Music is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It has the power to make a gray day blue. It has the power to make people fall in love. And it even has the power to unite a nation. For the power that music has, one has to wonder how exactly it manages to do that. That’s the subject of PBS and National Geographic’s “The Musical Brain.” In this new special, former record producer turned behavioral scientist Dr. Daniel Levitin delves into the depths of the human mind to find out how the musical brain works.
In this near hour long special, Dr. Levitin teams up with music legend Sting to try and figure out how exactly music affects the human brain. The results of this special are rather interesting. One of the most intriguing findings from this special is that children can begin to at least hear certain musical patterns even while they are still in the womb. And once they are born, those children can actually begin to comprehend at least at a basic level, certain semi-complex musical patterns and sounds. On the other end of the spectrum, it presents an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s who while her memory may be largely gone, her musical memory is as fresh as ever. It explains that she remembers with near perfection how she can remember songs that she had heard in her youth. To add to it, when someone tests her by singing some wrong notes in one of those songs, she cringes at the notes. Not only does that show how strong her musical memory is, but also her comprehension of certain musical tones. That in itself is truly interesting. It goes a long way to show the brain’s capabilities, even when it has been damaged.
Audiences get to see in watching “The Musical Brain” the power of music on the brain, and the brain’s ability to maintain that comprehension of music. Students, musicians, therapists, and psychologists will enjoy the discussions of the impact of music on the human brain. Medical doctors and psychiatrists will find just as intriguing the actual processes that go on inside the brain in the course of listening to and even performing and writing music. Dr. Levitin talks with Sting, showing him how his brain actually reacted to certain styles of music that were played for him. What’s funniest to note about this is how little activity was occurring in the brain when Muzak was played for him. Sting jokes about how Muzak is the single least appealing form of music there is to him. Yet when other forms of music were played, his brain was highly active. Findings from similar studies show that each person reacts differently to different styles of music.
Ultimately, through this special, one thing does stand out. As it notes in its closing moments, while studies are still being done, there is still no way to pinpoint what draws certain people to certain music. And it is also still not known how exactly the brain develops to lead some to be musicians and not others. But as the musicians interviewed for the special note, that’s kind of like a world mystery. It wouldn’t be intriguing if that were figured out. What’s most important is that music is the powerful force that it is, and that should be enough for everyone.
“The Musical Brain” is available now. It can be ordered direct via PBS’ website at http://www.shoppbs.org.
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