In this article we’re going to do a little bit of myth-busting, but also outline what we believe to be the way forward. There is indeed robust research which demonstrates how music effects the brain, but our task at Nada Brahma is understanding how the benefits of music operate and how to harness these mechanisms and processes of ‘musical nutrition’ into a platform which can deliver tangible benefits for listeners, music makers and future industries.
Music is an integral part of all of our lives. It dates back to the very origins of civilisation. Specialists such as Dr. Steven Mithen (1) even argue that music and arts had an evolutionary function enabling important changes in culture and cognition of our species. Sociologists such as Tina DeNora demonstrate the integral role of Music in Everyday Life. (2) It’s possibly because music is such an integral part of our lives that we aren’t always aware of the extent to which it’s effecting and shaping us. And that’s part of what Nada Brahma is here to do, we’re here to create ‘music-nutrition labels’ so that people can understand and perhaps even choose better what it is they personally need, like, want and can benefit from.
Music, Brain, Science and You.
Understanding the Neuroscience of Music
The neuroscience of music encompasses a multitude of perspectives. It aims to explore the many ways in which music making and music listening manifest on the level of brain physiology, how it can be augmented and how these effects could be used in music-based applications and interventions.
Whilst it’s encouraging to see so many people interested in brain wave music and binaural beats we have to remain critical of the science behind these applications. A new music-health industry will not succeed unless it’s backed by hard data and evidence which enables clear deliverables to clients and users. So, is what you’re currently doing working? Let’s start by understanding some key things about ‘Music, brain, science and you’.
Effectiveness is Age-Bound
Studies in cognitive development and neurophysiology clearly demonstrate that the brain changes throughout our life in the different stages of human development. The most critical stage of brain development being the first 3 years. (3) During adolescence the increase in hormones and various other factors create a bio-chemical and neural environment very different than that of an adult in their 40s. So, what do we have to say about the numerous brain wave apps that are out there? It’s not that they won’t have any effect, but for real life effectiveness applications need to be age-bound and respond to the needs of cognitive development. Nada Brahma’s ‘Art and Science of Music and the Brain’ is age bound and personalised to your neurophysiology.
Our Lives Shape Us – Context and Background are Key
It’s important to understand that everything you do has an effect on your brain, and that everyone’s brain is different. A free-lance 25-year-old artist is going to have a very different brain to a 45-year-old man working in financial analytics. Your cultural background also influences your musical preferences. This is why we at Nada Brahma so deeply value the personalising of musical suggestions and activities. A key part of our ‘personalisation’ is understanding and adapting to your life context. Not only making our application easy to use in your every day life but also to incorporate the needs of your life context in what we provide you.
“Music is not just sound: it is dynamic pattern in embodied minds, movement, and social interactions; it is shaped by biology and culture.”
– Cambridge Centre for Music and Science.
Our goal is not to change you, but rather to enhance and support you for whatever it is you feel you need and/or want to achieve in your life. Personalisation is far too overlooked in many clinical science applications. Keep in mind that your individual ‘brain wave music needs’ are going to be different than your peers. What will really be effective as a binaural beat for assisting your whole brain functioning will be different to someone else. At Nada Brahma we both ‘personalise’ musical listening as well as ‘socialise’ musical games and activities in a way that respects both the biological and cultural aspects of music.
Music listening is probably the most common musical activity. “Neuroimaging studies have shown that even though music starts as mere oscillation of the membrane of the eardrum, it is processed in the entire brain. Music listening causes widespread activation, including areas important for movement, emotions, memory, hearing, pleasure, reward and motivation (6,7.) This might explain why music listening is such a powerful experience.” (4) “There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” says one John Hopkins otolaryngologist.
“If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.”
– John Hopkins Medical School
Although the ‘act of listening’ has been analysed, less has been done to understand sonic content of individual songs and how that affects listening processes. “Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it,” notes one otolaryngologist at John Hopkins. One of the key features of our platform is we analyse structural properties of music. This provides us with key indicators for which we can understand the ‘musical nutrition’ of each song. At Nada Brahma we analyse and optimise of sonic content based on your mood, brain, needs and individual dynamics.
Playing & Creating
Music is a social activity. Playing music together with others offers some of the most intimate social bonds and processes. (5) Although listening to music is beneficial, where we see the most whole brain activation or ‘brain workout’ is when people play music together and/or communicate through music. One of the key features on Nada Brahma is our unique digital instrument that enables people to communicate and play together in real-time.
Research on using music to treat Parkinson’s disease has revealed the key role of rhythmic coordination in re-establishing and enhancing functions of the sensory-motor system. (6) Another key features of the Nada Brahma’s unique digital instrument includes the ability to easily access a multitude of rhythms and polyrhythms beyond any other platform.
We understand in the importance of music making, in its benefits to the brain and to society at large. We are working to provide easy to use tools to amateur music makers. Fun musical games to the every day music lover as well as more complex tools to composers interested in exploring possibilities of composing for benefit. Whilst we’re at the beginning of understanding the correlations of specific rhythms to specifics moods and physiological benefits and hence how we can even further develop our knowledge on ‘musical nutrition’, we know by understanding the ‘Art and Science of Music and the Brain’ we have the parameters to create an accessible personalised application with real life benefits.
Nada Brahma – The Art and Science of Music and the Brain
The Art and Science of Music and the Brain includes key parameters on mechanisms and processes involved in engaging the benefits of music. Our goal is to unpack and identify the benefits of existing music, whilst enabling tools which can create more profoundly moving and nourishing music in the future. Through the deepest insights from artists to the most cutting edges of science technology we’re here to iron out science-backed frameworks for future industries. Industries which are evidence backed and enable real-life benefits. Ethical, sustainable, research-backed enterprises that understand what’s involved in enabling positive impact in both theory and practice.
(1) For more on Mithen’s works see:
* Mithen, S. J. (2005) The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.
* Mithen, S. J. (1996) The prehistory of the mind: a search for the origins of art, religion, and science, London: Thames and Hudson.
(2) DeNora, T., (2000) Music In Everyday Life. Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press.
(3) Institute for InterGroup Understanding, (2018) We Need to Help Every Family Help Every Child Exercise their Brain, Sausalito, CA, United States of America, Institute for InterGroup Understanding.
(4) Ahtisaari, M. (2015) What we talk about when we talk about music as medicine, Boston, MA, United States of America, Sync Project.
(5) Turino, T., (2008) Music As Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press.
(6) Dr. Gilbert, R. (2019) Music Therapy & Other Complementary Therapies for Parkinson’s, Staten Island, NY, United States of America, American Parkinson Disease Association.