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I Got Rhythm: The Science of Song

The Nature of Things on CBC-TV (December 1, 2016)

Who hasn’t felt the urge to sing in the shower, to chime in on the chorus of their favourite tune or belt out an anthem at a sporting event? Melodies ring out at every important human activity — from romancing mates to soothing babies, from worshipping to mourning, celebrating to protesting. 

But why? Are we hardwired for music? Addicted to rhythm? What power does music have over our bodies and our brains? Scientists have only recently begun to seriously examine how and why music has such a profound effect on humans. 

Some of the newest research is playing out in Canada, at musical laboratories such as LIVELab in Hamilton, Ontario, a one-of-a-kind concert hall where scientists are measuring brain waves of musicians and their audiences to determine how music creates undeniable social bonds. Archaeologists have also produced significant keys to unlocking music’s mysteries, particularly in caves of Germany’s Swabian Alps where they’ve unearthed from Ice Age sites the world’s oldest known musical instruments. These ancient flutes are surprisingly sophisticated artifacts that attest to music being played more than 40,000 years ago, by the first Homo sapiens.

Click HERE to watch the full episode to learn more!

How does stage fright affect musicians?

Graham, Rockingham, The Hamilton Spectator (November 28, 2016)

Some of the world’s greatest musicians have been beset by stage fright.

In the classical world, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Vladimir Horowitz and Pablo Casals were plagued by it for sure. Frederic Chopin stopped playing live at the age of 26, after only 30 public performances. Friends believe stage fright is the reason the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould retreated to the recording studio rather than continue on the concert circuit.


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ENGAGE: Computing music to my ears

Nizar Ladak, Compute Ontario (September 9, 2016)

CEO Blog

This past week, I drove my eldest daughter, Nadia, to Western University to begin her first year at the Don Wright Faculty of Music. It was a bittersweet trip. While I’m thrilled she will be getting a post-secondary education, my “baby” is leaving home (Yes sweetheart, even when you turn 60, I will refer to you as my “baby”). Compute Ontario’s board chair, Dr. Mark Daley, is the Associate Vice President of Research at Western University and I have many friends and colleagues at SHARCNET (one of our partner consortia) also located there. Therefore, I will have many opportunities to visit her on campus and perhaps Dad can take his girl to dinner once in a while...

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Fans become lab rats in Ian Trornley's record release experiment

Adam Carter, CBC News (October 23, 2015)

Big Wreck frontman Ian Thornley didn’t know he was a touch claustrophobic – that is until he decided to release his brand new solo album at McMaster University’s Live Lab. 

Thornley’s newest effort is part record release, part scientific experiment – so prepping for the show included cramming the six foot four musician into an MRI to map the nuances of his brain.

“Turns out I might actually be a little claustrophobic,” Thornley laughed. But that’s par for the course at the University’s $8-million gem of a performance space, which combines 3D motion-capture technology, acoustic controls and brain-monitoring sensors to map the intricacies of how humans respond to music.


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Series 10dB with the Aubrey Wilson Quartet

Ric Taylor, The View (October 1, 2015)

There's almost always something interesting happening musically in Hamilton every day of the week but this week a new series starts at McMaster University's Institute for Music and the Mind that is on an even grander scale.


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McMaster's LIVELab on CHCH

CHCH News (October 1, 2015)

The people in the audience at McMaster University’s LIVELab are participating in a series of six performances where they will interact with musicians in different ways. Using the tablet given the audience is able to choose vote for which instrument gets a solo, others will be wired with monitors to measure physical response. 

The point of the LIVELab, and the concert series, is to understand how live music affects people, how their feedback affects performers and whether that interaction enhances their enjoyment. 

The LIVELab goes beyond toe tapping, using sensors to measure physical reactions to the show, and how they influence the enjoyment of both the audience and performers.


McMaster LIVELab to explore the science behind the concert experience

Sara Cain, AM900 CHML - Hamilton News

The McMaster University LIVELab will be kicking off a series of concerts tomorrow, that will also act as a science experiment. The one of a kind facility will host six musical groups who will interact with the audience throughout the performance. One of the goals is to figure out why listening to live music is different than listening to an album at home. Musician Aubrey Wilson, who will be the first to perform, says no two concerts are the same.

“We’re doing jazz music so there is alot of improvisation, its always going to be a bit different but then if the crowd is really into it maybe we’ll go a little more crazy.” Dan Bosnyak, Technical Director of series says it’s up to the McMaster team determine what that means scientifically.


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This is your brain on live music

Graham Rockingham, The Hamilton Spectator (September 28, 2015)
This is your brain on live music

Canadian jazz singer Aubrey Wilson performs at LIVELab Oct 1. (Amanda Lee Photography, Courtesy of Aubrey Wilson)

The McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind is opening the doors of its ultra high-tech LIVE Lab theatre to the public for a series of six interactive concerts of jazz, experimental and world music.


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Alumni Times: Alive with Possibilities

McMaster Alumni Times (Spring 2015)

McMaster's new LIVELab is a research facility and concert venue where scientists and artists can make beautiful music together.

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Astounding Research Capabilities: McMaster's LIVELab

Kathryn Dunmore, Greater Hamilton Musician (March 9, 2015)

Bringing a whole new level to live performance, the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind (MIMM) has built LIVELab, a Large Interactive Virtual Environment, which opened to the public last fall.


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The Therapeutic Power of Music: CBC National Report

CBC National (December 26, 2014)

Written and Produced by Kas Rousey of CBC National


LIVELab blends art, science and community

McMaster Daily News (December 17, 2014)

One moment, the audience is sitting in the LIVELab experiencing the power of award-winning blues singer Rita Chiarelli’s voice as it echoes through the room, the next; the echo is virtually silenced.

She hasn’t stopped singing, in fact, she continues to belt out her tune, but with a touch of the iPad, the acoustic environment in the LIVELab has been completely altered, causing Chiarelli’s voice to lose its powerful impact.

This demonstration was part of The Creative Exchange, an event held recently to showcase the performance capabilities of the LIVELab, a state-of-the-art virtual acoustics lab, performance hall, research lab and recording facility.


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Bouncing to music can help babies bond, become more cooperative

A. Pawlowski, TODAY Parents, NBC (November 2014)

Baby bounceBabies 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.


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Dance It Out

Katharine Gammon, Scientific American (November 1, 2014)

Dance it outNew 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.


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Scientists are unlocking the biological secrets of creativity

The Globe and Mail (October 1, 2014)

Steven Brown must be the first person in the world to have danced the tango inside an MRI machine. Brown is an amateur dancer, but he is also a neuroscientist in the psychology department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. He studies what goes on in the brain when it is engaged in the arts and, for his tango study, he wanted to see the differences between leading and following in partner dancing. He lay in the machine and danced with his arms, holding a partner’s hands outside it and leading her through her moves before they swapped roles. He found that the leading partner’s brain used more motor planning – the brain’s ability to plan and execute a physical task – while the following one showed more sensory activation, responding to the cues of touch and music.


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High-tech venue opens in Hamilton: this is your brain on music…

Graham Rockingham, The Hamilton Spectator (September 2014)

2014 Hamilton SpectatorMac’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.


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Interactive lab explores music’s scientific potential

Ivan Semeniuk, The Globe and Mail (September 2014)

Afiara String QuartetBefore 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.

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McMaster's Live Lab: A Spectacular Breakthrough In Brain Research For Music and Sound

Glen Brown, Great Hamilton Musician (September 2014)

Afiara Quartet"... 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


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$8m interactive lab at Mac tunes into musical mysteries

The Hamilton Spectator (April, 2014)

Hamilton Spectator April 2014The 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."


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Why Music Education is Good for Our Children: Guest Post by McMaster University’s Laurel Trainor

Enable Education (March, 2014)

Enable Education 2014Laurel 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.


Click here to read the full interview

Music "soothes the savage breast"

Dr. Laurel Trainor, IQ Innovation Quest (Fall 2013, pg 5)

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.

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The Emotional Baby: How Infants Respond to Music

Dr. Laurel Trainor, National Geographic Magazine (November, 2013)

Emotional babyAt 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.


Click here to read the full interview

Finding the Beat in Music - 3 Minute Thesis!

Katherine Cheater, Lögberg-Heimskringla Icelandic Newspaper (August 2013)

"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

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Learning 2030: What Music Teaches Us

Mary Taws, The Inside Agenda Blog (May, 2013)

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.

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Pitch encoding in polyphonic music - TEDxMcMasterU

Dr. Céline Marie, TEDxMcMasterU (April 2013)

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"!


Google+ Hangout: Music and the Mind

Science Sunday Live on Google + (April, 2013)

Dr. Laurel Trainor was part of a live G+ Hangout on Music and the Mind, hosted by Dr. Allison Sekuler. See it here!


Want a Less Fussy, Easier-to-Soothe, Kinder Child? Make Music!

Maia Szalavitz, TIME Healthland (May 2012)

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.”

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Babies' Brains Need Music

The Big Picture RT (May, 2012)

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."


What the Beep? Why Digital Sounds are so Annoying

Anthony McGovern, Life's Little Mysteries (April 2012)

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.

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