One of the most striking effects of music is witnessed in how it seems to preserve functions that are otherwise lost. There are numerous accounts of Alzheimer’s patients who have lost most of their memory, but can still recall songs with ease, or of aphasic patients who have lost their speech abilities but have no trouble singing. What does research say about the mechanisms that underlie these remarkable accounts?
Previously, scientists have shown that the processing of music and language relies on partly overlapping neural resources. Therefore, the same neural mechanisms that are active when an individual processes the rhythm of music, or the beat, are active when we process the rhythm of speech. In testimony of this, researchers Elizabeth Wielanda, Devin McAuley, Laura Dilleya, and Soo-Eun Chang recently discovered that children who stutter have difficulties in perceiving the beat in music.
Research on music therapy and the mechanisms behind its effects show that it offers an effective way to complement traditional treatment of even severe conditions such as autism, Parkinson’s, stroke and depression. This post is a short review on the many ways in which music therapists helps patients recover and manage symptoms of a wide variety of disorders.
Dr Jessica Grahn is a top researcher in neuroscience at the Brain and Mind Institute and the Department of Psychology at Western University, in London, Ontario. Dr Grahn's work looks at how humans interpret rhythmic information in music. Her work has led to discoveries about where rhythmic music is processed in the brain and how some people diagnosed with movement disorders such as Parkinson's are still able to "feel the beat" despite impairments in the very areas we know are responsible for detecting beat in music.
We interviewed Dr Grahn during the recent Sync Session workshop at McGill to discuss what we know about why the connection of rhythm to movement is so widely observed, how research has shown the benefit of rhythm in music over other kinds of rhythmic stimuli, and the potential that technology like the Sync Project has for researchers looking to extend the scope and sample size of their research into music as medicine.
Stay tuned for more interviews from leading researchers exploring the intersection of music, medicine and technology in the coming weeks on the Sync Project Blog.
Dr. Jessica Grahn is a top researcher in cognitive neuroscience who explores how musical or rhythmic ability relates to movement and language ability and a participant in our recent SyncSession workshop at McGill University.
We interviewed Dr. Grahn about her work and what the future holds for the intersection of music, medicine and technology, which we will feature in an upcoming post. Until then, see this engaging and educational TED talk by Dr Grahn as she explores the fascinating ways humans (and cockatoos) feel the beat.
From wild dance moves to the subtlest tap of the finger, almost all people are able to sync to the rhythm in music. Music triggers movement in us in a way that seems automatic and innate. This special effect of music may be based on the unique connection with brain functions related to movement and auditory processing. Could this tight connection between the two domains be exploited in treatment of motor disabilities?