Interest in music may be expressed in different forms: listening to music, performing music, and composing music. While some people just "muddle through," composers are described as constantly hearing in their minds the notes and tones of their lives. It is not an act of will but rather a way of life, much like breathing or walking for those of us not so blessed.
Many children generate spontaneous songs in their early years, but by the age of six or seven, this ceases for the majority. Children then seem to rely primarily on the standardized tunes they are taught. Only a few continue to create music.
Most of the information available on music generation comes from observing musicians who have experienced physical trauma to the brain as a result of stroke or other brain damage. Damage to the left hemisphere exhibits aphasia (verbal-production impairment) or amusia (musical-production impairment). Subjects could talk coherently and not be able to function musically (amusia) or not be able to verbalize (aphasia) and still perform or compose. Some people documented in literature have had strokes that affected the left side of their brain, leaving them unable to speak a single word; yet they could sing song after song. Sometimes they required a trigger mechanism, depending on the damage, such as another person starting the song or a record to give them a "jog."
Although Dr. Wetzel's grandmother was not a documented case, her experience is germane. She could not respond verbally to any question but could sing her gospel hymns for hours. However, she needed to hear a recording to get her started. In addition, Alzheimer's patients are often able to sing or play an instrument long after their recognition of friends and families has passed.
Although one of the main areas that facilitates music production also assists in verbal skills, music seems to be of the form of a symbolic or graphic system as opposed to an alphabetic, semantic system and thus is related closely to mathematical skills.
PET scanning was used in a study performed on 10 right-handed performers, each with at least 15 years of experience and self-rated as good to excellent sight readers. The study included two categories common to all instruments: sight reading and playing the instrument.19 For this study, the in-
The Intelligent Mind • 39 Wernicke's area
The Intelligent Mind • 39 Wernicke's area
strument was a keyboard. Reading a musical score without playing operates both hemispheres' visual centers, as expected. Instead of stimulating the linguistic centers, the left occipitoparietal junction, normally used when processing spatial information, is activated. This agrees with the manner in which musicians use distance between notes on the staff to locate the next pitch and supports the theory that spatial abilities are fundamental to musical intelligence. As a matter of fact, the distance from the area of the brain activated when listening to low C to that area activated when listening to middle C is the same distance as that from the area listening to middle C to that listening to high C.20
The drawing in Figure 2-9 indicates the areas activated when listening to scales. Notice that listening to a musical composition (as opposed to the predictability of scales) activated the same cortical areas and an additional arc in the right hemisphere. Listening to music (scales being classified as practice, not music) affects the emotional and imaginative areas of the right hemisphere, whereas scales do not.
You can see the areas fundamental to playing music. Music requires fine motor control, and the picture shows the
primary motor and premotor areas active. Although music processing is located in both hemispheres, the more experienced a musician becomes in processing musical tones, the more the process seems to be located in the left hemisphere.21 As skills become activated automatically, as opposed to having to concentrate on how to perform the action, they are considered rote performances and become located in a separate area of the brain in the left hemisphere.
The area of the brain thought to lift the technically correct performer to the level of an artist is the right hemisphere. Many people can play adequately, but this does not indicate a creative instinct. Those composers and performers who hear their lives as musical interludes have a depth of activation in the right hemisphere that may at various times seem a blessing or a burden.
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