Neuromusicology Research Paper

Many ancient cultures believed that music has a therapeutic effect on the mind and body. Investigations of this traditional concept with modern analytical tools have led to the development of the field of neuromusicology—the scientific study of the effects of music on the brain. Researchers have incorporated music therapy into attempts to treat behavioral problems and facilitate social learning. Because of the technological improvements in brain research methods, it has been possible via neuromusicology to gain a better understanding of musical cognition and how this information can provide a basis for biomedical and therapeutic applications of music. For example, studies indicate that music can stimulate complex cognitive, affective, and sensorimotor processes in the brain. It is hoped that insights from neuromusicology will prove valuable in attempts to treat deficits in motor function, behavior (including autism), cognition (including attention and memory), speech, and pain management. See also: Acoustics; Brain; Cognition; Musical acoustics; Musical instruments; Pain; Psychotherapy; Scale (music); Sound; Speech; Tone (music and acoustics)

The profound effect of musical sounds on the motor system has led to the use of music in physical rehabilitation. As neuromusicological investigations have demonstrated, rhythmic musical sounds can sometimes aid the recovery of movement in neurological patients afflicted with stroke, Parkinson's disease, or traumatic brain injury: The musical rhythms can entrain the brain mechanisms that control the timing, sequencing, and coordination of movement. In addition, possibly because the systems in the brain involved in music and speech share some neural circuitry, in some cases music appears to have enhanced recovery of speech functions. For example, singing and rhythm exercises have been used successfully as therapies for patients suffering from aphasia (impairment in the use or comprehension of language that is caused by lesions of the cerebral cortex), verbal apraxia (impairment in the planning of speech motor movements), and dysarthria (impairment of speech articulation caused by any disorder or lesion affecting the tongue or vocal muscles). Music has also been incorporated into various behavioral protocols to aid memory and attention. An everyday illustration of the integration of music and memory is children's singing the letters of the alphabet to facilitate learning. Patients afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders that involve general memory loss often retain at least some musical information (for example, the ability to sing old songs). Because the neuronal memory traces built through music seem to be deeply ingrained and highly resilient, music can be an excellent template for nonmusical learning despite neurodegenerative influences. See also: Alzheimer's disease; Aphasia; Apraxia; Linguistics; Memory; Mental disorders; Nervous system disorders; Neurobiology; Parkinson's disease; Speech disorders

It is important, too, to consider the strong emotional value of music. Both mood and emotion can affect memory, and the release of neurotransmitters associated with learning may be enhanced by musical cues, thereby strengthening the synaptic networks underlying memory. See also: Affective disorders; Emotion; Positive psychology: human happiness

Links to Primary Literature

  • D. Fancourt, A. Ockelford, and A. Belai, The psychoneuroimmunological effects of music: A systematic review and a new model, Brain Behav. Immunity, 36:15–26, 2014 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2013.10.014
  • S. Hegde, Music-based cognitive remediation therapy for patients with traumatic brain injury, Front. Neurol., 5:34, 2014 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2014.00034
  • C. J. Murrock and A. K. Bekhet, Concept analysis: Music therapy, Res. Theory Nurs. Pract., 30(1):44–59, 2016 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1891/1541-6577.30.1.44

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