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How Does the Brain Learn Through Music?. Kansas State University Music Symposium 2008 Laurie J. Curtis.

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how does the brain learn through music

How Does the Brain Learn Through Music?

Kansas State University

Music Symposium


Laurie J. Curtis

Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does---humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks

purpose for today s presentation
Purpose for today’s presentation-
  • Identify factors that link music to cognitive learning
  • Explore some of the ways music can enhance the brain’s response to content
  • Describe ways the music educator can facilitate learning through increased engagement in learning opportunities

Center on Education PolicyRevised December 2007:

Choices, Changes, and Challenges Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era

349 school districts:

Since 2002 62% districts reported that they have increased time for English Language Arts and Math


44% of districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects or activities- decreases averaging 145 minutes per week (nearly 30 minutes a day)

These increases/ decreases were more prevalent in districts with schools identified for improvement.

recommendations from the center on education policy
Recommendations from the Center on Education Policy
  • Stagger testing requirements to include tests in other academic subjects
  • Encourage states to give adequate emphasis to art and music**
  • Require states to arrange for an independent review at least once every three years for high quality standards and rigor
  • Provide federal funds for research to determine the best ways to incorporate the teaching of reading and math into social studies and science.
item 2
Item #2 **

“ States should review their curriculum guidelines to ensure that they encourage adequate attention to and time for art and music, and should consider including measures of knowledge and skills in art and music among the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability.”

what do you know about cognitive science
What do you know about cognitive science?
  • Spaced rehearsal are more conducive to learning.
  • You learn something new by connecting to something you already know.
  • Movement, emotion, memory activate different parts of the brain.
  • Brain plasticity means the brain is dynamic- changing based on experience.
cognitive science
Cognitive science?
  • The brain needs hydration and sleep to function adequately.
  • Emotional response will increase memory of an event.
  • Stress which continues over time can change the brain’s ability to function efficiently.
  • Musical training affects the organization and anatomical structure of the brain.
memory how are memories stored and accessed
Memory- how are memories stored and accessed?
  • Putting information to music is valuable for those of all ages (automatic memory).
  • Using dramatic music as background while reading or discussing material can make information more meaningful (emotional memory).
  • Associating music with a special event will make the event memorable (episodic memory).
do you think being musical is a gift
Do you think “being musical” is a gift?
  • Why or why not?

(Research by Stefan Koelch)

musicophilia tales of music and the brain by oliver sacks
Tales and case-studies involving the power of music in the lives of humans.

Musicophilia is a “given” in human nature and is developed or shaped by our culture and the situations of our lives.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks
  • Sensory deficits/ Gifts
  • Williams syndrome- extraordinarily responsive to music/ extreme low IQ
  • Alzeimers
  • Dementia
  • Parkinsons Disease
  • Musical Hallucinations
the use of musical imagery
The use of musical imagery-
  • When listening to familiar music with “gaps” fMRI scans indicate that the auditory cortex is activated---whether or not the songs had lyrics or not.
  • “Deliberate, conscious, voluntary mental imagery involved not only the auditory and motor cortex, but regions of the frontal cortex involved in choosing and planning.”
but did you know that
But…did you know that
  • Imagining music can activate the auditory cortex and motor cortex almost as strongly as listening to it…and conversely imagining the action of playing music stimulates the auditory cortex.

(musicians stating that they feel they can “hear” their instruments during mental practice.)

brain waves m sprenger
Brain Waves(M. Sprenger)
  • Music affects the brain by releasing endorphins and affecting the electricity in the brain- measured in waves (measured by an EEG). The speed, regularity, and patterns can determine what type of learning is taking place. These waves are the speed at which the neurons are firing.
    • Delta
    • Theta
    • Alpha
    • Beta
delta waves
Delta Waves
  • Sleep- 1-3 cycles per second
    • No conscious learning taking place
    • Brain disposes of useless information
    • New memories are rehearsed (practice during sleep???)
theta waves
Theta Waves
  • Occurs usually twice during each night- 4-7 cycles per second
    • Very relaxed- not on a conscious level- except through meditation or relaxation therapy
    • Very receptive to memory making at this state
alpha waves
Alpha Waves
  • Relaxed alertness- 8-12 cycles per second
    • Facilitates learning and heightens memory
    • (Baroque Music with 40 – 60 beats per minute-Adagio)

This music tends to slow down respiration, heart rate, and reduces stress.

beta waves
Beta Waves
  • “run, see, go, do” waves 12 – 40 cycles per second
    • Needed for new learning and new memory
    • Used when talking and problem solving
    • Full attentiveness
    • Time in this state is very limited- we must use it wisely!
to remember
To remember…
  • Your brain utilzes several types of waves- but one will be dominant at a specific time.
  • There must be a delicate balanced for clear thinking and learning to occur.
  • Music can affect a student’s level of arousal and teachers can use types of music to elicit a desired state of enhanced learning.
linking of cambourne s conditions of learning to music brain research
Linking of Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning to Music/ Brain Research
  • Immersion
  • Demonstration
  • Engagement
  • Expectation & Responsibility
  • Employment
  • Approximation & Response
  • An enriched learning environment - both physically and academically- increases the weight of cells, branching dendrites and increasing synaptic responses in the brain. Student differences in learning styles are to be considered when designing environment and making curricular decisions.
to immerse the students in content the music educator can
To immerse the students in content the music educator can…
  • Allow for multiple opportunities to study various styles of music which are appropriate to a child’s world. Reach for rigor!
    • Lullabies
    • Patriotic music
    • Ballads
    • Pop-culture/ jingles/ media music

This can also occur through the labeling of items in the room, literature shared, colors, textures, props, multi-media presentation.

  • Children need to have opportunities to observe skillful modeling of the targeted task.

The brain changes as a result of experiences. New dendrites are formed to “hook” new information to prior experience.

“Remember yesterday when we…”

the music educator can use demonstration to
The music educator can use demonstration to…
  • Model a musical style, sing/play with expression to provide a target for the student. Provide written and auditory modeling for students.

Additionally- make sure your students can hear and see your love for the piece of music being explored.

  • Children need to be active participants in the music classroom.

Utilize the idea of brain plasticity and recognize that the brain is in a constant state of change in response to experience. Each brain is unique- assembly-line learning violates a critical discovery about the human brain.

How about a review?

password team 1
“Password”Team #1
  • Adagio
  • Largo
  • Timbre
  • Waltz
  • Time signature
  • Treble cleft
  • Quarter note
  • soprano
password team 2
“Password” Team #2
  • Pitch
  • Vibrato
  • Ballad
  • Key signature
  • Whole note
  • Oboe
  • alto
  • Accelerando
to keep students engaged the music educator can
To keep students engaged the music educator can…
  • Provide opportunities for students to sing, play, talk, reflect, write, work in small groups, see connections between what is occurring in the music classroom and the rest of their school experience.
expectation and responsibility
Expectation and Responsibility
  • The teacher must hold high expectations for all student’s achievement of excellence in order to develop their interest and aspiration to succeed.
  • Responsibility can be shared between student and teacher through the making of choices and levels of engagement.
the music educator can
The music educator can…
  • Establish a safe and trusting environment with clear goals and expectations permit success. Teacher’s presence and support is critical.

The brain’s emotional center is tied to the ability to learn. Emotions, learning, and memory are linked. Positive emotions drive attention and memory (Wolfe & Brandt, 1998).

employment meaningful use
Employment- Meaningful Use
  • Multiple areas of the brain are activated simultaneously when students apply singing, playing, reading, auditory input.
    • Musical training leads to better verbal memory as adults (Chan, 1998)
    • Musical training leads to an enlarged corpus collosum

(Pantev et al. 1998)

the music educator can1
The music educator can…
  • Make sure students have a chance to take ownership as they perform their work for authentic audiences.

How can the students integrate what they have learned in a meaningful way- design the program, write the selection notes, share in discussion of order of selections…

michael bitz usa today 2008
Michael Bitz (USA Today- 2008)
  • $250,000 fellowship (Mind Trust Fellowship) for children to write songs, create digital tracks, design cover art and market their own CDs.

“There is just something about music that helps kids connect to themselves and the world at large. I’m trying to capitalize on that in some way.”

  • Songs are typically cognitive commentaries on dangers and opportunities.
  • ? Why did it take George Frederick Handle five minutes to say Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth?
  • By extending the vowel sounds and repeating words and phrases, songs slow down the expression of the basic message to attach the emotional power of melody, harmony, rhythm, and volume.
approximation and response
Approximation and Response:
  • The brain is designed to perceive and generate patterns
  • Music has an innate neurological base because all scaled forms of music are based on octaves, intervals, and harmonics. People vary in the hemisphere of the brain that activates in the processing of music- this appears to be related to the level of musical experience of the listener.
the music educator can2
The music educator can…
  • Celebrate increased skill and performance level and allow children to “track” or monitor their own improvement. Provide evidence and allow children to reflect on growth of skill and ability. This leads to increased motivation through repeated rehearsal.
“to follow a discipline of smooth, controlled, voluntary, cross-lateral movement, involving both hands- and possibly feet- while simultaneously tracking the notes on a page so as to anticipate the sounds to come is a great all-around workout for the brain.”

Smith, 2005

“Music has an uncanny manner of activating neurons for purposes of relaxing muscle tension, changing pulse, and producing long-range memories which are directly related to the number of neurons activated in the experiences” (Weinberger, 1998)
“Music offers educators a means of energizing or relaxing students, conveying content information, priming certain types of cognitive performance, and enhancing phonological awareness.” (Smith, 2005)