Music and the Brain

| March 28, 2011

I am currently reading an extremely interesting book, Daniel Levitin’s “This is Your Brain on Music.” As someone who was a Psychology minor and is pursuing a career in Music Education, I was interested in how this book would relate the two topics.

Throughout the book, Levitin explores different musical elements such as timbre, rhythm, pitch, dynamics, etc. He looks at how the brain processes these things and why we experience music the way we do. The brain is plays a huge part in both listening to music and performing it. Listening to music brings up memories and emotions that may have been long forgotten. We are able to hear a few pitches and know which song is playing, or hear a song and think of a film that we heard it in. When performing, the brain gives us the ability to process the notes and rhythms that we are playing and remember fingerings.

Levitin addresses the issue of right brained vs left brained. We often hear that creativity is located in the right hemisphere while logical subjects, such as math, science and language is on the left. I found it interesting that research shows that musical processing occurs in both the left and right hemispheres. Beginning music students are more likely to show right brain activity, while more advanced musicians show activity in the left hemisphere.

I would highly recommend this book to other Music Educators. It can be helpful in the classroom, having greater insight in how our students are processing not only what they are learning in class, but how they are experiencing music in their leisure. It can also give greater insight into how performances are affecting our audiences. The way we, as musicians, interpret how a piece should be performed directly affects how our audience members experience it. The way we teach music to our students is processed differently by each of them due to everyone’s unique life experiences.