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YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC. Dr. Don P. Ester Professor of Music Education Ball State University Download this Powerpoint at The Brain. The Brain. Hemispheres and the Corpus Callosum. Left: Language Math Logical. Right: Spatial Reasoning Art Appreciation Intuitive.

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your brain on music

Dr. Don P. Ester

Professor of Music Education

Ball State University

Download this Powerpoint at

the brain3
The Brain

Hemispheres and the Corpus Callosum






Spatial Reasoning

Art Appreciation


Music perception, response, and performance

involves interplay of hemispheres via corpus callosum

the brain4
The Brain

Lobes of the Cerebrum

the 3 domains of learning
The 3 Domains of Learning







the cognitive domain
The Cognitive Domain

Perception - Cognition

the cognitive domain7
The Cognitive Domain

Working (Short-term) Memory

Information is stored here for only 5-20 seconds; cognitive processing takes place at this stage.

Very limited capacity, which was first defined by Miller (1956) as being seven units (bits), plus or minus two.

Chunking can increase this limit by combining units into organized chunks, with each chunk then becoming a single unit.

the cognitive domain8
The Cognitive Domain

Long-term Memory

Meaningful learning results when new information is organized so that it connects to stored knowledge and is therebyanchoredin long-term memory

Capacity appears to be unlimited

the cognitive domain9
The Cognitive Domain

Neuromusical investigations are producing evidence that infants are born with neural mechanisms devoted exclusively to music.

the cognitive domain10
The Cognitive Domain

Sample Interactions with Other Subjects

Students who studied music appreciation scored 46 points higher on the math portion of the SAT in 1995, and 39 points higher if they had music performance experiences, than those without music education.

Music lessons in childhood are associated with small but long-lasting increases in IQ.

Children who received early music/arts training displayed more significant gains in language and pre-literary skills, attention, visual-spatial skills, and numerical skills.

the psychomotor domain
The Psychomotor Domain

Sensory Cortexes

the psychomotor domain14
The Psychomotor Domain

The Child’s Brain

  • Babies begin to respond to music while still in the womb.
  • At a very early age, innate capability (aptitude) is shaped by the music system of the culture in which a child is raised. That culture affects the construction of instruments, the way people sound when they sing, and even the way they hear sound.
the psychomotor domain15
The Psychomotor Domain

The Musician’s Brain

25% increase in the number of auditory nerve cells dedicated to processing complex piano tones (vs. sine tones) in pianists vs. non-pianists.

Enlarged cerebellum in professional musicians for precise timing and accuracy of motor commands.

The brain learns and controls movements not muscles.

The neurons store the information for a complex movement; adjacent neurons communicate with each other and fire in a complex sequence – this sequence is stored in a specific area.

the psychomotor domain16
The Psychomotor Domain


Early training grows the brain

More neurons dedicated to specific motor functions than “average” person

Later training changes the brain

the psychomotor domain17
The Psychomotor Domain

Musician’s Brains:Empirical Evidence of Plasticity

Enlarged motor cortex areas

Especially if prolonged practice began before age 10

Corresponding to fingers 2-5 of left hand in violinists when prolonged practice began before age 10

Dominant vs. Non-dominant areas more equal in size

Enlarged front portion of corpus callosum

12% thicker nerve fibers in professional violinists and pianists, especially if prolonged practice began before age 7

Enlarged sensory areas

Enlarged areas of the auditory cortex, motor cortex, and visuospatial cortex appears to be a result of music learning

the psychomotor domain18
The Psychomotor Domain

Musician’s Brains: Empirical Evidence of Plasticity

Enlarged Wernicke Region in musicians with absolute pitch

Strong linkage develops between the auditory cortex and motor cortex of performers as a result of habit (practice)

Playing an “air” scale can “cause” one to hear it; hearing a scale can “cause” fingers to move in response

the psychomotor domain19
The Psychomotor Domain

By approximately age 11, neuron circuits that permit all kinds of perceptual and sensory discrimination, such as identifying pitch and rhythm, become closed off.

the affective domain
The Affective Domain

Most neuroscience research in the area of music, as extensive as it has been in recent years, has focused on the cognitive processes of music and the development of psychomotor skills. Little attention has been paid to the affective aspects of appreciating music.

the affective domain21
The Affective Domain

The Limbic System - Center for Emotions

emotional response
Emotional Response

From: Poe’s Heart and the Mountain Climber, R. Restak, Three Rivers Press, 2004

the interaction of the domains
The Interaction of The Domains

At the age of 4 months, dissonant notes at the end of a melody causes infants to squirm and turn away. If they like a tune, they may coo.

the interaction of the domains24
The Interaction of The Domains

Clinical examples from Musicophilia (Oliver Sacks) provide a fascinating picture of the interaction between the different aspects of brain function

Sudden Musicophilia

Sensory-limbic hyperconnection leading to quickly emerging musical talent as a result of a lightning strike

Individuals may be very “musically talented” but rather indifferent to music (e.g., rather common to Asperger’s Syndrome), or they may be unable to carry a tune and cognitively challenged yet be passionately sensitive to music (e.g., William’s Syndrome).

the interaction of the domains25
The Interaction of The Domains

Epileptic seizures (temporal lobe) induced by music

Audiation / Brainworms / Hallucinations

Imagining music stimulates the auditory cortex almost as strongly as actually listening to it.

Focal Dystonia - non-response or inaccurate response of motor movements

Music Therapy’s impact on expressive and receptive aphasia

Musical Synesthesia

Most common: association of color with pitches, modes, etc.

the aesthetic response
The Aesthetic Response


Aesthetic Response

Psychomotor Affective

the case for aesthetic education
The Case for Aesthetic Education

A man who works with his hands is a laborer;

A man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman;

A man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.

-Louis Nizer

In the cake of life, the arts are not frosting - they are baking soda.

-adapted from Tooby & Cosmides

the case for aesthetic education28
The Case for Aesthetic Education

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

-John Adams, President