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Wave, Sound, and Music

Music and the Brain

Music and Neuroscience Music provides a tool to study numerous aspects of neuroscience, from motor-skill learning to emotion. Indeed, from a psychologist's point of view, listening to and producing music involves a tantalizing mix of practically every human cognitive function. Even a seemingly simple activity, such as humming a familiar tune, necessitates complex auditory pattern-processing mechanisms, attention, memory storage and retrieval, motor programming, sensory-motor integration, and so forth.
    Figure 17 shows the path for processing the sound waves from a musical instrument.
  1. Sound waves travel to the outer ear.
  2. The sound waves are transduced into neural impulses by the inner ear.
  3. The information travels through several waystations in the brainstem and midbrain to reach the auditory cortex.
  4. The auditory cortex analyses and interprets the various aspects of the sound.
  5. Information from this region interacts with many other brain areas, especially the frontal lobe, for memory formation and interpretation.
  6. The orbitofrontal region is one of many involved in emotional evaluation.
  7. The motor cortex is involved in sensory-motor feedback circuits, and in controlling the movements needed to produce music using an instrument.

Figure 17 Music and Neuro- science [view large image]

Stirring Music Melancholy Music It is suggested that the emotional symbolism in music has a biological basis. It is noticed that across the animal kingdom, vocalizations with a descending pitch are used to signal social strength, aggression, or dominance. Figure 19 shows the stirring rendition of "La Marseillaise" in the 1942 film "Casablanca". Similarly, vocalizations with a rising pitch connote social weakness, defeat or submission as shown by the melancholic singing of "O mio babbino caro" ("Oh my dear daddy") in Figure 20. This same frequency code has been absorbed, though attenuated, in human speech patterns and carried over to musical context.

Figure 19 La Marseillaise
[view large image]

Figure 20 O mio babbino caro [view large image]

Table 03 shows the brain regions responsible for various musical activities with corresponding brain mapping.

Brain Map Brain Region Musical Activity
Area below the cortex, and auditory cortices Listening to music
Subsections of the frontal lobe and hippocampus for memory recall Listening to familiar music
Cerebellum's timing circuits Tapping along with music
Frontal lobes for planning, motor cortex for movement, and sensory cortex for tactile feedback Performing music
Occipital lobe - the visual cortex Reading music
Language centres in the temporal lobe, frontal lobe, Broca's and Wernicke's areas Listening to or recalling lyrics
Cerebellar vermis, and amygdala Emotional response to music

Table 03 Musical Brain

See Nerous System for more on the brain structure.

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