Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This is Your Brain on Music

If you are interested in the science of music cognition, you should definitely read this article from NPR's Bret Stetka. We don’t really understand why humans make music or how the brain processes it, but many scientists are trying to find out. This article focuses on two recent studies in music, the first on entrainment (or how our brain waves oscillate in time with speech and music) and the second on the sensitivity of the brain to lower pitches and tempo.

I’ll let you read the article, but basically: 

  1. Your brain waves sync up with the music you are listening to;
  2. Musicians' brains are better at entraining to music—they can make sense of slower tempos better than non-musicians; and
  3. Your unconscious brain cares more if low notes are off tempo than high ones.
It’s a score for the nurture camp, in which I count myself; I think much of what we consider musical aptitude can be taught. I do take issue with Stetka equating boring music and slow music—I think there is a lot of uptempo music that is boring, and that non-musicians might agree with me.

Of course, the entrainment study only used classical music; I wonder how it would be different with other types of music?