Music does something to humans like no other animal. The rhythm gets inside our bodies and we can’t help but move along with the bass, or sing our heart out to that catchy chorus. Scientists from the University of Tokyo wanted to uncover exactly what is going on in our brain to cause this phenomenon.
The Suzuki method
The team was led by Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, who studies language through the lens of neuroscience. Using the Suzuki method, a musical training technique based on the ideas of natural language acquisition, his team explored neurological aspects common to both language and music.
“In the field of neuroscience, it is well established that there are areas of the brain that deal specifically with language, and even specialized regions that correspond to different parts of language processing such as grammar or syntax,” stated Sakai. “We wondered if training under the Suzuki method might lead to activity in such areas, not when using language, but when engaging with music. Our study reveals this is indeed the case.”
How did they carry out the experiment?
The experiment enrolled 98 secondary school students, dividing them up on their musical capabilities and previous training under the Suzuki method. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 3D models of their brain activity were created while they were asked to listen to a piece of music. The candidates were then instructed to identify errors in the piece from: pitch, stress, articulation, and tempo.
The neurological link between language and music
The interesting results, published in Cerebral Cortex, showed the most musically experienced displayed more activity in their right hand side of the brain, an area associated with melody and emotion. Also, these students showed more brain activity overall than the less musically experienced. Although, a common pattern could be seen across all individuals.
“One striking observation was that regardless of musical experience, the highly specific grammar center in the left brain was activated during the articulation condition. This connection between music and language might explain why everyone can enjoy music even if they are not musical themselves,” said Sakai.
He continued: “Other researchers, perhaps those studying neurological traits of artistic experts, may be able to build on what we’ve found here. As for ourselves, we wish to delve deeper into the connection between music and language by designing novel experiments to tease out more elusive details.”
Source study: Cerebral Cortex – Music-Experience-Related and Musical-Error-Dependent Activations in the Brain