Hebrew University Course Studies Link Between Music and Brain Function
Earlier this year, the Hebrew University hosted “Music and Brains: The Surprising Link – An Interface between Music, Cognition
and Neuroscience” at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Science. The conference in Jerusalem was mind-blowing, to say the least, as international neuroscientists met with musicians and composers to discuss how music affects our brains.
Music to Feel Good
While surprising to some, it might not be anything new to musicians, who have long understood the power of music. We know just by listening to music that it affects our feelings and moods by creating excitement, suspense, happiness or sadness. But according to the experts who attended the conference, music also helps cognitive function. It helps us imagine pitches and learn languages as it touches many mechanisms and levels of the brain. Even learning to follow a rhythm is linked to increasing your short-term memory. Just listening to music sharpens your sensory system, but add dancing or movement to that and it is like auditory calisthenics for the brain.
Creating New Brain Patterns
This is a fascinating subject, because it seems as though music has a mind of its own. In 1871, an article entitled “Singing by Speechless Children” by Dr. Hughlings, a neurologist, suggested that people who have lost their speech abilities can still sing. According to Dr. Schlaug, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the brain has the ability to pave new pathways around damaged areas, as music forges a “back road” to language. One very recent example of the power of music on the brain is the remarkable recovery of Gabby Giffords, the Congresswoman who was shot in the head in Tucson, Arizona. Due to the damage caused by the bullet in her brain’s left hemisphere, which controls speech, she was unable to speak after the attack. You can see in this video “Finding Words Through Song,” that Giffords could hum and sing before she was able to formulate words. After hard work with her music therapists, she began speaking again. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center uses another type of treatment, Auditory-Motor Mapping Training, to strengthen brain regions in autistic children through singing and motor activities.
The Hebrew University is one of the first academic institutions in the world offering a credited course on the links and boundaries between musicology and brain function.