Music does more than please us

By Jeff Linville -
Jeff Linville News Editor -

People who know me — or have read my numerous columns on the subject over the past three years — know that I love music.

I love to listen to it. I love to sing along in my house/shower/car. I love to play on a guitar.

When people ask me what type of music I like, I usually answer that my likes are pretty diverse. I don’t care for country or bluegrass singers that wail through their noses, but I pretty much like anything with a guitar in it.

And now there’s scientific evidence that shows why I would feel this way.

On Wednesday, Science Daily published a story about a music study done at University College London.

The study focused on analyzing areas of the brain while people listened to music. While inside an MRI scanner, the 60 participants were subjected to two different categories of music — pieces specifically prepared for the study so that they wouldn’t sound familiar to anyone.

The 60 people were broken down evenly with 20 folks who didn’t play any musical instrument, 20 professional guitarists and 20 “professional beatboxers.” The group of musicians had an average of between eight and nine years of professional experience.

(My first thought was, “There are professional beatboxers? Really? That’s a thing?”)

Half of the music selections featured guitar music, the other half beatbox rhythms produced exclusively for the study by Reeps One, the stage name for Harry Yeff, who helped author the paper.

Not surprisingly, listening to music caused hot spots in the brain. Music has even been known to show reactions in emotional centers of the brain, proving that songs can create an emotional reaction in people.

What the researchers also found in this case was that those with experience in a certain field showed additional glowing in the scans.

The team found that the musicians (but not the non-musicians) showed brain activity in more areas, such as the area involved in language tasks with audio-visual links, like reading letters and converting them into words and sentences or seeing images and coming up with the names for what is seen.

“We’ve identified a perceptual network which is engaged when you hear an instrument you play, and which shows how acquiring this expertise has shaped your brain responses,” said professor Sophie Scott.

“There’s already a lot of evidence that music education is good for you; here’s an example of what it does to the brain.”

Reeps One said that beatboxing in 2018 is a lot more technical and challenging than in the past, and this study demonstrates how the skill reveals “the many lessons the human voice has on our minds interface with our bodies.”

After reading the article, it all makes sense now. The reasons I like to listen to music with guitars in it is because it stimulates more areas of my brain. Other genres of music literally don’t stimulate me.

It makes sense. People who participate in high school band will favor classical music more than the average citizen. Kids who grow up singing in church choirs will be more stimulated by vocal arrangements than instrumentals.

An interesting addendum is that the research team found that the musicians had hot spots in the area of sensorimotor skills.

Even though the folks were instructed to lie still in the machines, the guitarists showed synapses firing in the area that control hand movements, and the beatboxers had the same activity in an area that would control mouth movement. It is as if hearing the music triggered the brain to respond with the body as if they were participating, the researchers concluded.

It’s like when I went to see Rocky IV with my cousin Richard when we were kids. The big Russian would throw a punch, and we would dodge out of the way, even though we knew it was just a movie. The brain was reacting to stimuli and causing the body to follow.

Suddenly it seems logical why people who love to dance can hear a song and start squirming in their chairs. Their bodies are following their brains’ reactions.

We humans like to think that we are so smart and cultured and far distanced from all the animals on this planet. But from time to time we are reminded that we aren’t all that far removed from Pavlov’s dog, drooling every time we hear the dinner bell.

The Science Daily article can be found at

Jeff Linville News Editor Linville News Editor

By Jeff Linville

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.

Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.