In the news
Three recent press releases on the 2014 MIMM Conference Poster Session:
Babies enjoying a little “Twist and Shout” have some important lessons to share about bonding and the power of music.
Those who were bounced to a melody while also watching a stranger move in sync to the same beat were much more helpful to that stranger afterwards than to adults who were out of sync or didn’t move at all, according to a study published Monday in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
New lab opens to investigate the vibe between dancers, musicians and audience members.
Music affects people deeply. At every stage of life, a large body of research shows, it has a profound impact on behavior and cognition. A new concert hall-cum-laboratory will be the first dedicated facility to examine music’s effect on the brain. The Large Interactive Virtual Environment (LIVE) Lab at McMaster University in Ontario, which opened this fall, will be an experimental space for neuroscientists, physiologists and psychologists to test hypotheses about performance, audience dynamics and musical improvisation.* There are already several projects on the roster for this 96-seat venue.
Mac’s LIVElab welcomes the public for a test drive.
McMaster University is now home to one of the most-sophisticated, high-tech concert venues in the world. As a matter of fact, the new LIVElab at the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind (MIMM), maybe one of the finest listening rooms in the world.
Before the iPod, the Sony Walkman or the home stereo system, music was something people made and experienced with other people.
The universal nature of music-making, which occurs in every culture throughout the ages, suggests evolution may have wired us for it, and that the survival benefit it confers has something to do with the way social groups cohere. But such ideas are speculative and the social dimension of music remains largely unexplored.
"... this new LiveLab is such a wonderful enhancement to our passion for music and the attendant opportunities for brain understanding." ~ Judy Marsales
Afiara String Quartet Performs First-Ever Concert At McMaster University's Groundbreaking LIVELab
The first research will soon begin at the $8-million McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind's LIVE (Large Interactive Virtual Environment) Lab.
The LIVE Lab will study the neuroscience behind how performers interact, what moves audiences during performances and the social and emotional effects of the experience.
Audiences will be immersed in a 3D auditory experience in which their reactions are biometrically measured.
"Music is really a group activity," said Dan Bosnyak, the technical director of LIVE Lab. "The audience is a major component of that, but no one has really studied it before."
Laurel Trainor discusses ways in which the study of music can benefit a child's brain, even at a very early age.
A great deal of your research focuses on music and its impact on a child’s brain. Tell us about some of your particular interests in this field of study.
During infancy and childhood, the brain is developing at a rapid rate. New connections between neurons are being formed and connections that are not useful are being pruned. These processes are highly influenced by the particular experiences the child has. For example, young children learn the particular language(s) to which they are exposed without formal instruction. We have shown that they also learn the structure of the musical system to which they are exposed, again without formal training.
Why does a toddler instinctively rock from side to side upon hearing music? Why do we tap our feet when we hear a favorite song? Why do we go to concerts when we can listen to music at home? Music impacts our mind and our body in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. It really does "soothe the savage breast", lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety, helping us feel connected, even easing pain.
At last count, 25 million people had viewed a YouTube clip of an infant smiling tearfully while her mother sings a bittersweet Rod Stewart ballad. While that’s only anecdotal evidence of music’s power, science also suggests that music taps into something deep inside the human brain even before we can talk.
To learn more about how babies respond to music, National Geographic interviewed Dr. Laurel Trainor, Director of McMaster University’s Institute for Music and the Mind in Hamilton, Ontario.
"The people have spoken! The winner of the first-ever People's Choice Award for 3MT [i.e. the 3-minute thesis] is Kate Einarson, whose three-minute thesis, Finding the Beat in Music: The Role of Culture, Cognitive Abilities and Motor Skills, struck a note with online viewers." - McMaster University bulletin
Laurel Trainor is the director of McMaster University's Institute for Music and the Mind. In the video below, Trainor explains what's happening in the brain when we listen to an enjoyable piece of music versus playing a musical instrument.
Watch postoctorate fellow in the the Auditory Development Lab, Dr. Céline Marie, deliver her TEDxMcMasterU talk: "Pitch encoding in polyphonic music: Influence of culture and nature"!
Dr. Laurel Trainor was part of a live G+ Hangout on Music and the Mind, hosted by Dr. Allison Sekuler. See it here!
The actively-trained infants were less distressed by frustration, showed less anxiety about new experiences, smiled and laughed more and were easier to soothe. The researchers write, “the active classes led to more positive parent-infant social interactions compared to the passive classes.”
According to researchers at McMaster University in Canada, very early music training can benefit children, before they even learn to walk or talk. The researchers found that one-year-old babies who participated in interactive music classes with their parents smiled more, communicated better and showed earlier and more sophisticated brain reactions to music. Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind and a lead researcher on the study, said that while "many past studies of musical training have focused on older children, our results suggest that the infant brain might be particularily plastic with regard to musical exposure."
Having spent most of our time evolving prior to the invention of smoke detectors, elevators and the like, our brains can't quite grasp beep sounds, so they irritate us. "There's just something fundamentally different about the way your brain is processing sounds with natural envelopes," said Michael Schutz, assistant professor of music at McMaster University in Ontario and a researcher at the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind.
"Scientists, researchers and musicians will study the physical and emotional reactions to music and how it affectes language, cognitive and social abilities. The two-storey-high theatre is the first of its kind in the world. Engineering it has presented unusual challenges."
“People focus so much on cognitive benefits. I think there are some, but I don't think they are as large as people would like them to be," says Laurel Trainor, a scientist at McMaster University in Hamilton who studies music and the developing brain. "I think the social and emotional benefits are just enormous and we are just starting to comprehend that."
“[Young] brains are getting wired to integrate the senses,” says Laurel Trainor, professor and director of the auditory development lab at McMaster University. She has found that even young babies can distinguish the difference between songs sung as lullabies and those used in play.
“Music educators will tell you, 'don't give [young children] complex rhythms, because it's very very difficult for them to learn. Wait until they're even older before you give them anything that's complicated'. But what we're finding is that young babies can do the complex rhythms, they can hear them perfectly well.... We're showing that what infants are listening to and the particular experiences they're having even before one year of age, is already wiring up their brain in a particular way. And in fact the brain is probably most plastic at these early ages, and so maybe we should be thinking about what kinds of music programs we want to have for very young children."
McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind Director Laurel Trainor discusses musical rhythm, human movement, and the origins of rhythmic musical behaviour.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Your child is probably not the next Mozart or even the next Justin Bieber. But don’t turn off the karaoke machine just yet. A musical environment plays an important rolein nurturing brain development, if not a future career.
"Learning music isn't going to take your child from average to a genius, but it can help her be a better learner," says Laurel Trainor, a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and behavior at McMaster University and director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind in Ontario, Canada. Learning how to play music actually has an effect on how the brain gets wired when it comes to memory and attention, says Trainor.
Experts discuss the realities of whether music makes your child smarter, how it helps them emotionally, and get into how well we teach music both in school and out - which leads to the fundamental question: why does music have to be justified? Featured on "TVO Parents: Helping parents help their kids succeed in school and life".
A segment on Hamilton Life about Michael Schutz's music cognition research. This clip features a demonstration of the illusion, along with a discussion of the psychological principles behind it, touching on its musical applications.
"For most people music is an enjoyable, although momentary, form of entertainment. But for those who seriously practiced a musical instrument when they young, perhaps when they played in a school orchestra or even a rock band, the musical experience can be something more. Recent research shows that a strong correlation exists between musical training for children and certain other mental abilities."
Music employs a number of mechanisms for conveying emotion. Some of them are shared with other modes of expression (speech, gesture) while others are specific to music. The most unique way that music communicates emotion is through the use of contrastive scale types. While Westerners are familiar with the major/minor distinction, the use of contrastive scale types in world musics is universal.
"I've never felt so paralyzed standing before my CD collection as the day I brought my newborn son home from the hospital and decided to play him his very first music. So much was at stake. Should it be modern or Baroque? Orchestral or opera? Would Mozart make him smarter? Would Schoenberg instill in him revolutionary tendencies? Would Wagner make him loathe his Jewish roots?"