Sunday, July 12, 2020
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The brain knows what music you’re listening to

When we listen to music—a symphony, a rock’n’roll chart topper, a jazz chart—we often recognize it if we’ve heard it before. That’s because neurons in the brain fire differently upon receiving different aspects of the auditory stimulation.

But now, scientists have actually conducted an experiment to measure the brain waves of people as they listen to different songs or works of music.

Sure enough, if you play 40 different songs and measure people’s brain waves, they’ll look different for each of the 40 songs. Maybe we should try this with different poems. Do our brains have different brain waves for Shakespeare than they do for Tolkien?

Of course they do! How else would we be able to tell the difference between Shakespeare and Tolkien? We just haven’t found those differences yet in the brain, partly because some scientists are more interested in showing a link between the brain and music than between the brain and any other set of stimuli our senses might detect.

The research is published in Scientific Reports and comes out of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education. As news, this is about as big as a story with the headline “Man Breathes Oxygen.” In other words, completely useless.

But it shows the lengths to which people go to try to promote music education for some reason other than those that are inherent in the music itself, other than those that bring enjoyment of school and love of learning to our children, and other than those that are the real and very newsworthy reasons why music is a very important part of education.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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