Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Are We Hardwired for Music?

Is a talent for music innate?

How do some people pick up an instrument and just play what they hear-- even without an ability to read music or knowledge of what notes are being played? How do some folks learn to read and play while other people are tone deaf.

Although I have an intellectually challenging job where I am continually learning new things, I find that while learning bass I am using a completely different part of my brain. Particularly during lessons I feel a tremendous brain work out - like the right and left sides are coming together. My teacher Buddy and I frequently discuss this issue - the interconnectivity of music, and the brain (and language).

Interesting enough, Sharon Begley recently wrote about this subject in The Wall Street Journal (3/31/06) Science Journal column -- Here are a few snippets of her article where she also provides insight into Harvard professor Stephen Mithen latest book "The Singing Neanderthal"

"...He starts with evidence that music is not merely a side effect of intelligence and language, as some argue. Instead, recent discoveries suggest that music lays sole claim to specific neural real estate. Consider musical savants. Although learning-disabled or retarded, they have astounding musical abilities. One savant could hardly speak or understand words, yet he played flawlessly a simple piano melody from memory despite hearing it only once. In an encore, he added left-hand chords and transposed it into a minor key.

"Music," says Prof. Mithen, "can exist within the brain in the absence of language," a sign that the two evolved independently. And since language impairment does not wipe out musical ability, the latter "must have a longer evolutionary history."

In the opposite of musical savantism, people with "amusia" can't perceive changes in rhythm, identify melodies they've heard before or recognize changes in pitch. Since they have normal hearing and language, the problem must lie in brain circuits that are music-specific.

More evidence that the brain has dedicated, inborn musical circuits is that even babies have musical preferences, finds Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto. They listen longer to perfect fifths and perfect fourths, and look pained by minor thirds.

...The fact that listeners hear the same emotion in a given musical score is something a Neanderthal crooner might have exploited. Music can manipulate people's emotional states (think of liturgical music, martial music or workplace music). Happy people are more cooperative and creative. By fostering cooperation and creativity among bands of early, prelanguage human ancestors, music would have given them a survival edge. "If you can manipulate other people's emotions," says Prof. Mithen, "you have an advantage...."

Are we hardwired for music? Can picking up an instrument later in life be the next "brain buster" activity to help slow the brain aging process?

Let me know what you think...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My New Passion

As a classical trained cellist who played solo as well as 1st chair in various orchestras and chamber music ensembles, I had always longed to play in a band. I even had a pick-up for my cello so I could play electric cello in various summerstock theater productions. I worked in a music store with a bunch of rock musicians and really wanted to learn how to play electric bass but didn't have time to focus on two instruments.

Well, years later I decided to take the plunge. I was about to join a not-for-profit board and realized that I didn't want to spend what little free time I had asking people for money. I had to listen to my inner musical voice and follow my dream. In December I decided to take up the bass guitar. Ulimately, I'd like to play in band (for fun, not work :>) as well as experiment with digital music and video composition and production.

I found an inspirational teacher -- Buddy Booker (http://www.buddybooker.com) and bought my first bass guitar -- a desert gold Ernie Ball Musicman Sterling.

Funky Girl
Originally uploaded by askgadgetgirl.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Tao of Tahvo

As a kid I had two big loves - my cello and my dog. I played cello for close to 20 years and even included an electric cello studio produced audition tape with my application to college. We got the family dog when I graduated from elementary school (and music camp!).

I moved to NYC shortly after graduating from college. For years I wanted to get my own dog but the timing wasn't right. Finally, in July of 2001 I brought home a new puppy - Tahvo - a Lagotto Romagnolo. Like the electric bass later on, he changed my life -- adding a special balance to day to day living in the big city.