Where To Next For Functional Music?

Music classification is now less about genre and more about mood, with listeners often building their digital playlists for a specific occasion or activity. It’s music with a purpose – or functional music – and it promises to get even more interesting as scientific inquiry comes into play. The Sync Project muses on what could happen next… 

Sync With Others to Feel Closer

Music automatically moves us. Even if you are sitting absolutely still, your motor cortex is still active when you listen to music. This special link between movement and sound is thought to have been around since music began. It has been proposed that through its capacity to synchronize movements of individuals, music made it possible for us to cooperate more efficiently and thereby survive as a species. Music can therefore be thought of as an inherently social phenomenon, and as something that exists to move us in synchrony, in order to help us bond.

Music Modulates Activity of Neurons Important for Movement

Common treatments for Parkinsons' Disorder include pharmacological treatments. However, these treatments often lose efficacy over time. Emerging efforts to use technology such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) have shown promise. Recent studies using DBS provide in-depth information about unique neural responses to music with this population, and how different kinds of music may be used to achieve specific clinical outcomes

Sync Session Interview: Dr Joyce Chen

Dr. Joyce L Chen is an Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, University of Toronto and Scientist at the Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery, Sunnybrook Research Institute. Dr. Chen's research aims to understand how the brain recovers motor functions after a stroke, and to develop novel interventions that facilitate recovery. 

Dr. Chen is also interested in the use of noninvasive brain stimulation and auditory feedback such as music to improve motor function. In particular, her group is interested in how the brain changes as a function of an intervention, which will give insight into mechanisms of brain plasticity. Dr Chen has also investigated music-making activities and studying the effects of music listening in improvement of motor re-learning and rehabilitation exercises.

During our Sync Session earlier this year at McGill University, we discussed how a mobile platform such as the Sync Project may accelerate research in her lab by allowing researchers like her to test the response of music on larger samples under ecologically valid settings.

Sync Session Interview: Dr Virginia Penhune

Dr. Penhune is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University in 2000, and is also an adjunct member of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University. She is a founding member of the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound (BRAMS), as well as a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development (CRDH) and the Centre for Research in Behavioral Neurobiology (CSBN).

Dr Penhune has explored the neural basis of human motor or movement skill learning. Her work has taken a broad developmental perspective, including studies in children and older adults, as well as individuals with musical training and, more recently, dance training.

In our interview during this year's Sync Session at McGill, we learned how technology like the Sync Project could enable researchers like Dr Penhune to gather larger amounts of data, inside the lab and "in the wild", and bring use closer to understanding how the body's response to music could translate into specific applications for music in clinical or educational contexts.

Sync Session Interview: Dr Jessica Grahn

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.

Music and Movement

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?

Music and Emotion

Most of us also listen to music in order to experience emotions. The specific mechanisms through which music evokes emotions is a rich field of research, with a great number of unanswered questions. Why does sound talk to our emotional brain? Why do we perceive emotional information in musical features? Why do we feel the urge to move when hearing music?