, scientific treatment of the human body. Even while archeological evidence suggests music’s wide centrality to medicinal healing practices for untold eras of human history[1], the Cartesian dualism that yet pillars modern medicine provides reason to station music as a matterless matter of the mind, with medical practice operates as the material treatment of the body. For inasmuch as medical science is a category whose domain includes anatomical structures and physiological processes, only health practices subject to empirical testing, measurement, observation, and quantification are considered proper ‘medication’. However, as the research of recent years has begun to unearth the complex physiological effects (not just affects) of music listening and musical practice, the critical gaze of medical science is beginning to shift, poised to reasonably reevaluate the efficacy of this timeless healing magician not just of the mind, but also of the brain and body.

The American Music Therapy Association defines Music Therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Outside the field of music therapy, particularly within burgeoning cognitive and neurological research, viable theories that attempt to explain the physical mechanics are gaining traction within the medical community. This research could be furthered by continuing to build upon an embodied and enactive approach to cognition, as such an ecological perspective not only shifts the aesthetic conversations away from stale romantic dualisms within artistic communities, but invites all who make the human body their subject to reconsider their most basic assumptions.

Among the most common areas of music therapy is in its implementation in the treatment (used loosely) of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy is not only gaining popularity among clinicians in end-of-life care for its astounding cost/benefit ratio, but is also spreading as the rising occurrences of these diseases increase demand. In anticipation of this rise several organizations have begun to push for renewed focus on prevention and treatment. On February 26th, 2014, actor/comedian Seth Rogen testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease and promote his research-funding charities.[2]  This comes on the heels of the historic “National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in May 2012, calling for preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025.

This central focus has been brought to my attention through my own grandmother’s rapidly declining cognitive state and subsequent placement in the care of a hospice facility. To witness a loved one’s gradual decline into self-obscurity through loss of memory and awareness is not only tragic, as anyone who has done so will agree, but also perplexing, precisely because it challenges our conception of identity, not only theirs but ours as well. Once, after a particularly discouraging visit with my grandmother, when for the first time it took a matter of minutes for her to recognize her own daughter, my mother confessed “she is no longer my mother; not the mother that I know.” Any theory of consciousness desiring to describe the nature of the human state of mind when at its most ‘stable’ must also be tested to account for consciousness when at its most volatile- when autonoesis fails and all is a static cloud, when active agency slowly melts into a passive patiency, when all psychosocial capacities disintegrate involuntarily and nothing remains but inert solipsism. It is through studying this transitory final act when inner lights begin to dim and everything becomes strange and unfamiliar, that we can truly test what is meant by consciousness, and where all notions of mind and body essentially converge. Since music research from virtually all angles repeatedly reveal how immensely deep it delves into our individual identity and how expansively broad it affords a robust social identity, it is only too obvious for music to be deployed in the intervention of a fading consciousness.

Much has been written about music therapy as a tool to improve quality of life, if not also to slow the symptoms of dementia in the best scenarios, with most reports centering on qualitative research and anecdotal accounts. This softer focus on success stories may be par for the course, after all, end-of-life research is a tender field, and family members and medical staff typically have much more on their mind than entertaining the abstract probing of a curious consciousness theorist. Thus, for better or for worse, many of the most salient questions are left unasked.

Music as Therapy

At this point it is important to review the recent literature concerning the implementation of music in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The slow march towards a pharmaceutical cure feels optimistic, but does not seem promising. Moreover the monetary cost and side effects from the drugs currently available upset the cost/benefit ratio when considering the overall quality of life for an individual in palliative and hospice care. These factors have contributed to the growth of stimulatory therapies, including music therapy, in its appeal to virtually all involved (except, presumably, the pharmaceutical corporations). Music therapy, specifically, has grown more than any other due to its incredible cost/benefit ratio. The more we learn about neuroplasticity, and the deeply embodied/embedded/enactive nature of music cognition, the stronger the case become for music as a viable therapeutic treatment.[3]

Perhaps the most promising neurological support to the claims and efforts of music therapy hinge on the emerging studies within the mirror neuron system [MNS]. Though not much can be said for certain about these structures, particularly as they relate to humans, their ‘discovery’ has nonetheless provided an exciting new platform for discussing virtually any field of human interaction and learning, encouraging interdisciplinary discussions, and fostering theoretical models that render a classical cognitive model increasingly problematic through emphasizing inter/intra connectivity, and shared cognition.[4]

Building on MNS theories, one recent model offers a strong base toward a more substantive base for music therapy is the Shared Affective Motion Experience (SAME) model, which suggests that musical sound is perceived not only in terms of the auditory signal, but also in terms of the intentional, hierarchically organized sequences of expressive motor acts behind the signal. Thus, the expressive dynamics of heard sound gestures may be interpreted in terms of the expressive dynamics of personal vocal and physical gestures.

According to SAME, in observing the actions of others our MNS continuously compares predicted motions (kinematics) with observed motions in attempt to minimize the prediction error, enabling the observer to determine the most likely cause of the action at all levels: intention, goal, motor, and kinematic. This pull toward minimized prediction error would explain the effectiveness of personalized iPods over live musical interaction on reducing anxiety for dementia/AD patients. In addition to providing a harder base for the previously cited Psychosocial Model of music therapy, the SAME model also correlates to theories of embodied mind and intersubjective consciousness.

To regard the practice of music therapy as a psychotherapeutic stimulation therapy, and a marginal one at that, is understandable from a classical cognitivist perspective in which music exists representationally as auditory percepts to be processed with limited physiological impact. This is perhaps why present discussions regard music therapy as limited to its affective capacities in emotional support, palliative quality of life, and feelings of happiness; categorically separate from pharmaceutical medications which are understood to truly effect ones physiology. However, in positing a more deeply embodied perspective of music as a perturbation/compensation in a richly physical dynamic interaction between bodily experience and neural processes, there emerges a view of cognition that troubles the affect/effect dichotomy, and with it, assumptions of what criterion constitute legitimate vs. illegitimate medical treatments.

Music as therapy has its limitations, to be sure, and music therapy stands to discredit its case by overstating what relatively little research has yet been able to substantiate its claimed miracles. Becoming ever clearer, however, is that its limitations are not well described by the standard cognitivist model that dominates medical and psychological sciences. As embodied cognition grows in establishment, the doors widen for music therapy, and other traditionally holistic care practices, to further state, test, and prove their case as a valid treatment in the care of the human mind, particularly an embodied mind.



[1] Conrad, Claudius, Music for healing: from magic to medicine, The Lancet, Volume 376, Issue 9757, pg. 1980, Dec. 2010

[2] Seth Rogen Opening Statement (C-SPAN), Feb. 26th, 2014

[3] N. Simmons-Stern, R. Deason, B. Brandler, B. Frustace, M. O’Conner, B. Ally, and A. Budson, Music-Based Memory Enhancement in Alzheimer’s Disease: Promise and Limitations, Neuropsychologia. 2012 December ; 50(14): 3295–3303

[4] There is some debate whether or not mirror neurons support classical representationalism


UCSD, Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center Launch Convergence 2014: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

The Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at UC San Diego, in collaboration with Mozart and the Mind present:

Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

A unique symposium that brings together multiple streams of music research and knowledge, Convergence is not only a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue but also an opportunity for collaboration. Neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers, and music therapists will participate in a series of panel discussions moderated by music researchers from the Temporal Damics of Learning Center. This multidisciplinary dialogue will extend into an evening poster session.

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 8am to 7pm
Conrad Prebys Music Center, Room127, UC San Diego
Map and directions to Conrad Prebys Music Center (CPMC)

For further information, registration, or webcast registration, please visit:

Registration: $45 general, $15 student

Featured Panelists

David Borgo, Diana Deutsch, Dane Harwood, Carl Hermanns, Mari Jones, Layne Kalbfleisch, Lei Liang, Andy McGraw, Gabriella Mussachia, Roger Reynolds, Katharina Rosenberger, Michael Thaut, Concetta Tomaino

Information provided by the UCSD Press Room






The Healing Power of Music in Loss: Music Therapy for Kids

If you know me, you know I wholeheartedly believe in the power of music. You may also know that in some cases and practices of music therapy, I remain the skeptic, and try to retain a critical lens. Simply put, music doesn’t always heal. Ah, but when it does.

Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus

For the third anniversary of the great earthquake in Eastern Japan, a group of Japanese animators have come together for a relief project.

Founded in 2012, the Zapuni LLC organization unites Japanese artists and musicians to work together on various projects in order to raise awareness and money for general aid. Set to Sade’s Grammy nominated song By Your Side, this animated video tells the story of a rabbit and bear who lose a friend in the earthquake, and how music acts as a healing agent in helping them come to terms with their loss. I have found this video incredibly powerful, and hope you will too.

Directed by Tsuneo Goda, it has been created by the stop-motion animation company Dwarf for children’s charity Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus which has been inspired by El Sistima, and uses music therapy to help children who have been emotionally and psychologically traumatised by the disaster.

If you wish to donate to the cause, funds attained will be used for instruments, teaching and classes.

Photo and info courtesy of

‘Beautiful but sad’ music can help people feel better

psychology-sad-music-enhances-mood-300x214Listening to sad music in adverse situations: How music selection strategies relate to self-regulatory goals, listening effects, and mood enhancement

Annemieke J.M. Van den Tol, School of Psychology, University of Kent, Keynes E-105, Canterbury, CT2 7NP, UK. Email:


Adults’ (N = 220) reported motivations for listening to sad music after experiencing adverse negative circumstances were examined by exploring how their music selection strategies related to (a) their self-regulatory goals, and (b) reported effects of listening. The effects of music selection strategies, self-regulatory goals, and reported effects on the achievement of mood enhancement were also explored using a retrospective survey design. The findings indicate that music choice is linked to the individual’s identified self-regulatory goals for music listening and to expected effects. Additionally, the results show that if individuals had intended to achieve mood enhancement through music listening, this was often achieved by first experiencing cognitive reappraisal or distraction. The selection of music with perceived high aesthetic value was the only music selection strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement. Where respondents indicated that they chose music with the intention of triggering memories, this was negatively related to the self-regulatory goal of mood enhancement.

Source:, Psychology of Music (SAGE)

Play it again sam: brain correlates of emotional music recognition

play_it_sam_play_as_time_goes_byEckart Altenmüller1*Susann Siggel1Bahram Mohammadi2,3Amir Samii3 and Thomas F. Münte2
  • 1Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians’s Medicine, University of Music, Drama and Media, Hannover, Germany
  • 2Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • 3CNS Laboratory, International Neuroscience Institute, Hannover, Germany

Background: Music can elicit strong emotions and can be remembered in connection with these emotions even decades later. Yet, the brain correlates of episodic memory for highly emotional music compared with less emotional music have not been examined. We therefore used fMRI to investigate brain structures activated by emotional processing of short excerpts of film music successfully retrieved from episodic long-term memory.

Methods: Eighteen non-musicians volunteers were exposed to 60 structurally similar pieces of film music of 10 s length with high arousal ratings and either less positive or very positive valence ratings. Two similar sets of 30 pieces were created. Each of these was presented to half of the participants during the encoding session outside of the scanner, while all stimuli were used during the second recognition session inside the MRI-scanner. During fMRI each stimulation period (10 s) was followed by a 20 s resting period during which participants pressed either the “old” or the “new” button to indicate whether they had heard the piece before.

Results: Musical stimuli vs. silence activated the bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right insula, right middle frontal gyrus, bilateral medial frontal gyrus and the left anterior cerebellum. Old pieces led to activation in the left medial dorsal thalamus and left midbrain compared to new pieces. For recognized vs. not recognized old pieces a focused activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the left cerebellum was found. Positive pieces activated the left medial frontal gyrus, the left precuneus, the right superior frontal gyrus, the left posterior cingulate, the bilateral middle temporal gyrus, and the left thalamus compared to less positive pieces.

Conclusion: Specific brain networks related to memory retrieval and emotional processing of symphonic film music were identified. The results imply that the valence of a music piece is important for memory performance and is recognized very fast.

Received: 29 April 2013; Accepted: 27 January 2014;
Published online: 18 February 2014.

Edited by: Daniel J. Levitin, McGill University, Canada

Reviewed by: Stefan Koelsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and Psyche Loui, Wesleyan University, USA

Taken from open-access article published in Front. Psychol. distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). For full text of the article, please visit Frontiers.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Music, Mind and Meaning Conference at the Peabody Institute – Day 2 Recap

1779146_10100787537465660_2115934_nMusic, Mind and Meaning Conference – Day 2

Friday commenced with the morning keynote delivered by Dr. Ani Patel, entitled Does instrumental musical training enhance the brain’s processing of speech? In Patel’s articulate and informative lecture, he began by drawing our attention to the following: “Music and language have important connections as cognitive and neural systems, and that has implications for theoretical debates about how the mind is organized – for evolutionary studies on the origins of these abilities, and practical issues about remediation of language disorders” (Patel, 2014). Though the parallels in music and language are less novel on account of the publication of his 2008 book Music, Language and the Brain, the implications of instrumental training lending to developments in language and speech are very much so. In conclusion, operating with his extended OPERA hypothesis, Patel emphasizes that regardless of the varying direction and debates these studies may undergo, “Comparative music and language research really does deepen our understanding of human communication.” (Patel, 2014).

Dr. Elizabeth Tolbert spoke next, providing an evolutionary perspective in Music, Meaning and Becoming Human. Approaching the co-evolution of music, meaning and social intelligence, Tolbert addressed music as a behavior, not object; of possessing a social ontology, and its implicational model as derived from social interaction, shared intentionality and social intelligence. Her overarching thesis states “the story of becoming human is the story of the development of a specifically human type of meaning rooted in social intelligence, and one that likely has its origins in proto-musical behavior.” (Tolbert, 2014).

IMG_9286Dr. Ian Cross’s lecture entitled Music, Participation and Interaction further expanded on the day’s existing idea of music not only as a “practice composed by the few and consumed by many,” but as the encompassment of interactive processes far beyond a role of abstract structures, symbolic realms or lofty themes. As uniquely flexible and socially cooperative creatures, humans are capable of utilizing music as not only a mode of communicating information and ideals, but at times as phatic organisms. Cross went on to explain with conviction that if this theory were more widely considered, the insinuation might result in music being given the proper chance to utilize it’s more pragmatic magic in resolving social uncertainties (and thus social anxiety), provide powerful effects on memory and social attitude, and “provide us with new perspectives on the investigation of music beyond the bounds of Western culture” (Cross, 2014).

The second keynote, Losing the Beat: A New Window on Human Rhythm was given Dr. Isabelle Peretz (University of Montreal). Peretz has published over two hundred and fifty five scientific papers regarding everything from perception, emotion and memory to singing and dancing. In Losing the Beat, Peretz explained that a defining characteristic of human interaction with music is “the identity and ability to move to the beat.” Although this universal faculty is typically formed early in life, her recent research shows that some individuals suffer from the inability to synchronize with beats in music. This disorder is referred to as beat deafness, a new form of congenital amusia. In her presentation, Peretz conveyed a strong sensibility for the cause of studying musical disorders in regard to “reverse-engineering of the musical brain” (Peretz, 2014).

IMG_9311Later in the afternoon, Andrea Halpern took the floor to share her work on auditory imagery, and to describe her study examining the neural loci of imagined music. Halpern is a pioneer in her long-standing devotion to the field from early in its development. She has contributed fundamental work on memory and perception of musical structure, including studies on earworms and the persistence of musical memories), effects of timbre and tempo change, and perception of emotion in sounded and imagined music. In her presentation Auditory Imagery: Linking Internal and External Music, Halpern presented the argument that although internal and external music experiences are distinctive encounters, they share a number of important similarities, which both musicians and nonmusicians can exploit to enhance the musical experience.

Photo 1 – Diana Hereld

Photos 2, 3 – Scott Metcalfe

Note: I must include an apology for the delay in reporting on the conference this weekend. I simply found myself so wonderfully overwhelmed with information (but overwhelmed regardless) that I was unsure how to encapsulate the day’s culmination of so many brilliant minds in presentation of their most recent work. As a result, I’ve decided to report individually on each of them in the near future. A few other outlets have picked up specific coverage, and I will advise as those are released. I will also be sharing a summation of the conference’s concluding rountable featuring the speakers and performers, which was truly a thing to behold.

Music, Mind, Meaning Conference 2014 at the Peabody Institute of Music

peabody library (January 30-31, Baltimore, MD) The Music, Mind and Meaning Conference will bring together scientists from the field of music cognition  and renowned musicians for a two-day event to explore the relationships between music and science at the Peabody Institute of Music. The events will include presentations from leading scientists and a special musical performance by the Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, Chair of Jazz Studies at Peabody. Keynote speakers will be Drs. David Huron, Aniruddh Patel, and Isabelle Peretz, three remarkable scientists who have led groundbreaking studies of how and why people have engaged in musical behaviors throughout human history. Conference participants will include scientists, clinicians, musicians, students and interested members of the public. Presentations will explore the idea of musical meaning by examining issues of expectation, creativity, evolution, culture, language, emotion and memory from the viewpoint of cognitive psychology, musicology and auditory neuroscience. The conference is generously supported by a conference grant from the Brain Sciences Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. For more information visit

I will be attending and covering this conference, so please feel free to follow me on Twitter @pathwaysinmusic and look for coverage here directly following. A special thanks to Mr. Cooper McClain for making this trip possible.