Music and attention

Music develops our attention and concentration in many different ways.

Today I’d love to speak about the ability to pay attention to auditory stimuli that musicians’ brain develops and why this is so important.

Our daily life subjects our brains to a huge amount of sound stimuli simultaneously. Our brain performs very complex operations to discriminate the sounds it wants to pay attention to, using cognitive functions related to the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe.

The ability to discriminate sound stimuli allows us, for example, to be able to direct our attention towards the sound of our friend’s voice in a noisy room.

Musicians can discriminate between different auditory stimuli better than non-musicians.

The Kraus lab at Northwestern* performed an EEG study and found that musicians had better auditory attention scores than non-musician counterparts when listening to various sources of speech. The main difference was presented in the musicians’ prefrontal cortex. The latter is often associated with attention and control, as well as personality and values.

The most fascinating part of this study was that the magnitude of the effect correlated to how long the musicians had played music.

People with more years of musical training had a prefrontal cortex that “paid better attention” than people who had fewer years of musical training. It seemed that people who had spent more time training their brains via musical study had prefrontal cortexes that were better at locking their attention.

Playing music alters the prefrontal cortexes and therefore influences the capabilities to pay attention to other activities in life. Being able to attend to different auditory stimuli can be helpful for a multitude of people; students might better be able to focus in school, sports players might hear each other over the sounds of the stadium and ground crew at airports might hear orders more accurately over the sound of airplane engines.

So, it seems like the time to recognise the importance of music in our daily life has finally come.


*Strait DL, & Kraus N (2011). Can you hear me now? Musical training shapes functional brain networks for selective auditory attention and hearing speech in noise. Frontiers in psychology, 2 PMID: 21716636

Musicians’ understanding of non-verbal communication

“One of the most interesting characteristics of musicians is their need to precisely anticipate not only what is going to happen, but when.

As the reader anticipates the words whilst reading, so the musician anticipates another musician to play together.

Think for example of a string quartet. When the first violin “gives the signal” to begin, the delays of the rest of the group are all inferior to 10 milliseconds. Moreover, during the performance, their synchronisation improves.

This ability of anticipation and coordination is absolutely extraordinary, even more, if we consider that it’s not just about playing a note together, but also playing it appropriately, with the right expression which is also dependent on the changing context.”*

How does this happen?

Our auditory system is able to synchronise with the temporal structure of the music stimulus, due to its rhythm and regularity.

Not only this but also other areas of our brain synchronise with the music, especially our motor system.

A musician, to be able to play together, literally learn how to “read” other musicians during a performance, recognising their littlest movements, their way of breathing and feeling the sounds of music.

“It is important to remember that, despite the age, the practice of music seems to facilitate:

1. the creation of a coherent relationship between the external world and brain activity

2. the communication between the different brain regions.

The consequence of the first aspect is to allow a more precise interpretation of the outside world, in particular, the world of sound.

The consequence of the second aspect is more far-reaching, considering that cognition, in general, seems to depend on the good communication skills of different brain regions, like a good government requires parliamentarians to communicate well with each other.

Beyond our current knowledge, a corollary of these two aspects could be that the practice of music facilitates a common vision of the world around us, through a better synchronization of the brain activities of different individuals, and a better sharing of reality.”*

*D. Schön, “Il cervello musicale. Il mistero svelato di Orfeo”, Il Mulino 2018

Hatty’s song – Poppy on the wall

After her group lesson based on the Gordon’s Music Learning Theory, when everyone was getting ready to go home, Hatty (3yo) was strumming the ukulele and composing this song by herself.
She then came over to me and asked me to accompany her on the uke. 
Her mum and me had so much fun listening to her little concert that we decided to take a video and share it because we loved all the improvisations that Hatty was doing throughout the song! 
She’s changing the rhythms and the words, always checking the uke part, keep listening to the music. I also love her way of moving.

Thanks to her mum Morgan for allowing me to use the video! 
Well done Hatty!

Tiziana

My three words for music therapy

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Flexibility is a good word to describe music therapy.
Improvisation is another good word.
Unpredictability another one.

Today I run a session with H., my 3 years old autistic patient. 
Today he needed the mum inside the room. 

This was not in my plans but I knew it could happen due to his young age. So she joined the session, coming into the room followed by her second little boy, younger than H., that was playing in the waiting room with her.

H., mum and brother, all of us making music together.

I had to change all my plans for this session. We discovered new musical games that H. seemed to like and we followed his needs.

It wasn’t the easiest session ever but we were there for him, all of us, and he gave us some big smiles and eye contacts. The mum is a pretty special mum and the baby brother as well. This helped me a lot.

The music therapy setting needs to be a safe place for the patients, especially in cases like this one, with really young children.
So it doesn’t matter if this kind of session goes out of the schemes, if I haven’t read about it in my books.
I felt that including the rest of the family was the right things to do, today.
I’m sure that little by little he will be able to stay alone with me again, as he did before.

I learnt something new today and I will keep remembering those three words in my future practice:

Flexibility – Improvisation – Unpredictability

FIRST STEPS IN MUSIC

Are you attending a music class with your little one?

Here you can find a description of the ACCULTURATION, the first stage of the musical learning (usually between the age of 0 to 3 years) according to the Music Learning Theory – MLT – of Edwin E. Gordon.

Our courses for babies are based on the MLT with the aim of helping the development of the natural musical potential of the children.

We hope that the following description can help you understand the natural responses of your baby to the music!

ACCULTURATION. 0-3