Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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The Power of Singing
“An aid to learning”

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Last week we talked about the healing power of singing. Can singing also improve brain function in healthy people?

A major focus of Dr. Aniruddh D. Patel’s research at Tufts University is the music-language relationships in the brain, specifically prediction—the ability to anticipate what comes next. Prediction, long a topic of research in the perception of music, has become a growing focus in language processing.

Leonard Meyer wrote in his 1956 book, Emotion and Meaning in Music, the “fulfilling or thwarting” of expectations is a principal source of music’s emotional power.

Leonard B. Meyer

Similarly, David Huron in his 2006 Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation, shows how common musical devices (syncopation, cadence, meter, and climax) exploit basic psychological mechanisms of expectation.

Steven Mosier, music theory professor at Rio Hondo College says, “Music is teleological,” it moves toward an end goal. Kelsey Menehan, in his article on Dr. Patel, notes, “Researchers have found that successfully anticipating the outcome of a particular musical phrase can trigger positive feelings—even more so if the gratifying outcome is delayed by a slower tempo or another compositional technique.”

The ability to predict what comes next is also central to the way we experience language. “When you are listening to people talk, you don’t just passively soak in information,” Patel says, “you are implicitly predicting the words that people are going to say next. That can help in understanding people in noisy environments or where things are slightly ambiguous.”

To explore the music-language connection, Patel and his team conducted experiments in which subjects listen to pairs of sentences and pairs of melodies, one of each pair leading to strong prediction and the other not. During the experiment, they measured electrical activity in the brain through sensors attached to the subject’s heads.

1) When the two met, one of them held out his _______.
2) When the two met, one of them brought his _______.

The first sentence leads to a strong prediction: most people use the word “hand” to complete it. In the second sentence, people vary in the word they use to complete the thought.

The first melody ends with an implied authentic cadence, and so leads to a strong prediction. Most subjects sing the tonic (D) as a continuation of this melody. The second melody does not lead to a strong prediction.

Patel asks, “If you are musically trained, are you better at predicting what’s coming up next in a sentence?” he asks. He posits, “If children who are learning to read are good predictors of upcoming information in sentences they may be able to more quickly integrate the words they encounter and become more efficient readers.”

Patel formed his OPERA hypothesis: Singing and musical training benefit language skills under the following conditions:

Overlap:      There is anatomical overlap in the brain networks that process an acoustic feature used                                in both music and speech

Precision:    In terms of the precision of processing, music places higher demands on these shared                                  networks than does speech

Emotion:     The musical activities that engage this network elicit strong positive emotion

Repetition:  The musical activities that engage this network are frequently repeated

Attention:    The musical activities that engage this network are associated with focused attention

The OPERA hypothesis accounts for the observed superior subcortical encoding of speech in musically trained individuals, and suggests mechanisms by which musical training might improve linguistic reading abilities.

On another front, Bulgarian psychiatrist Georgi Lozanov demonstrated the effect of sound therapy on learning capacity. He found that when people listened to Baroque music, such as the compositions of Bach and Vivaldi, learning capacity improved significantly.

                                                                                 Georgi Lozanov

Psychologists speculate that music puts students in a heightened emotional state, making them more receptive to information. Further, a number of recent academic studies demonstrate that classical music benefits the sleep patterns, the immune system and stress levels--all helpful when facing those final exams!

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