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Tradition, and among early hominids, it is possible that

Tradition, habit, and culture unite people around the globe. In the world of music we have today, forces seem to be working toward a globalization of musical tastes. At the same time, if we look across cultures, and even looking within any one, there still exists a great diversity of forms, styles, and traditions of music. In western culture, women walk down the aisle to Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus”, and birthdays are ruled by Patty and Mildred Hill’s “Happy Birthday” (both traditions dating back hundreds of years). Similarly, Jewish bat mitzvahs are characterized by the Israeli folk song “”Hava Nagila”. Music has stayed so notably with humans not only because of the substantial importance to traditions and culture, but  also because of the positive effects on both the listener- and the musician playing.Throughout time, wherever humans have gone- music has followed. In almost every recorded culture in history, homeosapiens and music walk hand in hand. That is, no known human culture now, or anytime in the past, lacked music (This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession). Some historians even believe that music predates speech. In addition, some of the oldest discovered physical human artifacts were instruments (scientists say that a bone flute found in hillside caves of southwestern Germany dates back 42,000 years (Wilford, John Noble) ). Because music has been so prevalent throughout human history, it poses questions as to why it has been as such. The answer to this prose is still unclear, and most likely will stay this way. However, through the lens of the culture and humanity, music has become almost as human as emotions themselves. It is pointless to attempt to know when exactly music was introduced into human life. Although, there are many theories on how music began to take form in humans. If music evolved to facilitate a sense of belonging in and among early hominids, it is possible that a very specific human relationship—that of mothers and infants—was involved, says University of Toronto psychologist Sandra Trehub (Balter, Michael). She suggests that music was crucial to both bonding with and soothing babies, as well as allowing mothers to tend to other tasks that increased chance of survival, such as gathering for food or scouting for prey. Trehub is referring to Dean Falk’s “Putting-down-the-baby” hypothesis, which theorizes that the prehistoric “baby talk” of mothers to their children began the practice of speech, and later led to the soothing babbles of the first music. (Falk, Dean). There are other theories as to how music evolved, as well. Robert Garfias believes that early hunters, while making great noise to chase prey into a trap, may have later recreated these sounds as a retelling of the story. “Humming and even moaning to oneself as a form of self soothing or soothing of someone else” is believed by Garfias to be a kind of proto music (Garfias, Robert page 14) . This type of soothing “pre-music” sound is parallel to many types of music today that stand as emotional pacifiers, such as the blues and funeral songs. This seems to be a trend found in most music; the melodies that humans have created for themselves somehow can speak to the emotions of an entire species. Carrying through Garfias and Falk’s theories on the origins of music, the modern purposes of music mirror the purposes of its origin: music is used to unite (like the bonding of mother and child), to tell stories (like a hunter recapping his catch), and soothe (like humming to oneself). Some of the most universal music today is popular because of the meaning it holds to its listeners. Music is used to unite humans and bring us together. This can be seen through examples such as National Anthems, war songs, and work songs. Relatively, music is often used as the “language” for entire movements or generations. During the War of 1812, Francis Scott composed “The Star Spangled Banner” as a patriotic hymn meant to fortify and lift spirits during the trying battles. Similarly, the American Civil War also brought forth patriotic songs from both the north and the south. Among the most famous of the patriotic songs to come out of this era was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie,”both songs used presently to unite groups of people and create a feeling of American Nationalism (Carr-Wilcoxson, Amanda, page 4). African American spirituals, gaining most popularity in the late 1800’s (before slavery was abolished), gave a voice to an entire population. are typically sung in a call and response form, with a leader improvising a line of text and a chorus of singers providing a solid refrain in unison. Many spirituals, known as “sorrow songs,” are intense, slow and melancholic. Songs like “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” and “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” describe the slaves’ struggles and allowed the slaves to identify with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Other spirituals were more joyful. Known as “jubilees,” or “camp meeting songs,” they are fast and rhythmic. Examples include: “Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham” and “Fare Ye Well” (“African American Spirituals.” The Library of Congress). Just like the songs of American war and of African Spirituals, work songs fervently unite, soothe, and tell the story of its listeners and creators.  A work song is “a piece of music closely connected to a form of work, either sung while conducting a task or a song linked to a task which might be a connected narrative, description, or protest song” (Merriem-Webster). An example of such is the song “The Miner’s Doom,” which was recorded by Dan Walsh and written by George Korson in Pennsylvania, 1947 (“Traditional Work Songs – The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America.”) . To understand how music has become so vital for the cultures of most humans, it is critical to first understand the inner workings of sound, hearing, and how the human brain processes these things. Music means many different things to many different people, but is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “…tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity”. So, what is music- in the literal sense? Music is made up of sequences of tones, tones that are created by regular vibrations. Vibrations are small disturbances of the particles in a given body, such as water or a string. Regular vibrations have a defined period, which is the amount of time it takes to complete a cycle; we can hear and categorize these vibrations as having a pitch. Meanwhile, irregular vibrations do not have the same evenness, and are characterized by sounds such as a wave crashing or the crash of a symbol. (“Vibrations Surround Us: The Science of Music.” Dartmouth Online)   These vibrations move through the air and into the outer ear, then continuing into the auditory canal (a tube running from the outside of the ear into the middle ear), where the moving molecules of sound vibrate the eardrum. The vibrations move through fluid in the cochlea of the inner ear, stimulating thousands of hair cells. This passage of sound waves results in the transformation of these vibrations into electrical impulses, which are then sent to the brain. (“The Ear – Function & Parts of the Human Ear. How Does the Ear Work?”) The simplest summation of the structure of the human brain is that the brain is made up of three main divisions: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain. The forebrain consists of the cerebrum, thalamus, and hypothalamus. The midbrain consists of the tectum and tegmentum. The hindbrain is made of the cerebellum, pons and medulla. In most cases, the midbrain, pons, and medulla are grouped togther and labeled “the brainstem” (“Brain Structures and Their Functions.” Serendip Studio) Although music has been discovered to also promote brain activity in areas other than the auditory cortex, it still stands that the main target for sounds is in the auditory cortex, which is located in the temporal lobe of the brain. (Schäfer, Thomas) In fact, researchers have discovered neural mechanisms that are entirely specific to the perception of music. Josh McDermott, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, was quoted saying: “One of the core debates surrounding music is to what extent it has dedicated mechanisms in the brain and to what extent it piggybacks off of mechanisms that primarily serve other functions” (“Music in the Brain.”) . However, with a new discovery, scientists have found a mass of neurons that react specifically to the sounds coinciding with what humans perceive as music. This finding was enabled by a new method designed to identify neural populations from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data. Using this method, the researchers identified six newly discovered neural populations with different functions, including the music-selective and another pathway of neurons that responds selectively to speech. However, Nancy Kanwisher, the Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT noted that “the existence of music-selective responses in the brain does not imply that the responses reflect an innate brain system. An important question for the future will be how this system arises in development: How early it is found in infancy or childhood, and how dependent it is on experience?” Kanwisher concludes, after the discoveries of specific neuron pathways for music, that these populations are not in the brain when humans are born. Instead, through the experiences of human life and hearing music, the human brain programs itself in a brand new way. Humankind’s obsession with music has literally changed the way we process the very same information.In one study, conducted by Daniel Levitin, a prominent psychologist who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal, studied patients who were about to undergo surgery, and exhibited anxiety due to this. Participants were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety drugs. Scientists tracked patient’s ratings of their own anxiety, as well as the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The results were conclusive; the patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower cortisol levels than the people who took anti-anxiety drugs. However, this is only one study, and more research needs to be done to confirm the results. This caution does not dismiss the facts of the experiment, but points toward a powerful medicinal use for music. Levitin and colleagues also put forth evidence that music is associated with immunoglobulin A, an antibody linked to immunity, as well as higher counts of cells that fight germs and bacteria (Landau, Elizabeth). From this study, and others like it, humans know that music does indeed positively affect them. Listening to music (especially music that identifies with your culture or identity) soothes you, just as Dean Falk proposed with her “putting-down-the-baby” hypothesis. Music unites nations and populations around the globe, soothes those who listen to it, and benefits the human body and soul. This much is easy to know- if music did not make humans feel good, there would be no point to listen to it! Music performance requires mental concentration in terms of sensory and cognitive functions, and combining the skills of auditory perception, kinesthetic control, visual perception, pattern recognition, and memory. Because of music playing’s massive cognitive and kinetic demands and the connections required across different sensory systems (such as sight, hearing, and movement), musical training has provided a bountiful model for studying the “plastic” changes in the brain and behavior that occur through the short and long term training of music. Neural plasticity, consisting of changes in brain function or structure that affect behavior and/or cognition, lays the foundation for understanding development and learning. One of the most famous case studies of the brain’s plasticity was conducted by George M. Stratton in 1856. When a subject received and wore a series of eye lenses which rotated the perceived image of the world by 180 degrees, the brain adapted to these new data (after a few days). The human brain not only recognized the change, but adapted to it. Although while wearing the lens, the subject saw images inverted, after some time, the brain perceived the images received as “normal”, and right side up. And, when the subject removed the lens, the brain perceived the natural eye’s image as “upside-down”, and adjusted again after a few days. (Snyder, Douglas M, pages 2-4) Stratton’s research in the adaptability of the human brain led us to plasticity, and taught us how perception and experiences can alter the brain function, and even it’s makeup.The brain’s plasticity has some impact on the difference between musicians and non-musicians. The consistent regimen that musicians undertake to master an instrument relies on the brain’s ability to learn— therefore it is enabled by neural plasticity. Musical performance, whether performance on a physical instrument or even the human voice itself, involves disciplined muscle control. This deliberate muscle control uses body movement to produce carefully crafted sounds. Furthermore, the playing of music not only engages cognitive centers of the brain, but others as well. The transcription of physical and visible music (written musical notes) into muscle movement (pressing of keys) is then converted into sound. Musicians translate the musical language into many other things. Unequivocally, scientists have concluded that musicians have different brains than non-players. The study of musician and non-musician brains is one of the many in the science of neuroplasticity. Through the study of musician’s (and musician’s study of music) we see regular, remarkable examples of how the human brain, at any age (although particularly in childhood), is able to reorganize itself in response to circumstances. For example, we know the human brain can adapt (and does) after stroke or serious injury, after the loss of any of the senses and even as a result of our career choices. As for the latter, psychologists conducted studies on the brains of London Taxi drivers that prove experiences do in fact change the structure of your brain. Dr. Eleanor Maguire and her team found that the drivers show “enlarged posterior hippocampus structures” ( a brain structure which corresponds to memory and navigation) which correlate with their job’s need for the mental recall of intricate London streets, which the drivers use to navigate http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/677048.stm . Their brains had enlarged in order to store; the cab drivers’ grey matter changed and adapted to allow the recall needed for their job. As a result of such evidence, it is unquestionable that human brains will adapt to the world and it’s experiences. Therefore, the adaptability of the human brain allows musicians’ brains to adapt as a result of their exposure to and engagement with music (Williamson, Victoria).Similar structural brain distinctions have been found in child musicians in the early stages of sharpening their musical skills. Because brains change structure due to the its experiences, it is not surprising that anatomical differences have been found between musicians’ and non musicians’ brains, specifically, the auditory and motor cortices and the neural pathways linking these two areas. Adult instrumental musicians, for example, have more gray matter in somatosensory, premotor, superior parietal, and inferior temporal areas of the cortex. These enlargements in cognitive and kinesthetic portions of the brain correlate with their levels of expertise (Gaser and Schlaug). To expound, the brains of professional musician have larger areas of the brain relating to sound reception and cognition than a beginner musician or an individual who plays no music at all. In his study, Gottfried Schlaug tracked 5–7 year old children as they progressed with their musical studies. In this experiment, Schaug used deformation-based morphometry (DBM), an unbiased and automated approach to brain morphology, to search throughout the whole brain for brain size or shape differences between the groups. Schlaug and his colleagues observed no preexisting cognitive, musical, motor, or structural brain differences between both the musically trained and control groups. However, children who studied music for only 12 months developed “enhanced activation of the bilateral temporal lobes and superior temporal gyri during rhythmic and melodic discrimination tasks” (Hyde, Krista L). After 15 months of piano lessons, children further showed training-related changes in the motor cortex and the corpus callosum compared to controls (Hyde, Krista L); the same areas of the brain were the enhanced areas of musicians. As quoted by Virgil Thomson, an american composer: “I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.” Thomson was very right in this statement.

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