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Neuroplasticity and Music

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Dr. Nina Kraus is a professor at Northwestern University School of Communication. She has been investigating speech-sound encoding, perception and brain plasticity in the neurobiological process. How does musicianship enhance our cognitive thought process? Dr. Kraus’s years of data and research has proven musical training heightens auditory receptors capable of detecting nuances in speech communication such as consonances and syllables. Understanding the rhythm of speech is imperative in being able to decipher not only the complex range of emotions involved with human communication but also to interpret it accurately and hold it to memory.

At first thought, I didn’t find this to be such a ground breaking discovery. To tell me that playing music will enhance your auditory and communication skills would be like saying that weight lifting will make you a better body builder. It is a lot more detailed than that. Her research with sound encoding through intracranial recordings has allowed her to pinpoint specific elements of speech that only a musically trained ear can detect. Her visual modalities have suggested data that proves music practice not only enhances cognitive thought in younger musicians but in older musicians actually makes their brains biologically younger. This is astonishing! In my opinion, this is the most intriguing treatment option I’ve heard in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Can you imagine going up to your parents or your grandparents and saying, I’m going to start a band and I want you to be in it. Alright dad you can play drums, mom you can play keyboards, I’ll play guitar and sing. We’ll call ourselves The Mama’s and the Papa’s to the Next Level. Although Dr. Kraus is still currently in the process of testing this theory on subjects who have foregone long gaps in music practice and training; I am sure (and this is only a hypothesis) that music study will only improve your memory, thinking and behavior at any age.

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Now as far as neuroplasticity and music, I do believe music is a form of communication and being that it is its natural some of the same elements are associated with it that you would find in learning and speech. In Dr. Kraus’s research, brain responses physically resemble sound waves and that’s how those elements are transcribed by our central nervous system. Her data proven that the manner in which a musician’s brain responded to sound was very similar to the sound wave itself. This is proof that music increases the brain’s neuroplasticity. The brain is adapting, when you play an instrument you interact with frequencies that stimulate neurotic reactions. Those spikes of information on Dr. Kraus’s charts represented a concentrate of data, like a pathway, a connection between us and the physical world.

I’ve always considered emotions to be directly linked to our central nervous system.  Music is a very emotional art. Visually, it can be seen through the artist’s body language as their performing. Traditionally, harmonic scales have suggested a wide range of emotions. C major would be considered a happy scale. A descending scale like a C minor would be considered a sad scale. So it’s easy to understand how musicians can interpret human communication as second nature. I always sensed this to be true, now there is actual scientific data that proves it. The more we research this data, the more we can grow to understand human deficiencies such as autism and illiteracy. It is extremely important to follow up with this data; you can read more about it at www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu

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