Category Archives: music and science

How to use music to fine tune your child for school

Chelsea Harry, University of the Sunshine Coast
This article was first published in The Conversation 
http://theconversation.com

Can music actually make us smarter? Research suggests that from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, when auditory function is forming, babies begin their musical development. Their early adaptive exposure to sounds, including those familiar sounds of parents’ voices, enhance extraordinary processing skills.

Neuroscience teaches us that a child’s brain is plastic. By this, we mean it is malleable and has the ability to change. The first year of life, more than any other year, will see the most rapid change in brain size and function as all the sensory receptors activate. Intriguingly, neuro-imaging shows that music alone turns on large sectors of a child’s brain, opening crucial neural pathways that will become the highways and byways for every piece of information the process.

We’d all love to think our children will grow up intelligent, blissfully free from academic struggle. Truth is, the learning journey is speckled with challenges, and each child will have a unique intelligence and learner disposition. One thing we know is that parental involvement in cognitive stimulation from the earliest years will help form solid foundations that underpin a more successful schooling journey.

So, what can parents do to prepare young learners for school?

Sing like no one’s listening

Singing nursery rhymes to your child, however old fashioned you may think it is, will get them off to a flying start. Children become particularly responsive because reciprocal communication occurs as they begin to mimic you – pre-empting certain sounds, tones or words that they recognise. Using pitch and rhythm in the rhymes and lullabies we introduce to our children will begin to create neural stimulation that develops the brain’s auditory cortex, transforming their ability to communicate.

Bang on those pots and pans

While it may fray the nerves, banging on the pots and pans is a fantastic way to improve spatial reasoning. With background music blaring, children first develop the coordination required to hit the metallic targets, and as their sensory cortex develops, they begin to keep in time. Research shows that spatial reasoning, along with a sense of beat and rhythm (which invariably includes an aural and tactile sense of measure and counting) will enhance mathematical abilities.

Join a children’s music group

Early childhood music-based playgroups offer a unique learning context for children. The songs and activities employ beat patterns, movement, repeated chorus lines and echo singing to engage with young participants. The cerebellum at the base of our brains is responsible for movement and balance, and interestingly, is where emotional reactions to music form. Universally, early childhood educators use rhyme and song to teach children how language is constructed, and with good reason. Movement, foot tapping and dancing to a beat are also good ways of developing the brain’s motor cortex.

The ‘Mozart Effect’

There is a popular hypothesis that listening to Mozart makes you smarter. The “Mozart Effect” refers primarily to a landmark study in 1993, where participants listening to Mozart’s music (rather than to relaxation music or silence) achieved higher spatial-temporal results. Importantly, spatial-temporal reasoning is crucially active when children are performing science and maths tasks. Listening to music in any capacity induces endorphin production in the brain, causing improvement in mood and creative problem solving.

Learn an instrument

Many parents wonder when a child should start learning their first musical instrument. Importantly, instrumental tuition is not about producing the next Mozart or Delta Goodrem. Music lessons, for even the briefest of periods, are enjoyable and establish a life-long skill. It has also been noted that musicians’ brains develop a thickened pre-frontal cortex – their brains are actually bigger. And this is the area of the brain most crucially involved in memory. One thing researchers and music educators endorse is the amazing impact it has on the development of executive functions such as working memory, attention span and cognition.

Many schools are putting research into practice, and Queensland is leading the way with music taught in 87% of schools. Immersion music programs, where all students learn an instrument for a one-year minimum, have become commonplace. The results speak for themselves.

Psychologists from a Californian University conducted research on pre-school aged children, and proved that those who had weekly keyboard lessons improved their spatial-temporal skills 34% more than those who didn’t. The benefits did not stop there. Children developed fine motor skills, reading, auditory recognition, resilience, and increased their memory capacity. All of these benefits of instrumental tuition bode well for the classroom journey ahead.The Conversation

Chelsea Harry

Chelsea Harry is an Academic Researcher and Music Educator, University of the Sunshine Coast. Currently completing a Masters in Research with USC, Chelsea is a professional Musician and Classroom Educator of 20 years experience. 
Her research follows the journey of 6-8 year olds and the impact of instrumental music tuition on the brain and executive functions.

Chelsea also works as a conductor, cellist, pianist, music educator, musical director, primary classroom teacher and mum!

Read the original article here.

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The real reason dinosaurs became extinct (& some neurological impacts of music-making)

Dinosaurs couldn’t sing. Perhaps their demise had nothing to do with earth impacting asteroids or the frustration of tiny arms after all and was instead triggered by their physical inability to sing. Now, I’m no scientist but…

Findings from a report published last year suggest the Jurassic age was filled with awkward silences punctuated only by squawks, leaf munching and worse. Without the option to experience the joy of shared breathing patterns, matched heartbeats or the release of life affirming endorphins catalysed by singing together, life in the days of the dinosaurs must have been bleak. Imagine having no way to celebrate the break of a new day or the setting of an evening sun. Imagine a world without song.

The oldest, complete example of a found fossilised syrinx belonged to a species of ancient bird related to the ducks and geese of today called Vegavis iaai, which lived during the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic Era between 66-69 million years ago.

The specimen was dug up on Vega Island in Antartica by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute, led by Julia Clarke, a paleontologist at The University of Texas.  Twenty five years later, upon subsequent re-examination in 2013, Clarke and her team discovered the fossilised bird was found to contain a complete syrinx, the avian equivalent of a human larynx or ‘voice box’.

The team spent the next two years searching records of previous Jurassic finds to establish whether earlier examples of a syrinx existed. Their research came to nothing, with all other examples of fossilised syrinxes occurring in species of birds that evolved long after the extinction of land-based dinosaurs.

This discovery was important as it offered insight into the Jurassic soundscape: Without a syrinx, those poor old land lubbin’ dinosaurs would have been incapable of song:

“To speculate wildly, we might have closed-mouth booms more similar to crocodilians in large-bodied dinosaurs like  T. rex…..said Clarke.”

If you’re thinking okay, enough about dinosaurs already, what does all this have to do with community music? Well, for the sake of this blog, what’s relevant was a subsequent observation of Clarke and her team:

“…the evolution of vocal behaviour can provide insights into other anatomical features… such as the development of bigger brains.”

Aha, now this is more like it! Jumping from the Jurassic age into the 21st century, a study led by Dr Vanessa Sluming from the University of Liverpool and published in 2002 of a British Symphony Orchestra found that musicians exhibited larger volumes of grey matter in Broca’s area, the part of our brains responsible for language and verbal working memory, and this volume varied depending on how many years they’d been playing their instrument.

“Although this area declines with age, orchestral players kept more of their brain cells than non-players, as they aged.” Dr Vanessa Sluming

Furthermore, it’s well documented that singing and learning songs builds neurological pathways, and also boosts levels of acetylcholine in the brain, an organic chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter sending messages through the brain and playing a highly important role in memory retention.

In committing new material to memory and then drawing on that in the context of our singing and music making, we improve our capacity to recall and remember.

Valuable for all this and more, community music making provides the opportunity to simply celebrate being alive. We should all keep learning and singing new songs and playing new tunes, recalling favourites from the archives along the way and our long term mental health and well-being will reap the rewards. And we should all be grateful not to have been born a dinosaur.

Article by Deb Carveth, online editor for Community Music Victoria

Further reading:

Music improves brain power – in some performers
https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/sep/12/health.research

Do musicians have bigger brains?
https://www.braintraining101.com/do-musicians-have-bigger-brains/

Boost your memory and your brain by singing
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/08/boost-your-brain-and-memory-by-singing/

And further reading on dinosaurs…

Dinosaurs couldn’t sing
https://scienceblog.com/488716/dinosaurs-couldnt-sing/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+scienceblogrssfeed+%28ScienceBlog.com%29

Fossil evidence of the avian vocal organ from the Mesozoic https://www.nature.com/articles/nature19852.epdf?referrer_access_token=N4n-vV1ZFQa_2ZrBCVDDqNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0POdDZwZ05Pa-IKumwU5iqFPqb9J0RCiSbNodY9t6fsIlllkLV3NV3ydjAEF95r56mcI_GYrpf2Qnn5rc1s0gl6sKaUASwdqhDR20W53nuCUV_E8jqkJBnLnuEms1KFl1PFBulm

 

Singing aids the sound of silence for snorers

cris-saur-122006.jpg
photo by Cris Saur

If all you crave at night is the sound of silence, encouraging somebody who snores to sing for their supper could be the key to a peaceful night’s sleep, and the clip below will be music to your ears. We know from experience that an interrupted sleep pattern impacts negatively on concentration levels and increases the likeliness of accidents and mistakes during our waking hours.

Snoring can also lead to loss of friends if we’re putting up enough zeds to disrupt the sleep of others on a regular basis, and when we’re tired, we become more susceptible to illness so the ramifications of this nocturnal behaviour can be detrimental to the general health and well being of everyone in the fall out zone.

Having first hand experience of a partner who snored, British community choir director and composer, Alise Ojay, designed and created a set of simple singing exercises, Singing for Snorers, focussed on strengthening the soft tissues of the palate and the upper throat, specifically the pharyngeal muscles which, like any other areas of the body, grow slack without exercise.

Sorry folks, it’s true: even your epiglotiss needs a work out. But don’t lose heart at this point, because it’s where the good news begins: Epiglottal flaps don’t require tread mills or gym memberships to start shaping up. All that’s required is for the soon to be proud owner of the pharyngeal muscles to open their mouth and sing, making the sounds ‘ung’ and ‘gar’ a practise Alise Ojat refers to as ‘giving the whole snoring apparatus a work out.’

Alise, a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners network, undertook her initial research to determine whether singing exercises could in fact be used as a non-invasive treatment to increase muscle tone in the tissues of the throat in 2000, as an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. A clinical trial followed in May 2013 involving a study group of 93 patients who completed a self-guided treatment programme of singing exercises, performing from a 3CD boxed set for 20 minutes daily.

The findings of the trial concluded that use of singing exercises to strengthen the throat across a period of three months  contributed significantly to a reduction of snoring pollution in the atmosphere. It demonstrated that singing holds real potential to improve the health and wellbeing not only of snorers, but the quality of life for their partners and housemates, too:

“The Epworth Sleepiness Scale  improved significantly in the experimental group compared to the control group. The frequency of snoring also reduced significantly in the experimental group and loudness of snoring showed a trend to improvement…” The research write up concluded:

Improving the tone and strength of pharyngeal muscles with a 3 months programme of daily singing exercises reduces the severity, frequency and loudness of snoring, and improves symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnoea.”

So if you’re living with somebody who snores, or if you suspect that you are susceptible to it yourself, try frequent singing exercises (and singing more frequently!) as an early approach to addressing the issue and set to work on achieving a set of buff pharyngeal muscles: they’re understatedly sexy and guaranteed to make you better off in bed.

A list of singing groups across Victoria can be found on the groups page of the Community Music Victoria website to assist you in your mission and a link to Alise’s Singing for Snorers exercises can be found on the CMVic online repertoire resources page. Let us know how you go!

Reference: Singing Exercises Improve Sleepiness and Frequency of Snoring among Snorers—A Randomised Controlled Trial

Written by Deb Carveth, online Editor for Community Music Victoria

 

A child’s brain develops faster with exposure to music education

A study by researchers at the University of Southern California shows that exposure to music and music instruction accelerates the brain development of young children.

Source: A child’s brain develops faster with exposure to music education

Jamming beats books: How music making with toddlers can enhance their development

The next time you sit down to read to a toddler, consider popping that ole book back to its place on the shelf for a while*, and playing some homemade music together instead. Over time, the long term effect of your action might just make the world a better place to be. Research from the University of Queensland conducted over two years on more than 3000 young children showed that making music with toddlers could have even more of a positive impact on their development, than sharing a story. And lets face it, banging on pots and pans is loud and fun for everyone (especially the neighbours, who will love you).

All_Ensemble_Tanya_boy (2)

Findings from the study, ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’ (2013–2015) indicate that early involvement in music participation has the capacity to improve numeracy, increase attention and assist with the development of prosocial behaviour and skills which, being the opposite of anti-social skills, are therefore beneficial to the good of society as a whole.

Professor Margaret Barrett, head of University of Queensland’s School of Music and a key leader in the study funded by the Australian Research Council, claims that “Children who experienced more frequent parent-child music activity at two to three years showed stronger vocabulary and numeracy skills, more prosocial skills and stronger abilities to regulate their own attention and emotion at four to five years old….The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children.”

Read the full article ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books’ published on the Medical Xpress website here

*But be sure to come back to the book later on. Balance in all things, and all that…

Article by Deb Carveth based on information found in ‘Jamming with Toddlers trumps Hitting the books.’ Published by Medical Xpress. September 2015

Singing calms baby longer than talking

Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa
Credit: Tobias Koepe, flic.kr/p/e3Capa

In a new study from the University of Montreal, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song, which they didn’t even know, as they did when listening to speech. “Many studies have looked at how singing and speech affect infants’ attention, but we wanted to know how they affect a baby’s emotional self-control,” explained Professor Isabelle Peretz, of the university’s centre for Research on Brain, Music and Language. “Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity.” The study, recently published in Infancy, involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

Humans are in fact naturally enraptured by music. In adults and older children, this “entrainment” is displayed by behaviours such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. “Infants do not synchronize their external behaviour with the music, either because they lack the requisite physical or mental ability,” Peretz explained. “Part of our study was to determine if they have the mental ability. Our finding shows that the babies did get carried away by the music, which suggests they do have the mental capacity to be “entrained”.

Read the full article from the University of Montreal website, here…

The positive impact of listening to music during and after surgery.

Whether participating in group music making or listening to something alone, the fibres of our soul react to the sound waves and vibrations in the music, and so does our brain. The capacity of sound and rhythm to affect our emotions varies wildly, from the calming rustle of breeze-blown leaves, or waves being sieved over sand and sucked back to sea, scaling up to louder, more rousing percussive beats or total immersion in a rich, treacle-thick havoc of horns. Whether you love or hate a particular genre and method of delivery, each has its own time and place and everyone has their favourite groove or go to tune to bust out in times of triumph or tragedy.

Expanding on this rationale, recent scientific research conducted in the UK has delivered a proven link in the effectiveness of using a patient’s choice of music before, during and after surgery to relieve levels of pain and anxiety, and even reduce the need for painkillers in people undergoing medical treatment and intervention, in a hospital environment.

The study, led by Queen Mary University of London, was undertaken without funding and carried out on the principle that “Music is a non-invasive, safe, and inexpensive intervention that can be delivered easily and successfully.”1

The team analysed the results of 73 randomised controlled trials involving almost 7,000 patients to assess the impact of music in aiding post operative recovery. The findings, whilst not totally unsurprising, are extraordinary because of the subsequent impact they’ve made within a fairly traditional context. Western medicine has taken time to embrace alternative methods and approaches and implement them into its practice, but a pilot scheme in giving patients access to music as part of their procedure and treatment is currently under way in the obstetrics and gynaecology unit at the Royal London Hospital.

For anyone who has experienced surgery, the use of analgesics to combat pain and discomfort following an operation are rarely entirely free of side effects and can occasionally delay or dull feelings of positivity and the psychological progression that’s so vital to full recuperation. In light of this, any reduction in the need for post operative intervention and administered medicine is a bonus, not only on the hospitals’ budget, but to the person on the receiving end.

And, what’s more, the physiological effect of the music was evident even when patients were under general anaesthetic.

So if you or anybody you’re close to is scheduled for a trip to hospital anytime soon, refresh your playlist. If you don’t own one already, invest in an iPod or borrow one from a friend, and read this article, explaining the study in greater depth. Alternatively, arrange and record a tune which you play or sing in your group as a get well message. And if you think it would be welcome, drop in at the hospital once they’ve had their op, and play them some gentle and soothing music of your own making…

By Deb Carveth based on an article published in MedicalXpress called ‘New study confirms listening to music during surgery reduces pain and anxiety’. August 12 2015

1: The Lancetwww.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60169-6/abstract

Researchers discover the anatomic reasons for the persistence of musical memory in alzheimer patients

For anyone witnessing the degeneration of a person affected by the later stages of Alzheimer’s, it can be baffling but extremely heartening to witness their response to music and songs from their past.

This phenomenon has been well documented with singing and music therapy incorporated increasingly into care programs. But, until very recently, no scientific explanation or evidence has been available about how and why this should be.

In a recent study using MRI scans to show brain activity, neuroscientists have been able to locate the precise area of the brain where our musical memories are stored. In doing so they also realised that in a brain affected by Alzheimer’s, this ‘musical storeroom’ appeared more resilient to other degenerative effects of the disease.

Reading the article below, first published by Medical Xpress, two things spring to mind. One is the importance of remaining active music makers to build and maintain strong neurological pathways, and the second, based on concern about a particular mental store room where the shelves are cluttered with guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s, is to expose ourselves to a wide variety of as much good music as possible, while our brains remain healthy.  Read the article