That is the conclusion of the latest scientific experiment designed to puzzle out how the brain creates an apparently seamless view of the external world based on the information it receives from the eyes.
“Our brain is remarkably efficient at putting us in touch with objects and events in our visual environment, indeed so good that the process seems automatic and effortless. In fact, the brain is continually operating like a clever detective, using clues to figure out what in the world we are looking at. And those clues come not only from what we see but also from other sources,” said Randolph Blake, Centennial Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University, who directed the study.
Scientists have known for some time that the brain exploits clues from sources outside of vision to figure out what we are seeing. For example, we tend to see what we expect to see based on past experience. Moreover, we tend to see what our other senses tell us might be present in the world, including what we hear. Read more
NB: The Community Music Victoria model of teaching doesn’t rely on a person’s ability to read music and follow dots. In singing leadership, for example, we involve a hand, raised and lowered to demonstrate changes in pitch, creating a visual soundscape which is inclusive and easy to follow. It would be interesting to know how that kind of cognitive association with music applies in the context of these findings.
Jigarre Jammin’ Our motto: Don’t die wishing you’d done it! Jigarre Jammin’ is a musical phenomenon! Up to 70 community-based musicians meet at Girgarre every month for up to five hours of playing, singing, sharing knowledge, catching up – and they love every minute of it! Girgarre is a tiny but very important dairying centre of fewer than 200 residents, located midway between Echuca and Shepparton.
Musos of all ages and stages come from everywhere in northern and central Victoria. Some older players have waited for years to learn; others have never stopped and generously share their skills. Everyone joins in with an enthusiasm and regularity that must be unique in country Victoria.
JJ began when a small bunch of players found the annual Girgarre Moosic Musters were not enough – they needed more sessions to keep them going month to month. A winning format was devised back then which is still followed – in fact, it’s been expanded due to demand. We meet on the 4th Saturday at the Girgarre Town Hall in Winter Road. The format goes something like this:
10.30am: A Celtic jam for all the lovers of Irish and Scottish music
11.30am: A jam for all the fans of Australian bush music
12.30pm: BYO lunch in the supper room
1.30pm: Jigarre Jammin’
Arrival, tune up and jam for about 35 minutes, with leaders introducing some new songs
Welcome and announcements
Workshops for beginners or join in another jam
Afternoon tea (country-style – it’s huge)
Walk-ups (only if you want to perform)
Final jam to take us to a 4pm close.
Styles played cover country, folk, blues, bluegrass, traditional Aussie bush numbers, Celtic, golden-oldies pop, gospel and contemporary. Instruments include guitar, ukes (lots), banjo, mandolin, bass, harmonica, and violin. If you don’t want/need a workshop, you can continue jamming or find a corner with your mates and practise a walk-up number. A number of musos have found kindred souls and formed bands of their own from this process.
Jamming our way It’s important to define “jamming” the way we do it – we make it really easy by putting both lyrics and chords up on a screen via data projector. That way everyone can join in, regardless of expertise or familiarity with the song.
Free instrument loans Want to experiment or try before you buy? Use our free instrument bank – guitars, mandos, ukes, even a banjo or two. Thanks to donations from Fender and other supporters, we have lots to offer.
The cost of all this is a mere $2 per person, and a plate, no membership or subscriptions involved.
And there’s more! Musical camp-overs twice a year, held around a Jigarre Jammin’ weekend! The first camp-over in 2012 was a total success. Tents and caravans on the reserve next to Girgarre Town Hall, music Friday to Sunday, happy hours, communal meals if you wanted and everyone getting to know each other better as we played on into the night. The May 2015 campover featured a concert with a lineup of bands that are connected to Jigarre Jammin’ in some way and was a great success.
Save the date! Soon planning will begin for the 10th anniversary of the Girgarre Moosic Muster in early January 2016 – check out our website We’ve emphasised playing music in this article but the Muster contains heaps of workshops and opportunities for non-playing singers.
Some secrets of our success: Our organising team, led by real community-action dynamos, Jan Smith of Girgarre and Di Burgmann of Shepparton, have long histories of involvement with our communities and helping to bring opportunities to people. We are devoted to acoustic music and devoted especially to encouraging beginners. We often see that musos find themselves the only one of “their kind” in a small community and we aim to counter this isolation by bringing them into our music fold.
Contact Irene Labbett: email@example.com to receive the monthly email newsletter, or for more information about Jigarre Jammin.’
By Jessica Nabb Those of you who came along to the recent Treetops Festival may have had the opportunity to meet my little ‘community music baby’ Indivara. We call him a community music baby because he’s been born into a lovely community of honorary aunties, uncles and grandparents in our local singing community here in the hills. He also participated in loads of community singing in-utero including weekly Sweet Sassafras rehearsals, the Millennium Chorus, the CMVic Singers Weekend in Mt Evelyn, Circle Singing and Vocal Jams in the Hills, and local flash-mobbing project ‘The Voice Mob’.
Throughout all of this time, one song that followed him through the entire pregnancy was ‘All Will Be Well’ a song arranged by Juliet Prager, from CMVic’s song book ‘Vic Sings’ which I learned through the Voice Mob project. I sang this song to Indi all of the time throughout the pregnancy and regularly had the opportunity to sing it in circle with other singers, even recording a version of the song to be played throughout the birth so that Indi could enter the world surrounded by familiar music and familiar voices.
In the end, Indi had to be delivered by cesarean which meant that we had to be separated for a short while after his birth. Luckily his ‘Nina’ (our word for ‘nanna’) was there to take him to the recovery room for me with strict instructions to sing to him until we could be reunited. She sang ‘All Will Be Well’.
Apparently as soon as she started singing to him he stopped crying and just stared at her. The whole room fell silent and mum got some lovely feedback later from the other patients who had benefited from hearing such a calming song during their own recovery.
Now, whenever Indi is upset we sing ‘All Will Be Well’ to him and he calms down. And those of you who were at Barb McFarlane’s Peace Songs workshop at Treetops will now understand why I got all choked up when we sang that song! Jessica Nabb is a singer and vocal leader based in the Dandenong Ranges. She is a big believer that everyone can sing and should be given the opportunity to participate in singing and music making on a regular basis. She leads local groups Sweet Sassafras and Soul Mamas, runs her own teaching business Singing With Heart, and regularly participates in group singing herself. You can find her online here! For info about this year’s CMVic SInging Camp, head here. ‘Vic Sings’ is available on the CMVic website
By Jennifer Mishra: Associate Professor, Music Education at University of Missouri-St. Louis
Music education in the western world often emphasizes musical literacy, the ability to read musical notation fluently. But this is not always an easy task – even for professional musicians. Which raises the question: Is there such a thing as musical dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning disability that occurs when the brain is unable to process written words, even when the person has had proper training in reading. Researchers debate the underlying causes and treatments, but the predominant theory is that people with dyslexia have a problem with phonological processing – the ability to see a symbol (a letter or a phoneme) and relate it to speech sounds. Dyslexia is difficult to diagnose, but it is thought to occur in up to 10% of the population.
In 2000, Neil Gordon, a retired pediatric neurologist, proposed the idea of musical dyslexia (dysmusia) based on growing evidence that the areas of the brain involved in reading music and text differed.
The idea that dyslexia could affect the reading of non-language symbols is not new. For instance, dyscalculia is the difficulty reading and understanding mathematical symbols. Recent research supports dyslexia and dyscalculia as separate conditions with unique causes (dyscalculia is thought to be caused by a deficit in spatial processing in the parietal lobe). If the brain processes words and mathematical symbols differently, why not musical symbols too?
Music’s written system
Western music, like language, has a highly evolved coding system. This allows it to be written down and transmitted from composer to performer. But music, unlike language, uses a spatial arrangement for pitch. The page is divided into staffs of five lines each. Basically, the higher a symbol is placed on the staff, the higher the pitch.
Unlike letters in text, pitches can be stacked, indicating simultaneous performance (chords). Music also uses a system of symbols to indicate how pitches should be played. Symbols can indicate duration (rhythm), volume (dynamics) and other performance cues. Music also utilizes written words to indicate both the expressive features of the music and the lyrics in vocal music. Lyrics may be in languages not spoken by the performer.
Due to differences in the physical features of the written systems, it makes sense that the brain would read music and text differently. This appears to be the case – at least to some extent.
Text and music reading in the brain
In the brain, reading music is a widespread, multi-modal activity, meaning that many different areas of the brain are involved at the same time. It includes motor, visual, auditory, audiovisual, somatosensory, parietal and frontal areas in both hemispheres and the cerebellum – making music reading truly a whole brain activity. With training, the neural network strengthens. Even reading a single pitch activates this widespread network in musicians. While text and music reading share some networks, they are largely independent. The pattern of activation for reading musical symbols and letters is different across the brain.
Brain damage, especially if it is widespread, as was the case with the composer Maurice Ravel, (perhaps best known for Boléro, will likely impair both text and music reading abilities. Ravel had a form of frontotemporal lobe dementia.
However, there have been cases where a more limited brain injury impaired reading of one coding system and spared the other.
Ian McDonald, a neurologist and amateur pianist, documented the loss and recovery of his own ability to read music after a stroke, though his ability to read text was unaffected. Oliver Sacks described the case of a professional pianist who, through a degenerative brain disease, (Posterior Cortical Atrophy), first lost her ability to read music while retaining her text reading for many years. In another case, showing the opposite pattern, a musician lost his ability to read text, but retained his ability to read music.
Cases where music and language seem to be differently affected by brain damage have fascinated researchers for centuries. The earliest reported case of someone who was unable to speak, but retained his ability to sing, was in the 1745 article, On a Mute who Can Sing.
More recently, the Russian composer, Vissarion Shebalin, lost his language abilities after a severe stroke, but retained his ability to compose. Maintaining the ability to sing in the absence of language has led to the creation of a therapeutic treatment called “Melodic Intonation Therapy” that essentially replaces speech with song. This allows the patient to communicate verbally. These cases and many others demonstrate that music and language are to some extent separate neurological processes.
Differences in reading ability can occur even within musical notation. Cases have been reported where musicians have lost their ability to read pitch, but retained their ability to read rhythm, and vice versa. fMRI studies have confirmed that the brain processes pitch (spatial information) and rhythm (symbol recognition) differently.
The research starts to imply how a specifically musical dyslexia could occur. This deficit may be centered on pitch or musical symbols or both. No conclusive case of musical dyslexia has yet been reported (though Hébert and colleagues have come close) and efforts to determine the effects of dyslexia on reading musical notation have been inconclusive.
Children in western cultures are taught to read text, but not always taught to read music. Even when they are, inabilities to read music are not generally treated as a serious concern. Many gifted musicians are able to function at a professional level purely learning music by ear. Among musicians, there is a wide range of music reading proficiencies. This is especially apparent with sight reading (the first performance of a notated piece). Identifying musical dyslexia could help explain why some musicians read well and others don’t.
Polly has shared this video on our CMVic facebook page and we thought it was a fantastic example of how powerful music can be in connecting with others. Runs for 6 minutes and offers a great insight into the many benefits of community music from both a leader’s and participant’s perspectives.
Here’s a little of what’s covered.
Deciding to become a leader
Where to start a group
Going from being the conductor, facilitator, coordinator to introducing section leaders
Here’s what the choir participants had to say
I got my mojo back
When I come here I know that I’ll feel so much better
A TedTalk: When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
Most people can learn to match pitches if helped constructively. Some may need more assistance and experimentation than others. I don’t accept that there is a condition in some people of ‘tone deafness’, although where there is a physical injury to voice or hearing apparatus, it may not be possible to match pitches.
Singing in a large group may help, but can also mask the problem or limit the singer to particular tunes or a particular group.
I have discovered or learnt various things that will help the teacher who is helping a singer to match pitches (sometimes referred to as ‘singing in tune’). I would welcome feedback on these:
Work with student/singer alone. Avoid group situations where family or peers act as an audience
Work with a recording device if the student feels comfortable with this. They often discover extra ideas from listening to it later.
Many will know this one. Experiment with slides, hoots, yells, growls, etc. Play with the sounds. There is no right or wrong in this exercise. Avoid the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – use ‘comfortable’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘matching’ as appropriate.
At first, the teacher can try matching pitches with the student rather than the other way around. If you don’t have the same registers (e.g. other sex) use an instrument to match the student’s pitches (piano is best even if you don’t play). This shows the student how ‘matching pitches’ feels. Later, get the student to match pitches with the teacher.
•Once the student has started to match pitches with the teacher, find out which notes or area of notes (low, middle, high) they feel most comfortable with. Most recently I have worked with female students whose range focuses between middle C and F below it. (Later, in two cases, we have explored up to an octave in range).
See if the student can distinguish between low and high areas of her/his own voice. There are tests but you can just ask the student to make what they hear as high or low notes in their own voice. (Men are usually weaker on this point).
Extend the range gradually, using three or five note runs. It will also help if you can find songs in the student style of preference, first songs in their comfortable pitch area and later others.
If the student is almost matching pitches but not quite, encourage them to slide their voices around in a small way until they match. Whatever method that helps is OK.
Get the student to make positive affirmations about their voice (e.g.‘I am now discovering new areas of my voice’). The student rather than the teacher needs to do this, though the teacher may guide.
Often people who sing off key are quick to pick up on technique. I have developed an abridged and adapted version of (classical) technique, which works well for beginning singers in all styles, especially relaxing the throat. Student’s confidence can increase quite a bit on this point, even if they are struggling to match specific pitches.
Pete Gavin wandered into the CMVic office (Melbourne, Australia) one Monday morning, with a few hours to spare and has been a valued member of the volunteer team since. Pete is a Ukemeister Extraordinaire from Bendigo where he leads Bendigo Uke Muster and The Uke Joint Jumpers who set a record in November 2013 for the ‘the most ukuleles playing on a poppet head’. His earliest memory of community music making began at home, as it does for so many of us even if we’re not aware of this until we reflect back, “dancing around the lounge room” with his four older sisters and his younger brother.
Pete found his way into music making whilst he was still at school “One of my mates played guitar. That seemed cool, so I booked in to have some lessons and it stuck. It suited me.” While plenty of people take up the guitar at school, many will cast it aside as other things supersede that moment of interest and all too soon, the guitar is left to gather dust and sit forlornly in a corner. This obviously wasn’t so in Pete’s case, so how did he come to be so passionate about community music making and what is it about leading a group, which resonates so strongly with him?
“I’ve long wanted to share the amazing benefits of being able to lose your troubles in the trance of making music.
Being approached to guide the Bendigo uke group was a perfect fit. I never tire of seeing people discover that they too can make music.Ukulele: Great as a painkiller and an antidepressant. Only known side effects – joyous laughter and a sense of belonging.” Pete also speaks of seeing the light come on in people’s eyes as they grow in understanding and confidence.
We all look forward to catching up with Pete at CMVic on a Monday morning and this short interview came about as material for the CMVic blog, when we decided to ask him some random questions about himself which he was good enough to answer.
Whilst we knew that Pete is partial to good coffee, we’re now seeing him in a whole new light as his penchant for soup…. and chocolate has been revealed. (Stand by Cadbury’s!) But he’s far more likely to be found putting energy into promoting and sustaining his uke groups than cans of chocolate soup because he’s devised an effective method of facilitation and is clearly able to convey the magic of this simple instrument: “You need a number of them in order to sound good. The bigger the number, the more joyous the sound. Therefore you need friends and if you don’t have any you need to find some.”
As with so many interviews, we threw in a couple of daft toe-curling questions in an effort to be random and you know, a bit edgy, but they didn’t perturb Pete at all and he rose to the challenge admirably. Eg: if you could choose one super power, which one would it be? He kept everything in context beautifully. His answer? “Perfect pitch or the ability to spell rythmn rythym …..you know what I mean…”
Pete’s answer to our final question provided further testimony to how community music making increases fulfillment. We asked him if he could make music with one person or band from any point in time, who would it/they be? To which he replied:
“Too hard….actually, you know what? I reckon I already do get a chance to play with the people I’d like to play with. Chief amongst the list, Pretty Miss Kitty and the rest of the Tequila Mockingbirds, James, Geoff, Steve, Del, Matisse and Mick the Filthy Gringo. Not to mention all the part time Mockers, too numerous to mention. The page isn’t long enough and besides, who knows when, where and with whom you’ll have the next amazing musical connection. The best moments are unexpected.”
We couldn’t have said it better.
Massive thanks to Pete Gavin for stepping up to the mark.
See here for more information about the Uke Joint Jumpers and Bendigo Uke Muster
One of the challenges faced by singing leaders is finding ways to source new material to keep things fresh and exciting not only for their groups, but for themselves. (Even Matt Preston must occasionally wonder what on earth to cook for dinner.) To overcome this, CMVic holds regular song swaps throughout the year offering singing leaders an opportunity
to come together and share favourite songs,
discuss any problems they may be facing, and
to try out new material in a safe supportive and friendly environment.
We can have our very own Song Swap right here! We’ve got some interesting things to share over here: Free Resources – send a song, and we’ll post here and share it with our fabulous community.
As well as extending repertoire, song swaps provide valuable time to check in and recharge with like-minded people and form the basis for new connections. In short, song swaps are soul food for anyone who loves a good sing. Visit our website for more information www.cmvic.org.au
For ages, we eschewed social media at CMVic. We were almost afraid it would alienate us from each other; that we would sit at home screen gazing in increased isolation and forsake hooking up to make music. Because we prefer not to rush, but to relish things slowly in life (read funding shortfall, folks) the reality dawned on us only gradually that there was a whole online community thing happening under our very noses that wasn’t going away any time soon, which we’d be bonkers to let pass us by and that contrary to our initial perception, heaps of goodness, connectivity, and learning was coming from it.
Having accepted that this phenomenon had potential to be a great tool and not the cruel master we’d once feared, CMVic moved to embrace social media. Actually, ‘embrace’ might be slightly emphatic, it was more of a luke warm hug to begin with (even my grandparents beat CMVic to starting a Facebook page) but then another amazing realisation occurred: In terms of developing networks, communicating and resource sharing, the social media landscape in some ways, is an online echo of the very essence that drives us.
Hang on to your hats, world! Having gained momentum we quickly found our feet, collecting account names and logins all over the place to YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter among others and now, finally, we are blogging. We’ve propelled ourselves into the blogosphere, such a great word and synonymous – to me anyway – with the sound and feel of walking in wellies through mud.
Working as we do to promote and facilitate connections through music making, we have dreams that our blog will enable us to extend the CMVic network beyond Victoria, beyond Australia to a worldwide community of music makers, leaders and activists, and help us to promote the uniqueness of what we do here in our home state, as leaders, pioneers and supporters in the field of community music.
To connect with an audience of bloggers and followers who are like-minded people, to read and share their articles and to hear of their projects, philosophies and dreams for sustaining and growing the future of music making, whether they’re from just around the corner or somewhere around the globe is a magical and empowering thing. The CMVic blog is our glass against the wall to listen in to what’s going on out there, and it’s our tin can on a piece of string for telling everyone all of the great things that we do and what we’re all about.