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May 21st, 2009
Music and the Brain
Scientist Oliver Sacks on Musical Cognition
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Oliver Sacks: Now there’s no one musical center, there are 15 or 20 different systems in the brain. But in general many of the musical parts of the brain, if I could put it this way, are close to the memory parts and close to the emotional parts. And so music tends to embed itself in memory and to evoke emotions with an immediacy beyond, I think, of any other stimulus with the possible exceptions of smells. But in particular when people really have chills and thrills and sort of their hair stands on end with music enraptured, then you can find the particular systems of the brain rewards systems are activated, the same systems which are activated when one falls in love, or is overwhelmed with beauty generally. But that being said, that leaves the problem “So what’s beauty?” It’s just not sort of pleasure, it’s the whole nature of aesthetic and beauty and the sublime, which is so overwhelming in music or can be.

  • J E Pierson

    The program said this site would be interesting. But it is the extreme of triviality.

  • C.M. Huff

    I totally enjoyed the Oliver Sacks program on the musical brain and intend to purchse the publication he mentioned on Music a phila I think it was.

  • kim corbet

    it’s great to get Anything about music and the brain. the only issue I have is Sachs is clearly not well versed from the musical perspective…still, I love that he’s talking about parts of the brain influenced by music and the parallel systems. anything deeper might not be accessible and, therefore, go unproduced.

  • Sharon Burch

    It’s wonderful to have research and comments and a documentary that is current! Thank you for your work.

  • CK Ellison

    As a music educator and as a parent, I am excited to see programs of this type. Thank you!

  • Robin M

    Music on the Brain was informative. Especially the piece on the young man with Tourette’s Syndrome. Since I am in grad school studying special education and Tourette’s is a learning disability this was a source of information to share with my class.

  • Robin

    I’m curious about why a possibly mildly autistic child, born to a musical family, would obsessively play and listen to the pre-programmed demo mode on a synthesizer, but not seem to want to play (recognizable) patterns of notes on his own. The child also likes drumming, but only sporadically seems to show a sense of rhythm. I imagine something like a loosely-connected wire or fuse in the brain–in short, a short.

  • singing Eva

    Re Robin

    Autistic children that I know frequently have sensory integration issues that would prevent them from playing music the way other children can. Some of these issues have to do with the signals going back and forth from the brain to body parts. For instance, a person might be able to feel and enjoy a rhythm in their brain, but not be able to send the signal to the hand consistently. Depending on the cognitive awareness of the person, this can be improved with practice. Also, remember that the signature of autism is the lack of interest in or ability to empathize and the nature of music experience is internal,so asking or demanding that a child drum in a rhythm that you are demonstrating or can understand just may not work. Aside from children I have seen as piano students, I had a son with autism who could not play an instrument , but loved the satisfaction of playing the demos from his keyboard. The word obsessively is too mild to describe how he would do this.

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  • Shannon O

    Dr.,
    I agree with you, so much so, that music would be an immensely effective learning system in elementary school curriculums. That is, as a mechanism of teaching ALL subjects. I am very fortunate to have discovered your work and your stories at the young age of 22. It is now that I am finally getting to immerse myself into opportunities and apply everything I have learned until now, and I want to follow in your footsteps!

    Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

    Dr., I stand on your shoulders.

    Lastly, I just want to say thank you for being such a pivotal virtuoso of science. Your enthusiasm sparks that of mine and many.

    High regards,
    Shannon O.

  • Josephine Rosenblum

    I have long wondered when infants or young children start being aware of which music is “scary” and which is not. For example, the music played in “The Wizard of Oz” for the flying monkeys was scary to my children when they were young, and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” music from the same movie was “nice”.

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