How does Music Move Through your Brain?

1. Sound goes into your ear ↬


 From the highly readable HHMI article, The Quivering Bundles That Let Us Hear:

There are 16,000 hair cells in a human cochlea compared to some 100 million photoreceptors in the retina of the eye.

They are extremely vulnerable and sensitive.

Researchers calculate that hair cells are so sensitive that deflecting the tip of a bundle by the width of an atom is enough to make the cell respond.

Based on data from thousands of experiments in which they wiggled the bundle back and forth, the researchers calculated that hair cells are so sensitive the infinitesimal movement, which might be caused by a very low, quiet sound at the threshold of hearing, is equivalent to displacing the top of the Eiffel Towereiffel by only half an inch.

The photoreceptors in the eye are much slower, [says HHMI researcher, James Hudspeth],

“The visual system is so slow that when you look at a movie at 24 frames per second, it seems continuous, without any flicker. Contrast 24 frames per second with 20,000 cycles per second. The auditory system is a thousand times faster.”

2: Sound is translated into electrical impulses that can be processed by the brain

scrub this animation back and forth to examine the structures
Auditory radiation through the structures of the brain

 3: If those electrical signals represent music, where do they go and what are they up to?

Once a sounds has become an electric signal in your brain, it looks surprisingly like the sound wave that generated it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 2.36.20 PM

Researchers at University of Jyväskylä, in Finland have discovered that listening to music lights up the whole brain.

Music listening recruits not only the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks.

For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical pulse recruits motor areas in the brain, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined. Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre was associated with activations in the so-called default mode network, which is assumed to be associated with mind-wandering and creativity.

Music is a whole system activity.

The particular parts of the brain involved in musical experience are addressed in this snippet from a larger panel discussion on Music and the Brain at the World Science Festival:



The last presentation shows MRI studies of individuals listening to music


one more time?


what to watch next? 

Music and the Brain

The Benefits of Learning to Play Music

The Benefits of Listening to Music