Music Training and Neuroplasticity
February 25, 2013
With our multi sensory brain, music harnesses powers of nature, culture, and mind. How much is the brain changed by the effects of music training and neuroplasticity?
Music is one of the most demanding cognitive and neural challenges, requiring very accurate timing of multiple actions, precise interval control of pitch not involved in language, and multiple different ways of producing sound. Auditory and motor actions influence each other in a constant interplay, which is largely unknown.
Brain Lesion Effects on Music
All brain imaging is done in a time scale of seconds, but the brain functions in the scale of milliseconds. Imaging studies do not really correlate exactly to mental states (see post on limits of imaging). Because of this limitation, a major way to study specific regions of brain related to music has been study of brain lesions.
▪ A lesion in the auditory cortex causes “amusia” where a patient can speak and understand everyday sounds, but cannot notice wrong notes in tunes, or remember melodies.
▪ Another case, a 71-year-old cellist, had encephalitis and lost ordinary memory, but remembers music.
▪ Patients with a lesion in right temporal can lose pitch perception.
▪ Damage to right temporal lobe can distort sound to have negative response to music.
▪ Patients with lesion in right temporal can lose pitch perception.
But, recent research shows that when studying infants these differences do not necessarily exist. In infancy there is much more overlap of music and language in the brain.
What Is Known About Music in the Brain?
Perhaps some generalizations can be made:
Timing – some think timing is organized in the cerebellum (center of motor memory and learning.) Purely auditory perception has been observed in the cerebellum, but a single region does not control it.
Pitch – Different factors of a tune -contour, specific interval size, duration of notes, ratios of tones – are processed in different circuits throughout the brain. The right hemisphere does tonal processing.
Musical imagery is analyzed in regions of the frontal lobe.
Singing is dominant in right temporal lobe, while syntax of speech and music is left dominant.
The motor processes involve pre motor cortex, supplementary motor cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia, but in different amounts for different tasks.
Rhythm, Melody and emotion work in different parts of the brain
There are multiple different streams of neuronal activity for auditory processing pathways – the dorsal and ventral streams are important but especially dorsal with parietal and premotor cortex.
All neural systems – motor, sensory, emotional and analysis – are active in both performers and observers. Listening, as well as performing, use both motor and sensory systems, since observers trigger the muscles that are being utilized by the performers and dancers they are watching.
Recent studies show that learning absolute pitch, a very measurable skill, occurs only with genetic ability plus training before 12 to 15.
Speech and Music
Speech and music brain centers may have evolved in animals for accurate evaluation of environmental cues, perceiving pitch in noise.
Recently, research has assumed that understanding speech needs rapid evaluation (milliseconds) of muscles of lips and tongue in a rough way. A very recent study showed that the coordination of even the simplest syllables of speech is extremely complex, a symphony of neural circuits. Music would need fine-grained interpretation of pitch (seconds) in a slower way.
In this hypothesis, speech (rapid movement of muscles of lips and tongue) is primarily organized in the left-brain, and music, needing a slower, more accurate, fine-grained interpretation of tones, is in the right-brain.
But, in reality music uses both right and left, using two parallel systems. Also, speech and music overlap in brain regions related to syntax, meaning and memory.
Because of much greater overlap of music and language in infants, an entirely different view has recently been put forth that language exists and develops as a specialized type of music. For this view music is defined as a generalized creative ability with sound elements – such as timbre, rhythm, and pitch.
There are many reasons to adopt this new view: every healthy person appreciates some sort of music; infants don’t show the same left-right separation until much later; appreciation of music timbre actually needs millisecond activity as well as speech; and children show language-brain development and music-brain development are parallel for many years.
In this view, as children develop into adults the culturally determined language and culturally determined music develops from one function into two different streams in the brain – language more on the left and music on the right and the left.
In western society, people are segregated into musicians and general population, whereas in many other societies everyone performs, sings, dances, and listens. This difference has biased studies of infants in the west when comparing music and language development.
Studies should compare ordinary language with ordinary musical sound processing. Instead studies have been comparing ordinary language with prodigy or trained music. When comparing ordinary music and ordinary language, there is much more overlap in children between language and music.
Babies appear to have a neural basis of understanding speech and music
Musical abilities start very early – infants respond to pitch and melody. Babies can distinguish scales, chords, and consonant combinations. They recognize tunes played to them for several days. Passively babies learn different musical rules in Western and Indian cultures.
They learn regularities of sounds in speech as well at a surprisingly young age.
In speech babies quickly learn relevant sounds for speech and music
Multi Sensory Effects of Music
In the previous post, it was noted that the brain is very prominently multi sensory. Since the brain integrates so many functions, multi sensory training is critical in childhood. Feed forward and feed back loops are important connections from one modality to another. When a finger touches a piano key, there are connections from touch, auditory feedback and muscular control. In speech, muscles produce words, and feed back analysis of the speech occurs by listening.
With music inherently multi modal, music is the ideal brain training for children.
Musical Training Causes Brain Plasticity
Music is a model of plasticity because of the multiple systems and the unique effects. Music training has wide ranging effects in many capacities related to perception, performance, and language with increases in brain efficiency and fewer neuronal units needed to encode information.
Training affects brain structures more strongly as a child. When the training begins before age seven, neural systems are created that last a lifetime. Random samples show structural changes in auditory and motor regions in 15 months of training in children.
Adult training also causes permanent changes in brain structure, but to a lesser degree. Even in old age these changes can be made in weeks of practice. Changes in brain function can be observed even within three hours of training, but without continued training, short-term changes are reversible.
Playing an instrument is highly complex using different higher order cognitive functions where changes can occur in days, weeks and years.
Different types of musicians develop specialized skills: pitch in violinists, timing in conductors, timbre in conductors and composers. Singing is beneficial as a tool because it stimulates basal ganglia and cerebellum as well.
Combining Multiple Modalities Increases Plasticity
Rhythmic tapping added to other training is especially powerful. Brain effects are stronger if sounds are associated with a movement or a behavior and with rewards.
Brain effects are stronger if sounds are associated with a movement or a behavior and with rewards.
When people are training in pitch, this skill does not translate to performance of singing or playing an instrument. Training that involves both pitch training and playing an instrument create much greater integration of the brain circuits and makes more neuroplastic changes.
The brain responds better to multiple modalities of sensory and motor systems with music and any other complex skill. For example a recent study of using visualization of high jumping attempts showed that using the imagery helped 35%. But, if a simple hand motion is added to the imagery it increases the success rate to 45%.
One way to show the effect of music training on the brain is to see what trained musicians’ brains look like compared with untrained people who just enjoy music.
Trained musicians have greater volume in auditory cortex especially Herschl’s gyrus and the intra parietal sulcus bilaterally, related to better pitch perception. They have more concentration of cells in the motor cortex, hands for piano and hand digits for violin players. They also have bigger corpus callosum, the tract combining right and left-brain. Musicians have larger grey matter in the cerebellum and cortex regions of motor, auditory, and visual spatial. The EEG response is increased in cortex and brainstem.
▪ Highly trained pianists showed changes in the micro organization of axons.
▪ Musicians demonstrate faster encoding in the auditory cortex and have very rapid evoked responses to unexpected tones.
▪ Musicians can tell emotion in voice and determine identity in voice better.
▪ The speed of the transmission from the motor cortex to median nerve is faster.
▪ Even when unfamiliar with Mandarin, musicians can distinguish syllables better. The brainstem pitch center is stronger.
▪ Musicians are less affected by background noise.
▪ Musicians had faster encoding in cortex, and evoked responses to unexpected changes. A cortical effect on motor neurons was faster.
Training Plasticity Over Lifetime
Training as a child creates greater brain changes.
But, even very old musicians can develop new skills, just as research in 90 year olds showed that weight lifting had definite effects on balance and strength. Very old musicians can continue to perform despite the complex demands on motor, visual and auditory brain functions needed.
The effects of single modal motor training diminished in elderly. But, the multimodal training lasted. Lifetime musical practice decreased memory loss. Exercise plus music increased cognition with elderly.
Changes in higher order cognitive functions can occur in days, weeks and years.
After training in childhood 1 to 5 years, adults increase brain response to complex sounds. They are more able to hear the fundamental (lowest frequency in a sound,) crucial for speech and music perception. These people also hear better in noisy places and are better listeners later in life.
Those who played instruments for ten years stayed better cognitively. The benefit was not reliant on continued play.
Neuroplasticity can also go awry with phantom limb pain, tinnitus, musician’s cramp and the yips.
Tinnitus has been an intractable problem in treatment, but there are experiments with new approaches using neuroplasticity to reverse it. In one study, a favorite piece of music is altered to eliminate the specific frequencies of the tinnitus and is played often to retrain the brain.
Dystonias are one of the most devastating negative neuroplastic events, where a malfunction occurs in over used muscles for highly skilled tasks. These dystonias are called Yips in athletes, and Musician’s Cramp in musicians. But, they are not simple muscle cramps; they are a high level breakdown of the neuronal circuits related to a very complex task that has been highly trained. For example, they do not occur in practice, but only in a concert, or competition. The same muscles work fine for other tasks such as writing checks.
Promising treatment approaches for Yips and Musician’s Cramp involve re-aligning the neural circuits, or body maps with retraining, the way phantom limb has been treated by tricking nerves, using a technique where a mirror and a fake limb make the brain think the phantom limb is moving.
Exercise and fitness have wide ranging effects on health and coordination. Metaplasticity is a brain change from training that allows efficient learning and plasticity in other areas than the primary training. Music appears to be uniquely able to induce metaplasticity.
In the same way music training changes auditory brain systems for music, these changes transfer to other domains including speech, language, emotion and general auditory processing. It allows allows for better ability to learn auditory, tactile and motor skills, as well as the ability to use abstract rules.
Clinical applications of Music Training Plasticity
There is a wide range of clinical applications for musical plasticity. These are just examples:
▪ Group singing produced higher measures of general health and quality of life in elderly, cancer survivors and caretakers of ill people.
▪ Aphasia improved by combining tapping and melodic intonation therapies plus electric current.
▪ Word finding improved with tapping and singing familiar lyrics.
▪ Musical training helped avoid memory loss with aging.
▪ Playing a musical instrument as a child created new pathways to process written words and letters, helping with dyslexia.
▪ Parkinson’s gait was better with rhythmic tapping and walking.
▪ In Alzheimer’s specific rhythms and melodies evoked emotion and helped recall.
▪ Interactive song learning with babies increased smiling, waving, communication, and understanding pitch.
▪ Dogs in shelters barked less and slept better with classical music.
▪ Music therapy plus relaxation lowered pain and nausea after bone marrow transplant.
▪ Mice with heart transplants survived twice as long if listened to classical music – lower interleukin 2 and gamma interferon (both promote inflammation) and increased interleukins 4 and 10 (that stop inflammation).
Music Training and Neuroplasticity
Previous posts have described the unique ways that music taps many regions of the brain simultaneously and uses and improves a wide range of capacities. The multi sensory nature of music stimulates unique neuroplasticity, including improvement of brain capacities unrelated to music such as learning new sensory and motor skills, and abstract concepts.
The next post will address the unique effects of musical improvisation and it’s relation to meditation and spiritual experiences.
- See more at: http://jonlieffmd.com/blog/music-training-and-neuroplasticity?
DrumConnection 177 Massachusetts Ave. Arlington, MA 02474 ph: (001) 781-316-8068
I will update this soon.
5.0 star rating
5.0 star rating 2/9/2017
I was thrilled to find that this store doesn't just have hand drums, but is also well-stocked with hardware and parts for rock drum kits. And if they don't stock something you need, they'll order it for you or point you in the right direction.
Alan, the owner, is extremely knowledgeable and helpful if I have questions or need advice. When I came in last year wanting to restore my vintage kit, I had no idea where to start, and Alan helped me through the entire process, from cleaning, de-rusting, to finding missing parts. Whenever I have a problem with my kit or something breaks, I always go to Alan first (it's a good idea to call the store to see when he's working!) Often he'll find a way to fix it without having to purchase new parts.
Definitely recommend this gem over bigger places like Guitar Center.
5.0 star rating
Jan 22, 2017
"Hi Alan, Eddie & I LOVED Nancy's classes. We stopped going because it was dark & cold & late & it was the only time we could both make it ( I work nites ) but we plan to resume classes probably in the spring. I miss it. Rochelle"
5.0 star rating
Purchased beautiful instruments...
I recommend the workshops to all my college student studying world music in the classroom. We've also purchased beautiful instruments I use in my teaching. People marvel at their sound and touch.
5.0 star rating
So much fun...
Participating in a beginners drumming series was so much fun, and I was surprised at what they were able to teach us! We plan to go back as soon as our schedule allow a steady attendance.
5.0 star rating
Just bought my 3rd instrument from this store. Always a pleasure to do business with DrumConnection, and home to a great community of drummers.
5.0 star rating
Honest, original voice...
Way back in 2011, I wrote and published a feature story about Alan Tauber and DrumConnection. Read it at YourArlington
Nothing that has occurred since would cause me to change my mind about Alan and his business: He's an honest, original voice in a fast-changing town, offering a rhythm that is hard to beat.
5.0 star rating
Always a great experience...
Alan is always a pleasure to do business with. He is knowledgeable and very kind. The classes they have are fun and very informative. Always a great experience.
Redington Beach, FL
Alan's knowledge is vast...
I needed to replace the head on a djembe. I live on the south shore of MA, and was having a hard time finding a place to do the job. I discovered the DrumConnection through a list serve and found the best resource I could hope for. Alan's knowledge is vast, and the service was done professionally, on time, and at a reasonable price. I do not need to look any further for my hand drumming needs.
It is a privilege to know you...
You play such an important part in drumming education in this country. It is a privilege to know you...
Name withheld upon request.
(but a famous dude in percussion).
Great Local Place, Great Stuff, Nice People
Bought a present for a friend and they had just what I wanted. They helped me pick the right one. Weren't pushy. Really nice vibe. Will definitely go back when I need a drum or a present for someone.
5/16/2016 5.0 stars! Yelp!
DrumConnection is great! Excellent teachers, extremely high quality guest drummers from Africa, and female teachers and leaders.
5/15/2016 5.0 stars!
Thank you Alan, Thierno, Audrey, Issa and Moussa!
At DrumConnection, I began my beginners' class feeling lost and insecure. However, while the drum is quite challenging, I have felt more and more connected to the group thanks to the wonderful teachers, and the kindness and acceptance of other drummers.
In other words I am deeply indebted and grateful for the opportunity to expand my skills, horizons, and sense of belonging thanks to the drum. The ongoing learning experience is challenging, exhilarating and humbling. Thank you Alan, Thierno, Audrey, Issa and Moussa, and thank you to all my fellow students!
5/13/2016 5.0 stars!
Thanks so much. Tuned up my kids drum, very knowledgeable and friendly!
4/28/2016 5.0 stars!
Love DrumConnection in Arlington!
Great teachers including the Masters from West Africa; great drums (all kinds) and accessories. Director and owner, Alan, is an excellent drummer himself, friends to all and always willing to share his knowledge. Classes & Workshops at all levels challenging and tons of fun. Serious drumming going on here!
4/27/2016 5.0 stars!
Knowledgeable, and very helpful.
I watched Alan help a gentleman trying to rent an accordion. Yes, this sounds like a Seinfeld script, but it was touching seeing Alan help someone out. Additionally, the store is well supplied, and the prices are quote reasonable for being able to get your hands on what you need right now. Truly, an asset to the community!
Brian C. J.
April 9, 2016, 1:47 p.m.
Friends cannot believe how light it is and how good it sounds. Easy for me to carry. It is also very nice looking, not ornate, just beautiful wooden swirls. Thanks for all your help on this..... kdl
4/10/16 ; 5 Stars
I have spent several wonderful weekends at DrumConnection studying drumming rhythms with various master drummers (djembefolas) and I just want to thank Alan and the wonderful community of people I met at there for a wonderful, fun, inspiring and informative time. If I didn't live on Long Island, NY I would be there every week. 5 star rating from me!
Long Island, NY
2/24/2016 : 5 Stars!
DrumConnection is a wonderful place. Alan is so helpful, thoughtful and kind. The store has a great selection of drums that will help you connect to music from all over the world. Highly recommended!
Jan. 16, 2016 : 5 Stars!
Great experience, no pressure to buy or spend more than I wanted to, just the perfect assistance to help me find the right drum for me - a clear joy for drumming and very welcoming - made me feel right at home.
12/22/2015 : 5 Stars!
A great little store
I was looking for some nifty percussion accessories for my son-in-law and I really didn't want to go the the Guitar Center. What a great place! I got great advice & was able to find exactly the kind of stuff I was looking for! A perfect shopping trip & well worth the weekly trip down from Cape Ann!
Cape Ann, MA
5.0 star rating 12/6/2015 Yelp!
I took a beginner drum class here this fall. I was impressed by the business's connection to West African drumming. Thierno, a drummer from Guinea, was our teacher. If you want to learn drumming, have a weekly class with lots of laughing and meet people from around the world this place is for you.
5.0 Star Rating 12/4/15 Google+
Alan the owner is always friendly and helpful. When I was looking for a drum, he chose 4 drums he thought I might like, each unique. He helped me sort out the differences to find the combination of pluses that added up to the perfect drum for me.
Alan the teacher is a non-judgmental, supportive, and clear instructor whose decades of experience and amazing skill as a drummer combine to provide a safe and inspiring learning environment. I've studied with four other DrumConnection instructors and each is excellent in his or her own ways, and all certified by examination.
A great store and a wonderful school. I recommend it without reservations.
11/15/2015 5.0 Yelp!
The beginner drum class was extra special. Taught by Thierno Keita-what a wonderful escape each week from the work-a-day world into a world of rhythm and movement. Great for the brain and the soul. Alan Tauber, who runs the Drum Connection could not be kinder or more devoted to his art. This has been a postive turn for me and I will continue on this road with pleasure.
5.0 star rating 11/11/2015
DrumConnection is an nook of musical magic on Mass Ave in Arlington. The drumming teachers are from Africa, they sponsor workshops and trips to Africa to learn drumming. Alan the owner is very flexible and understanding with scheduling lessons. The drum selection is fantastic!! I recommend it to everyone I know. What a gem!
5.0 star rating 11/9/2015 Yelp!
Broad selection of percussion instruments from all over the world. Alan, the owner, really knows a lot about the instruments and the music they make.
5.0 star rating 11/7/2015 Yelp!
We have purchased many instruments from Alan. He knows so much about percussion instruments that we trust him with ordering sight unseen and have been pleased with our purchases. Prices are very reasonable. We drive 2 hours each way to shop at the Drum Connection and it is worth it.
5.0 star rating 11/6/2015 Yelp!
You will not find a more beautiful person than Alan to assit you with your journey of learning the drums. I have traveled with Alan to Guinea, purchased various drums, and attended numerous classes. Have not been able to find the joy I felt when I was involved with the Drum Connection. Please open a southern location!
5.0 star rating 10/5/2015 Yelp!
The drum I purchased from Alan several years ago is both beautiful and is a joy to use. The classes are fantastic -- designed for all skills levels and taught by master teachers that are knowledgeable and exciting.
They are patient and know how to break rhythms down to bite size. I have enrolled my 4 year old in the children's drum class and it is dynamic -- teaching movement and African songs. She loves it and loves her teachers."
5.0 star rating 10/19/2015 Yelp!
The Best! Thanks!
Purchased my djembe here a few years ago, just bought new skin, Alan and staff always knowledgeable and helpful.
5.0 star rating 8/29/2015 Yelp!
I am new to drumming and am having a ball. I went to a Sunday night lecture and lesson on one type of drums and followed that with 2 Sunday night drumming circles with an excellent teacher-but not at the rank beginner level. Still, I loved it and just tried to follow and keep up.
Now I am in a beginner class and I am still enjoying every minute. Alan is a kind and welcoming person. He coordinates to bring in a variety of excellent teachers and classes take place most every day of the week. He gives great advice about what to purchase and has rentals available. Come join the fun!
5.0 star rating 8/24/2015 Yelp!
This is a great little shop. Alan was able to rent me some drums for my autism caregivers retreat and was very accommodating. The drums were gorgeous, beautiful sound. Our group had a great time thanks to Drum Connection coming through at the last minute for me. Thank you!
June 25, 2015
5.0 star rating Excellent Teaching!
This is the first time I took drum lessons. I have taken piano lessons off and on for years. I really enjoy playing the drums. I had two teachers. They both had their individual style of teaching. I found that Alan is an excellent teacher. I would recommend anyone with a desire to learn drumming to check out DrumConnection. I haven't gone to their drum circle yet, but that's the next step for me. I am finishing up my first six weeks of classes, two more classes to go.
August 4, 2015
5.0 star rating 8/4/2015 Yelp!
I'm new to the djembe and drum circles in general. The drum circle I attended last week was a blast. Very relaxed and friendly, the drumming was amazing. Alan and Fanta were both very warm and welcoming. As others have noted, great energy. I'm definitely going back.
July 6, 2015
5.0 star rating Incredible Drums!
I returned to the store today to purchase my first djembe. Alan was more than helpful. He gave a mini-lesson on the spot so I would know how to evaluate the variety of drums, their tonal differences, etc. He also played several of them for me to have a better impression of what it sounds like once technique is mastered. The drum I finally settled on is incredible, love it. My wife was looking for a bodhran, and he gave demonstrations of those as well!
July 8, 2015
Way better than 5 stars!
Alan clearly loves what he is doing and it shows in the friendly, professional and deeply knowledgeable service. Way better than 5 stars.
June 10, 2015
Alan was so helpful. He came highly recommended, and lived up to it. I got a wonderful drum for my nephew - have not yet given it to him, but he is going to love it.
April 8, 2015
Five stars all the way!
Honestly, I can't say enough good things about DrumConnection. Alan and John helped me pick out the perfect drum, and when I came in tonight, Alan talked with me for at least an hour about technique, the history of the djembe coming to America, and more. The place is warm and inviting, and the people who work there are the same. I am confident I chose the best place to start my drumming journey, and I will be back for their classes! Five stars all the way!
March 7, 2015
My son is now starting drum lessons. We stopped in to purchase a drum pad and drum sticks. This is an amazing store. There is much to learn about choosing an instrument that suits you...and we were encouraged not to rush in and spend a lot of money at this stage. The store is packed with drums (mostly hand drums) and each visitor is encouraged to try out items that spark their interest. While visiting, my son tried several thumb pianos as well.
March 6, 2015
Fanta lead our group of 21 drummers thru two hours of song, dance, and drumming. Everybody was smiling at the end of the evening. What a deal for 10 bucks!
February 24, 2015
Drum Connection is a fantastic place to take African drumming lessons, meet some wonderful people and really expand your horizons by attending workshops with master drummers from West Africa. It's been a life changing experience for me. I am so blessed to part of Alan and Fanta's community.
February 13, 20115
As always Alan was right there to make sure I got exactly what I was looking for. He even sent me a photo/text to confirm that he had the correct size, shape and sound of rattle I needed. This was that perfect combination of personal service and immediate results.
February 5, 2015
Hey just wanted to write you a note to tell you how much I absolutely love the drum! It was the perfect choice for me. The slaps are just incredible and yet it gives good bass response. I brought it to work to play with the children and it was just such the perfect instrument. It’s just the right one for me and I'm really thrilled with it. Thanks so much.
January 24, 2015
Thanks Alan for your undivided attention today as I purchased the replacement head for the djembe I had previously bought at DrumConnection. Could not be more satisfied!