This Is Your Brain on Music

Some songs tunnel down deep inside of us. The sound engineer who mixed the music will tell you that’s what they’re after. Prof. Daniel Levitin goes further explaining how a particular sequence of rhythms, timbres, and pitches cause a reaction in your brain. A number of physical changes take place in your brain as you listen to music.

Daniel J. Levitin is most recently a professor at McGill University in Montreal. Before becoming a scientist he was a performing musician, sound engineer, and record producer for the likes of Steely Dan and Blue Oyster Cult. His overarching message is that we are ‘all’ musical, even if we show no inclination to perform. In fact, our brains are sponges for music. We have long known that certain rhythms such a those imposed by the Baroque influence place our brains in a better place for learning. Unborn infants, in their mother’s womb, can hear music in the last trimester. Studies have shown these infants carry forward a preference for those songs even if they don’t hear it until more than 1 year after their birth. They will prefer this music over another.

In his 2007 book, “This Is Your Brain on Music” Levitin explores these mysteries. Having been close to the music industry and worked with many well-known musicians and producers he developed an acuity for the nuances that collectively make a BIG difference in our experience of music. He began “to wonder why some musicians become household names while others languish in obscurity.” He also wondered “why music seemed to come so easily to some and not others.” And “where does creativity come from? Why do some songs move us so and others leave us cold. And what about the role of perception in all of this, the uncanny ability of great musicians and engineers to hear nuances that most of us don’t?” For details of the book at click on the cover.

While we are mapping out the human genome our brains remain, for the most part, a greater mystery. There exists a closely-organized relationship between music and our brain. Prof. Levitin is making progress to get inside our heads and explore the relationship. For a glimpse of the neuroscience of music with Prof. Levitin here’s a brief video (e.g.-the piece with Prof. Levitin picks up about 1 minute into the video >.


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