The musical effect

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

ACCORDING to Dr. Moises Gaviria, Professor of Neuropsychiatry, University of Chicago, and president of the International Neuropsychiatry Association (INA), neurological study of the brains of musicians shows a significant elasticity in structure with components such as corpus collosum, motor cortex and cerebellum and some other parts varying considerably from the normal brain.

Says Dr.Gaviria: "It is interesting to understand why music is emotive and evokes such a strong passion, arousing neuropsychological changes." To study this, he says, it is imperative to integrate many overlapping areas such as neurology, neuropsychiatry, neuropsychology and pathology.

The brains of musicians are ideal for studying the plasticity of the nervous system (neuroplasticity) as musical training usually occurs when the brain and its components are still beginning to adapt. It is also a perfect model to analyse neuroplasticity in the auditory and motor domains.

Studies show that because of cerebral adaptations owing to musical training from childhood, musicians' brains are moulded with a different set of neural circuits, primary cortex, secondary cortex and auditory nerves. The macro-structural changes in the brain of a musician are being studied further for a greater understanding of the brain's working. For instance, by studying a musician's brain one can investigate the cerebral correlates of unique musical abilities and the cerebral adaptations to the requirements of skilled performance. The brain is found to be plastic, and it expands when the learning of music is started at an early age. Changes occur in the structure of the brain. These include a significant increase in the size of the anterior corpus collosum, increased cerebellar volume and macro-structural changes in the primary cortex.

There are several evolutionary theories that throw light on how the brain intercepts music through its special purpose cortical areas and does analogue processing of audio signals. As in the case of mate selection, group efforts and trans-generational communication, music contributes to the brain's capacity to integrate complex perception and behavioural tasks. Music is found to be therapeutic and used sometimes in treating learning disabilities, as also in diseases such as dementia.

Although the left cerebellum and the right cortex together specialise in interpreting the nuances of music and language, the various elements of music such as pitch, timbre, duration, loudness and rhythm are interpreted in the brain through its many components.

THE evolution of the modern human mind owes much to the brain's interaction with music, creating a dynamic biological and social dimension to human development. Although music is one of the sources of the neuroplasticity of the brain, the case of Maurice Ravel (a popular French composer who died of complex neural disorder), who despite suffering from aphasia (disturbance of language) and apraxia (inability to perform motor tasks) was able to visualise music is yet to be understood.

Although it is now known that music has a neuro-therapeutic effect and induces endocrinological, immunological and neurophysical changes with cross-modal plasticity, according to Dr. Gaviria, current studies on the effect of music on the brain are expected to throw more light on the working of the brain and its various functions.

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