Tag Archives: Music

The Vanishing of Accents

Have you ever stopped to think about accents? I’m not talking about accents we use to create emphasis on syllables or words, but in terms of the way a specific nation pronounces a language. It’s important to note that accents aren’t the same as dialects. An accent is all about how people sound. A dialect encompasses the idea of accents, but it extends farther by touching on the particular grammar a person uses when talking. A great example is the word “y’all”, which tends to be used by Southerners in the United States. The use of the word “y’all” would be a Southern dialect, while the word “southern” is the accent.

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Simple enough, right? The world has many languages so it’s only reasonable that we have many accents. But did you ever stop to wonder why a German girl singing “I Will Always Love You” doesn’t sound any different (accent wise) from an american singing “I Will Always Love You”?  In the video from the link above, Laura, a little girl from Germany, appears to have an American accent while she sings. However, this is not the case. If you had talented singers from around the world singing the same American song, and you were unable to visually see them, it would probably be quite hard, to nearly impossible to figure out which voice was from where. This is all because of phonetics, and how singing causes two main things to occur: a change in our vocal cord’s air pressure, and the pace of our delivery.

A person’s accent is lost by the slower paced delivery of the song, which causes one’s accent to turn neutral. Accents, for the most part, disappear when singing. David Crystal, a linguist from Northern Ireland, explains that our intonations and rhythm of speech are removed while singing. A song’s melody causes the rises and falls of our voice to disappear (intonations) while the beat of the music causes the systematic arrangement of speech to disappear (rhythm). Furthermore, songs have accented syllables (no pun intended) that require the singer to elongate vowel sounds. This same neutralizing effect happens with air pressure as well. A singer’s whole quality of sound is altered by the expanding of enlarged air passages.

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Despite recognizing that accents don’t usually come through in songs, some people still argue that singers are getting rid of their accent on purpose. Discourse & Communication researcher Andy Gibson, from Auckaland University of Technology in New Zealand, disagreed. He explained that neutralizing the accent simply comes more natural than anything else. In a study he conducted, singers with accents when speaking weren’t even aware that any change was occurring in their voice, but there were very few cases where vowels they sung matched the vowels they spoke.

So why is it, then, that little Laura appears to have points in the song that sound less like an American accent? We can assume this is similar to Gibson’s study. While his participants had very few moments that their vowel sounds while singing matched up with their vowel sounds while speaking, they still had instances where their accent snuck through. In fact, it’s actually harder for a singer to attempt to retain their accent while singing, though some still do this anyways.

CSC_BOY AND GIRL SINGING

Thinking about all of this makes me wonder about how kids differ from adults once again. We established in class that kids make all of the sounds in speech, regardless of their native language, which enables them to learn languages more easily than adults. Does that make it easier for kids like Laura to have their accents disappear when singing, even if they can’t actually speak the other language? In my mind, kids would be better at imitating the musical notes; therefore, able to neutralize their voices more effectively. Perhaps, though, this would only occur for those kids who were musically inclined.

It’s Groovy, Baby.

You ever have a song stuck in your head or found yourself bobbing your head to music playing in the background? How about get so moved by music you spontaneously break out into dance because you can’t stop your body from feeling the groove?  According to the study I read, this is due to the brain’s attention system in conjunction with an individual interaction with the music.  This cognitive processes is called sensorimotor coupling, the attentional engagement of an individual due to their mental arousal of music.  You synchronize your body readily to music due to sensorimotor coupling.  This works best when the music has good attentional capture, the unintentional change of attention by a change in stimulus, this could interrupt other processing.  Spontaneous sensorimotor coupling with a music related study showed to have positive affects (the internal feeling state when a goal has been reached, a threat has been avoided, or a feeling of content with present state of affairs.)

I was interested in this article because I love to dance and I often do get lost in this so called “groove.” I find myself bobbing my head, tapping my foot, or (given the right environment) spontaneously interpretive dancing to whatever jam is playing. This is all due to the attentional capture of the song. For example, the beat or the swell of the chorus that catches our attention and (whether we are “paying attention” to it or not) we get carried by the music.  This happens more easily in individuals whose response selector more readily recognises it as music to groove to.  Automaticity plays into this too by becoming an unconscious, spontaneous reaction to hearing the music.  This is more prominent in musically trained individuals and those who dance (trained/untrained dancers) this is referred to as muscle memory (automaticity of spontaneous rehearsed movements).

So what causes this groove?  Why do we get so much enjoyment out of moving our bodies freely to music?  It’s obvious that music has it’s own individual formula for what’s “good music?”  We already know that music and sensorimotor coupling combined have positive affects and we like that it makes us feel good.  According to the study, we enjoy a good, steady beat just as much as the next aspiring club DJ, but we enjoy asymmetry in music as well.  The more complex the music (while still sounding like music of course) increases the stimulus intensity, which arouses our mind more.  Giving way to more spontaneous sensorimotor movement and more readily engages listeners to move (aka feel the groove).

This study concluded that the relationship between complex musical scenes and attentional engagement was shown in spontaneous sensorimotor coupling and emotion (positive and happy emotions).  The more complex and emotional the song, the more easily it would grab our attention, invoking the spontaneous and emotional groove where the music could “carry the body”.  This ability to feel the groove was rated, on average, the same for musically trained and non-musically trained individuals.  For those individuals who had a hard time finding the groove, they became a phenomenon referred to as “beat deafness.”  These individuals moved slower and rated to feel the groove lower than average.  They also had a difficult time synchronizing with the beats. This was shown to be a task-specific sensorimotor deficit.  To conclude myself, I found this study so interesting.  The fact that they would put this much effort into learning the connections of the mind with music.  Music has long been used to tell stories and relay emotions and memories for a long time, dance as well.  To know the cognitive processes behind the expressions of music and how it is expressed and connected to dance, that’s groovy.

 

Have you heard?: Isochronic Tones and Binaural Beats.

If you simply search “Cognitive” in Youtube you might see a few videos talking about their cognition enhancing music. They call this music Isochronic tones. They also go by the name Binaural Beats. Supposedly, some of these 30 – 60 minute long clips can relieve you of insomnia, headaches, and even stimulate your neurons to release dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. There is even one that is 8 hours long and claims that if you put it on before you go to sleep, it will help you enter a state of lucid dreaming (this clip in particular happens to have over 1 million views). These tones and beats are supposed to enact a process in ones brain called brainwave entrainment. The first source I came across was by a software developer stating that this process, “enables the use of audio or visual stimuli to affect the brain and help people with a variety of problems.” (See here).

At the bottom of the site it lists three quotes from some peer-reviewed journal articles to support the notion that brainwave entrainment is a good therapeutic solution to things such as headaches, stress, behavioral problems, and focus issues. Unfortunately, I could not find available copies of these three specific articles. This site also connected me here  to a list of studies done involving forms of brainwave entrainment.

Beats

A promising study titled “Alpha Brainwave Entrainment as a Cognitive Performance Activator,” from a 2013 volume of Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, found that, specifically, the use of binary beasts did produce a positive change in cognition when used in tandem with a strobe light in 30 minute intervals. It mentions that the Stroop effect, which we know refers to how it is easier for someone to name colors of words that match (ex. The word blue showing up in a blue color) than it is to name words with non-corresponding colors, had something to do with the final results.

It appears that these techniques are relatively new to the this-is-how-to-make-your-brain-better community. Personally, I can say that I listened to the above clip while I wrote this article and I don’t feel very different. Maybe a little sleepy. Take a listen and see what you think.

Musical Memory

What is it about music that makes it easier to memorize than words alone? This something I have wondered about ever since I started playing the violin as a kid.  I was required to memorize all the pieces I played growing up, but that was the easy part! As long as I knew the notes and rhythms, memorization came as an inevitable result of daily practice. People routinely asked how I could play a 10-minute piece without looking at the sheet music, but I never had an answer; I just did, and by no means am I the only one with this ability. Most musicians are required to memorize full concertos packed with technical and rhythmic difficulties, and can do this with seeming ease. Take world renowned violinist Hillary Hahn for example: 

Not only is music easier for most people to memorize, the memories seem to be long lasting as well. To this day I remember how to play pieces of music I learned years ago. And I am sure all of us remember songs from childhood that aided learning, such as the ABCs, Nursery Rhymes, Old McDonald, Schoolhouse Rock, songs to help learn foreign language vocabulary, and even tunes for remembering math formulas.

So, what do we know about memory and how does music fit in to the picture? An article from the Wall Street Journal provides a basis for understanding. In the article, scientist Dr. Roediger says that music can act as cue to unlock information that is stored in the brain because it provides rhythm, rhyme, and alliteration. The structure of songs also includes repetition, which promotes memorization. Roediger explains how neuroscientists believe that humans developed music and dance to aid in the retrieval of information, and the brain function that responds to music evolved long before those related to language!

Structure is one reason music is memorable. Prehistoric laws, stories and customs needed to be passed down orally before humans invented written language. Therefore, the words were presented as poems, chants or songs in order for them to be easier to memorize and recall. For example, the epic works of Homer such as the Iliad and the Odyssey were organized into poetic structures in order to be passed down verbally. Chants were widely used to aid the memorization of large information sets as well.

Repetition is another factor that makes music easier to learn. Every time a piece is rehearsed, the pathway of neurons deepens, making a metaphorical groove in the neural network. When rehearsed many times, this pathway becomes so strongly glued that your brain can’t help but follow through the sequence, making memorization effortless.

Another factor that comes into play is associations. Since the brain uses networks to store and retrieve information, the info with many associations is easiest to find. When we remember music, we remember a number of things about the music that are associated with it like tune, a certain voice, and specific instruments. All of this (including the structure of rhythms and rhymes seen above) provide context that makes the memory easier to retrieve even after a long period of time.

One study provides experimental evidence that singing can facilitate foreign language learning. Participants in this study were randomly assigned to three conditions where they were told to “listen and repeat” words and phrases in Hungarian. The three conditions were: speaking normally, rhythmic speaking or singing. The results of the experiment showed that the singing condition performed better on Hungarian language tests after a 15-minute learning period compared to the other two groups. This difference was statistically significant so the results suggest that singing can facilitate memory for spoken foreign languages.

My overall thoughts about this topic are that much more research should be done on the effects of music on the brain and its cognitive processes. It was difficult to find many scholarly articles on the subject. The Wall Street Journal article I used did not go into enough depth in my opinion. However, the scientific study of how singing effects foreign language learning was interesting and informative, but the results were definitely not surprising. Further research should be done to find better ways of teaching and learning information with the help of music since our brains evolved to pass down information through song and poetry. I believe music is an essential part of the human experience and it would help us greatly to gain more insight on the role of music in our lives.

Multitasking: Do Music and Studying Mix?

I usually like to study alone, but if I’m ever over with a friend having a study session or just mutual homework time, a common question I get is often, “Hey, do you mind if I put on some music? I work better with it on.” In high school I used to religiously put on music when I did homework, but as I’ve gotten older I stopped. I kept finding it harder and harder to concentrate, and thinking back on it now, in the times that I had my music on while trying to do homework, I was very slow and pretty unproductive. This brings me to my question: is listening to music while doing homework harmful or helpful?

The first article cites two studies (both of which I have not found away around having to pay for to access: 1 & 2). The gist of the first study cited is that people were asked to remember information in a specific order after either being in a quiet environment, listening to someone say “three” repeatedly, listening to random numbers being said, listening to music they reportedly liked, or listening music that they reportedly did not like. The findings were that those who were in the quiet environment or with the person saying “three” over and over scored higher than the other three groups, which were not significantly different from each other. However, the other study that was cited, though getting similar results showing that those who listened to music scored lower than those who did not, also concluded that individual differences must account for a large variation in scores in general. Some of these differences may include if the participants were used to listening to music while studying or not.

Interestingly, this study talks about how music can influence mood, therefore influencing productivity. It states that what a person feels towards a musical piece depends on their past experiences with that specific piece. This was all being studied in the context of software development company, which reportedly is very stressful in nearly all stages of development. The interest in music comes from thinking that lower stress means higher productivity (which may be an entirely wrong assumption but might not be either, I haven’t done the research to know *cough,cough* someone should maybe find out and comment? *cough*). The researchers found that when music was taken out of a person’s daily work habits the person was likely to go through what may have been considered music withdraw, therefore they experienced more stress and less productivity. In the case where music was integrated into a work environment where people were not used to listening to music, results were not positive in the beginning, but after a few weeks people showed a more positive emotion than on the first week. The overall conclusion was that to keep people as stress-free and as productive as possible (when considering music during work) people should be able to choose to listen or to not listen, and also pick their own duration of listening to music.

Even after all that, I still have some unanswered questions. What would the difference be in listening to different cultural music than what you may be used to? Say, for instance if I listened to Indian music? Or, which I’m sure has already be addressed in some study out there, what is the difference in listening to music with lyrics vs. no lyrics? Or even the difference between music that you like but do not know the lyrics, vs. music that you like and you do know the lyrics? I often would find myself singing along and not paying attention to my work when I used to listen to music while trying to study. There is so much music in the world that I feel you would have to read an obscene amount of literature to understand how each one effected you, not even including one’s own feelings and experiences with certain types of music.

One of the things that inspired me to write about music is that, on occasion, either while going about my daily life or while doing homework assignments such as this one, certain songs will get stuck in my head and they often feel very relatable to my current situation. Is this a form of listening to music while working? Or is it something that your brain uses to help you remember things? I’ve heard from teachers that you should try and take tests in the same exact spot that you sit in in class. Or that you should chew the same flavored gum while you study as when you take a test, that supposedly these things will help you hold onto memories that are associated with your gum chewing or seat position as long as they stay constant. Could music be the same way? Though I’m sure it’s not permitted, if I listened to, for example, Jason Mraz’s “Remedy” (the song that happens to be stuck in my head right now), while reading my textbook, would I better remember what was written there on the test day if I listened to the same song while taking the test?

In addition to such questions, which as it turns out just leads to many more questions, do the songs that get stuck in our heads have meanings? In trying to understand why this “Remedy” song (which I dislike greatly and have not listened to since middle school) is stuck in my head, I’m thinking that these lyrics maybe have something to do with what’s going on in this blog post?

This is about to get really outlandish so bear with me… There is a section of the song that goes, “the remedy is the experience/ this is a dangerous liaison.” The definition of liaison being: “communication or cooperation that facilitates a close working relationship between people or organizations” (Google). Is that not relevant to what I’m writing about in an abstract way? If the remedy (music) is experience, which is what this whole article is about, how we experience music in different situations, then perhaps dangerous is a bit of a stretch, but it may be a cooperation of mental faculties to facilitate music and our brains working closely together to help us understand information in certain situations?

Perhaps that’s a load of nonsense.

Do you ever get songs stuck in your head that pertain to your life’s situation? Tell me what you think.

Music and Enhanced Function in Adolescence

I spend every second of my day listening to music.  It’s constantly in my head wether or not I have my headphones on or the radio is playing.  I was interested in finding out if my exposure to music as a child had any influence on my behaviors that I exhibit in my life everyday.  More specifically the brain functions and what enhances it in adolescence.  The articles I choose were studies done to show how music is beneficial to brain function in adolescence and even adults.

Research done on this was a study to explore whether musically inclined children and adolescents had a higher executive function than non-musical children.  There were already many studies that showed that cognitive function is highly correlated with more musically inclined subjects.  Results showed that more musically inclined individuals had the ability to process information more quickly and retain it, more healthy regulation of behaviors, better decision making and problem solving and, planning and adjusting to changes to emotional or mental demands.  Musically trained adolescents exhibited multiple higher functions that translated to other life skills. This study looked more specifically to how it effected executive function, which looks more in depth at achievements/goals and higher IQ’s.

The experiment summary is as follows; They had a set of musically trained adolescents and a control group of non-trained adolescents.  Each group was given a number of tasks to do and were asked to switch back and forth between assigned tasks while psychologist monitored their brain functions (fMRI used).  Study showed more enhanced brain activity in the musically trained students in the prefrontal cortex, one of the parts of the brain that correlate directly to executive function.

This relates to cognitive psychology because in class we talk about the brain processes and how it uses these processes to take in information from our daily environment.  During child development, the brain and what information is retained and how it is developed is key.

My sources I found were from the article examples Dr. R had posted and I found them useful.  They seemed like reliable sources and were in lay terms, understandable.  It was a bit difficult  to come by this information because so many studies had been done on this subject and I wanted to research something that was a bit more in depth than the usual cognitive function with music correlation.

My thoughts on this, is that that music does play a big part in cognitive development especially in children and adolescents.  We give children toys that crinkle, jingle, and blink to enhance sensory perception and improve that functions in the brain.  I think music does much similar things.  The study said that those who study music already do have an enhanced function that gravitates them towards music and gives them the discipline to stay in lessons and continue to strive in learning.  I think that that is important because no one can lack a certain function unless you have a disability and even still, those with disabilities, like ADHD in adults and adolescents, use music training as a sort of therapy, to enhance their mental functions.  This is more important in adolescents because their brains are constantly developing and enhanced executive function could be beneficial for their educational future as well as their ability to conquer certain tasks later on in life.

 

The Mozart Effect

It is likely safe to assume that at one point or another, you have heard someone say something along the lines of “having your child listen to classical music will make them smarter.” Dubbed the “Mozart Effect,” the theory goes that children who are exposed to classical music at an early age will perform better than their peers on tests of cognition and intelligence. So prevalent is popular culture’s belief in this phenomenon that several states, including Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee set aside funding to ensure that all newborns and families with young children have access to classical music. Entire product lines toting CD’s and books that expose young children to the music of Mozart and other popular classical musicians have even been created and successfully sold across the country, and although the myth has now been debunked, article after article has been written praising the supposed cognitive benefits for children and many still accept the claims as absolute truth.

While the idea that listening to classical music increases intelligence may seem believable at first glance, there is no scientific evidence to support it. The acceptance of the myth in popular culture can be traced back to a study conducted at the University of California in 1993 that concluded students who were exposed to ten minutes of classical music prior to completing a spatial task performed better than students who listened to nothing before completing the same task. One look at the original article makes it obvious that the reported findings do not in any way support the claims that millions have made regarding this phenomenon and is an interesting example of how scientific findings are often misrepresented in media in order to make for a more interesting article.

To start, the original study recruited 36 college aged participants, not young children, to participate in their study. The students were asked to complete mental tasks on three separate occasions. Each time, they were either primed with ten minutes of silence, ten minutes of a relaxation tape, or ten minutes of Mozart. Of the tasks completed, those students who were primed with Mozart performed better overall on a task of spatial manipulation. The effect, however, was only found to last about 15 minutes. The paper did not once reference the term “The Mozart Effect” nor did it claim that classical music increased overall intelligence. Follow up research done exclusively on children also failed to yield any results that would suggest a lasting and significant impact of classical music on intelligence.

I found this topic really interesting primarily because such a widespread and popular belief was spread on such a shaky foundation. Anyone who bothered to look at the original research could have seen that the claims were unfounded, yet people chose to report the version of the findings they felt were most interesting and profitable. It’s obvious that a large group of people went on, and likely still are, to make enormous profits selling the public on an unsupported “quick fix” to making their children smarter, in turn perpetuating and spreading unsubstantiated myths regarding the nature of cognition and intelligence.