Just another WordPress.com site

The Savant Syndrome was first described by Dr. J. Langston Down in 1887, although he did not use that terminology when he wrote of 10 savants he had personally known; it has been written about consistently ever since. Dr. Down was in charge the Earlswood Asylum in England where people with what was then called idiocy and today would be called mental retardation were cared for. Autism would not be diagnosed for another fifty years. He is the person for whom the well known developmental disability Down Syndrome is named. He reported a man in his care who, after attending an opera only once, could return to the asylum and recall all of the arias and hum or sing them over and over perfectly, including with proper pitch (qtd. in Treffert Np.).

                                            One of the most famous musical savants was a pianist who performed in the middle 1800’s. His name was Thomas Green Wiggins and he became know musically as “Blind Tom” (Treffert Np.). He played at the White House  in 1849 at age 11. After the Civil War ended he traveled throughout the US and Europe performing in concerts for the important musicians of the time. He had a vocabulary of less than 100 words, but a musical repertoire of 5,000 selections. According to Dr. Treffert there are records preserved containing a statement from a panel of 16 outstanding musicians of the day who tested him in  Philadelphia and who signed a statement with their conclusions about “Blind Tom”. They wrote “Whether in his improvisations of performances of compositions by Gottschalk, Verdi, and others; in fact, in every form of musical examination – and the experiments were too numerous to mention – he showed a capacity ranking him among the most wonderful phenomena in musical history” (qtd. in Treffert Np.).

                             In 1914 Dr. Alfred Treadgold wrote of a  female patient in a French mental hospital who was born blind with mental retardation and had Ricketts (a vitamin C deficiency disease) who had great musical talent. He wrote:

                                  Her voice was very correct and whenever she had sung or heard some piece she knew perfectly well the words and the music. As long as she lived they came to her to correct the mistakes in singing of her companions; they asked her to repeat a passage, which had gone wrong, which she always did admirably. One day, Geraldy, Liszt, and Meyerbeer came to the humble singing class of our asylum to bring her encouraging consolations. (qtd. Treffert Np.)

                                           The Geraldy mentioned was Paul Geraldy (1885-1983) who was a French poet and playwright, Liszt was Franz Listzt the composer (1811-1886) and Meyerbeer was Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864),  German born composer who was the most famous and successful composer and producer of opera in the Europe of his time, although he is  virtually unknown today.    

                                               Scientists do not fully understand Savant Syndrome although more research is being done on it now than ever before. According to Treffert (Np.) it appears that left hemisphere brain dysfunction, particularly in the temporal lobe areas, with the right hemisphere developing processes to compensate for the loss in the left hemisphere is an important part of the cause in many cases of savant syndrome, including those occurring in persons with autistic disorder (Treffert Np.). One theory of how that happens is that that the left side of the brain develops later than the right side and if there is more testosterone present than there should be during late term development of the fetus it causes damage to the underdeveloped and more at risk left hemisphere (Treffert Np.).   Prodigious memory is present in every case of savant syndrome and is considered a basic characteristic of the syndrome. Barr characterized his patient with prodigious memory as “an exaggerated form of habit” (qtd. in Treffert Np.). This type of memory is a non-conscious “habit” formation rather than a “semantic” memory system  (Treffert Np.). We have two kinds of memory processes which each use different circuits in the brain; semantic memory which happens in the cortex and limbic system and is a higher level cognitive process and the more primitive habit memory, which happens much deeper in the old brain. Savant memory is probably the latter and is restricted to a very narrow area in the habit memory area of the brain (Treffert Np.). Savant skills characteristically continue, during one’s life instead of disappearing. With continued use, they persist at the same level or actually increase. The person’s  special skills often serve as an opportunity  toward normalization with actual improvement in language acquisition, socialization, and daily living skills. When the area of special skill is music it has usually has been piano.  Musical savant characteristics include perfect pitch, composing in the absence of performance and the ability to play multiple instruments, sometimes as many as twenty (Treffert Np).  Other than prodigious memory and possibly perfect pitch, not all characteristics are present in every musical savant. Prodigious savant is a term reserved for those very rare individuals for whom the special skill is so outstanding that it would be spectacular even if it were to occur in a person without a disability (Treffert Np.). Treffert (Np.) estimates that there are probably fewer than 50 prodigious savants known to be living worldwide at the present time who would meet that very high threshold of savant ability.

Autism Spectrum Disorders are developmental disorders caused by failure of the brain to develop normally. They are characterized by impaired social and communication skills including spoken language, as well as repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior such as body rocking, hand flapping and other self-stimulatory movements. Uneven cognitive development is common and intellectual disability is present in a large percentage of individuals with ASD. Twenty to forty percent have epileptic seizures. Blindness is also common in people with ASD, although it is a co-ocurring condition and not a characteristic of the disorders. It is found in 1in150 children and it is2 to 4time more frequent in boys than girls. It probably has a genetic component because a person with a child with ASD has a 50 to 100 percent higher chance of having a second child with ASD than  the general population.

 There are several disorders in the spectrum; the most common one is Autism. Asperger’s disease is also part of the spectrum. The cognitive, and language deficits are less sever compared to Autism but these individuals are socially isolated because they do not comprehend social cues and have severe difficulty with interpersonal relationships. The self-stimulatory behaviors so common to Autism are less recognizable or absent, but they often have poor coordination and problems with clumsiness and gait. They demonstrate repetitive behavior patterns. They have unusual sensitivity to noise, food odors, texture, and tastes and clothing and environmental textures. People with Asperger’s behave oddly, and are often labeled as being eccentric. Their cognitive processing is extremely concrete, including their use of language, and they do not understand abstractions or jokes (Sulkes Np). My interest in ASD is related to the literature about people with ASD being helped through being taught music as well as the literature on the gifted autistic musicians, some of whom are considered musical prodigies, who are known as musical savants. Savant Syndrome is an extraordinary condition in a person with serious mental, motor and other disabilities who also has some “island of genius” (Treffert) in startling contrast to their overall handicap (Np.). It has been estimated that many as one in 10 autistic people has such remarkable abilities in some degree (Treffert Np.). It also can happen in other developmental disabilities or in the presence of central nervous system injury or brain disease so not all savants are autistic.

 In this unusual condition people with serious cognitive, social and motor disabilities also display unique and at times genius level cognitive skills in the areas of music, art, mechanical ability, and mathematics skills. Savants will approach their special skills very compulsively and practice them over and over to the point of being obsessed with them.  We do know that no matter what area of skill the savant ability surfaces in it is always linked to having massive memory. On If you know the movie Rain Man (1988) starring Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, the autistic brother, you have observed a mathematical savant. The real person on whom the character Raymond Babbit was based on is a male now in his fifties who has memorized over 8,600 books and has encyclopedic knowledge of geography,   music, literature, history, sports, and 9 other areas of expertise. He can name all theUSarea codes and major city ZIP codes. He has also memorized the maps in the front of telephone books and can tell you precisely how to get from oneUScity to another, and then how to get around in that city street by street. He also has calendar-calculating abilities. Recently rather advanced musical talent has surfaced. Of unique interest is his ability to read extremely rapidly, simultaneously scanning one page with the left eye, the other page with the right. An MRI of his brain showed absence of the corpus callosum (joins the left and right hemispheres of the brain) along with substantial other central nervous system damage (Treffert Np.).

                                               The Savant Syndrome was first described by Dr. J. Langston Down in 1887, although he did not use that terminology when he wrote of 10 savants he had personally known; it has been written about consistently ever since. Dr. Down was in charge the Earlswood Asylum in England where people with what was then called idiocy and today would be called mental retardation were cared for. Autism would not be diagnosed for another fifty years. He is the person for whom the well known developmental disability Down Syndrome is named. He reported a man in his care who, after attending an opera only once, could return to the asylum and recall all of the arias and hum or sing them over and over perfectly, including with proper pitch (qtd. in Treffert Np.).

                                            One of the most famous musical savants was a pianist who performed in the middle 1800’s. His name was Thomas Green Wiggins and he became know musically as “Blind Tom” (Treffert Np.). He played at the White House  in 1849 at age 11. After the Civil War ended he traveled throughout the US and Europe performing in concerts for the important musicians of the time. He had a vocabulary of less than 100 words, but a musical repertoire of 5,000 selections. According to Dr. Treffert there are records preserved containing a statement from a panel of 16 outstanding musicians of the day who tested him in  Philadelphia and who signed a statement with their conclusions about “Blind Tom”. They wrote “Whether in his improvisations of performances of compositions by Gottschalk, Verdi, and others; in fact, in every form of musical examination – and the experiments were too numerous to mention – he showed a capacity ranking him among the most wonderful phenomena in musical history” (qtd. in Treffert Np.).

                             In 1914 Dr. Alfred Treadgold wrote of a  female patient in a French mental hospital who was born blind with mental retardation and had Ricketts (a vitamin C deficiency disease) who had great musical talent. He wrote:

                                  Her voice was very correct and whenever she had sung or heard some piece she knew perfectly well the words and the music. As long as she lived they came to her to correct the mistakes in singing of her companions; they asked her to repeat a passage, which had gone wrong, which she always did admirably. One day, Geraldy, Liszt, and Meyerbeer came to the humble singing class of our asylum to bring her encouraging consolations. (qtd. Treffert Np.)

                                           The Geraldy mentioned was Paul Geraldy (1885-1983) who was a French poet and playwright, Liszt was Franz Listzt the composer (1811-1886) and Meyerbeer was Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864),  German born composer who was the most famous and successful composer and producer of opera in the Europe of his time, although he is  virtually unknown today.    

                                               Scientists do not fully understand Savant Syndrome although more research is being done on it now than ever before. According to Treffert (Np.) it appears that left hemisphere brain dysfunction, particularly in the temporal lobe areas, with the right hemisphere developing processes to compensate for the loss in the left hemisphere is an important part of the cause in many cases of savant syndrome, including those occurring in persons with autistic disorder (Treffert Np.). One theory of how that happens is that that the left side of the brain develops later than the right side and if there is more testosterone present than there should be during late term development of the fetus it causes damage to the underdeveloped and more at risk left hemisphere (Treffert Np.).   Prodigious memory is present in every case of savant syndrome and is considered a basic characteristic of the syndrome. Barr characterized his patient with prodigious memory as “an exaggerated form of habit” (qtd. in Treffert Np.). This type of memory is a non-conscious “habit” formation rather than a “semantic” memory system  (Treffert Np.). We have two kinds of memory processes which each use different circuits in the brain; semantic memory which happens in the cortex and limbic system and is a higher level cognitive process and the more primitive habit memory, which happens much deeper in the old brain. Savant memory is probably the latter and is restricted to a very narrow area in the habit memory area of the brain (Treffert Np.). Savant skills characteristically continue, during one’s life instead of disappearing. With continued use, they persist at the same level or actually increase. The person’s  special skills often serve as an opportunity  toward normalization with actual improvement in language acquisition, socialization, and daily living skills. When the area of special skill is music it has usually has been piano.  Musical savant characteristics include perfect pitch, composing in the absence of performance and the ability to play multiple instruments, sometimes as many as twenty (Treffert Np).  Other than prodigious memory and possibly perfect pitch, not all characteristics are present in every musical savant. Prodigious savant is a term reserved for those very rare individuals for whom the special skill is so outstanding that it would be spectacular even if it were to occur in a person without a disability (Treffert Np.). Treffert (Np.) estimates that there are probably fewer than 50 prodigious savants known to be living worldwide at the present time who would meet that very high threshold of savant ability.

                                               Because of the length and complexity of this paper I am not going to attempt to summarize the aspects of the brain and how it functions in the process of learning, performing and appreciating music. Instead I want to review what I think are the most important things I gained by writing this paper beyond all the new information I learned. I have developed a profound respect for my brain. I had no idea that learning music, the thing I love most in life, was so biologically unique and complicated.  As I contemplate teaching music to others as part of my career, I feel that I am much better prepared to undertake this responsibility because I now have at least a basic idea of what is going on in the brain of my student. I also feel like I answered the questions I started the project wanting to know.  Hopefully, the understanding I have developed will make me better able to recognize learning difficulties in the students I teach and to celebrate the significance of their accomplishments. Understanding the process of learning music in the brain has increased my sense of awe about it all, and also has allowed me to be more patient with myself and hopefully with those I teach as I have a new awareness of just how demanding and mysterious mastering music really is.  I look forward to developing the creativity and knowledge about teaching music that is required to inspire me to excel in teaching others, particularly those who may not find learning music an easy endeavor.

 

                                               The vision and hearing areas of the brain have a have a boundary area where they interact located in the area of the brain that does reading. It take visual images and convert them into sounds. If you injure this area or it doesn’t develop when you are very young, you have a learning disability called dyslexia. People with dyslexia see letters backwards and have problems understanding what written words mean. There is research being done with dyslexics using a game that calls for responses to tones that come very fast. It reportedly helps them to read better (Cromie, 2001). Sight reading of musical notation is a distinct ability that is separate from reading words and Arabic numerals (Peretez and Zatorre 100).  Brain damage that causes music alexia (loss of ability to read music) is always located in the left hemisphere of the brain. There are also disorders called amusia in which you lose the ability to process complex music or certain elementsof it. This can occur because of brain damage from an accident or disease or you can be born with it. One is a rarerneurological disorder where epileptic seizures are triggeredby listening to or playing music.Amusia is frequently present with aphasia (loss of speech).  Both are in the auditory part of the brain, but one can occur in the absence of the other (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 284).  A famous instance of amusia was the French composer MauriceRavel (1875-1937). Ravel is probably most famous for his orchestral work, Boléro (1928), which he considered trivial and once described as “a piece for orchestra without music” (cited in Kavanaugh 56).  It was his most commercially successful composition. Ravel’s estate today earns more royalties than that of any other French musician. According to international copyright law, Ravel’s works are out of public domain since January 1, 2008 in most countries, but  in France, due to copyright law extensions to account for the two world wars, they will not enter the public domain until 2015 (“Maurice Ravel” Np.). He had a progressive brain disease and a head injury both of which occurred several years before his death and eventually caused aphasiawith alexia (inability to read), agraphia (inability to write),and ideomotor apraxia (inability to move in a coordinated way).It caused him to slowly lose his ability to compose music (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 284). Case notes published in 1948 by his neurologist, Dr. Alajouanine, indicated that Ravel’s problems were caused by damage to his left hemisphere (Andrade and  Bhattacharyn (284; Warren 424). Andrade and  Bhattacharyn (285) believe the effects of his disease are seen in Bolero, composed during his illness, with timbres coming to dominateat the expense of melodic complexity. Andrade and Bhattacharyn (284) stated that the extraordinaryrichness of timbres was due to the preservation of his  right hemisphere and the loss of functioning in the left. However, at least one critic does not agree that the unique use of timbre in Bolero was a result of Ravel’s loss of ability to compose using melodic complexity. Warren  disagreed with the findings of Andrade and Bhattacharyn, writing “Ravel was always intensely interested in the technical aspects of his art, and there is evidence from his own correspondence that he composed Bolero as a study of crescendo, ‘orchestration without music’ (some would argue he succeeded only too well)” (424).  He supports his opinion further by referring to the two piano concertos completed after Bolero stating “both are masterpieces of the genre; the slow movement of the Concerto in G, in particular, is graced by a melody of Mozartian delicacy” (424).  Ravel died  at age 60, three days after they operated on his brain (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 284). An autopsy was not done (Warren 424) so I guess we will never really know exactly what happened in his brain or what opinion is correct regarding the final years of his life as a composer and musician. By contrast, aphasia without amusia developed in the Russian composer  Vissarion Shebalin (1902-1963). Shebalin was a friend and contemporary of Dmitri Shostakovich.  His brain damage was the result of two strokes that happened about ten years before his death (“Vissarion Shebalin” Np.).  However, his musical abilitiessurvived the severe damage to his left hemisphere that impaired most of his language capabilities (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 284; “Vissarion Shebalin” Np.). Despite his damaged brain,  just a few months before his death at age sixty-one from a third stroke, he completed his fifth symphony, described by Dmitri Shostakovich as “a brilliant creative work, filled with highest emotions, optimistic and full of life” (“Vissarion Shebalin” Np.). In casesof amusia where speech is spared, the brain damageis in the right hemisphere (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 285).Then the symptoms include difficulty recognizingsounds as musical, loss of rhythmic sense, hearing musical sounds‘out of tune’, and hearing both voices and musicas monotonal (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 285).Usually damage in the right hemisphereinterferes with pitch-related tasks more than rhythm-related tasks (Andrade and Bhattacharyn 284).Removal of theright temporal lobe disrupts the recognition of timbre butdoesn’t disrupt rhythm ability

The occipital lobe receives and processes visual information directly from the eyes.  It sends this information to the Wernicke’s area in the parietal lobe, which is involved in understanding visual and auditory information associated with language, and the motor cortex in the frontal lobe (“Occipital Lobe” Np.). 

                             The temporal lobe is important in processing music. Damage here impacts our ability to appreciate music and to be able to sing.  Damage to the left temporal lobe causes the loss of the ability to read a musical score (Satoh et.al. 1844). It processes basic and complex hearing (“Temporal Lobe” Np.). When you hear sound that is just identified as “sound” that activity is in a different part of the lobe than when you hear sound you identify as a musical tone. If you hear a sound you recognize as a specific vocalist’s voice that happens in yet a different part of this lobe (O’Donnell Np.). The temporal lobe also processes auditory information from the ears and sends it to Wernicke’s area of the parietal lobe (language processing), and to the motor cortex of the frontal lobe. The left temporal lobe performs multiple language functions including  comprehension, naming, and verbal memory (“Temporal Lobe” Np.). Research has shown that this region of the brain is larger in adult musicians than in those who are not musicians. (Klarreich Np.). A study found that children with musical training had significantly better verbal memory for non-musical tasks than those without such training and retained this skill a year later. The researchers believe that music training during childhood helps reorganize/develop the left temporal lobe, facilitating verbal memory, but does not impact visual memory (Ho et al. Np.). The right and left temporal lobes communicate with each other through a tract of fibers near the rear of the brain called the anterior commissure. The front portion of both lobes, probably in concert with the cerebellum, are vital in the perception of music including the discrimination of chords (Satoh et al. 1846). A study of individuals with brain damage testing their ability to recognize changesin note intervals and to distinguish between different rhythms and meters found that loss of these abilities was always directly related to the same areas of brain damage across subjects. Right temporal lobe damage impaired the use of bothcontour and interval information in the discrimination of melodies.  The right lobe, along with the amygdala, is also involved in the recognition of timbre (Satoh et.al. 1844). Left temporal damage only impairs the use of interval information (Liegeois-Chauvel et.al.139).  Satoh (1848) found that the ability to discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar melodies occurs bilaterally in the temporal lobes.  The superior temporal gyrus is a ridge on the temporal lobe that contains the area where auditory signals from the cochlea first reach the cerebral cortex  (“Temporal Lobe” Np.). It is important inprocessing melody. Damage to the auditory areas located in the back of the superior temporal gyrus impaired pitch and tempo variation processing. Damage to the front section resulted in impairment of metric processing (Leigeois-Chaevel et al.139).  Approximately 4% of the population has a condition called musical tone deafness which is a severe and life long difficulty with music perception despite normal cognitive functioning in other areas (Neurosciences Institute Scientific Report 16). This is believed to be caused by abnormalities in the right auditory cortex (The Neurosciences Institute Scientific Report 1). The hippocampus is located deep within the temporal lobe and is important for processing short-term memory for storage as long term memory (“Hippocampus” Np.) and control of spatial memory and behavior (“Temporal Lobe” Np.). The amygdala is also located in the temporal lobe; it controls social and sexual behavior and other emotions. It is critically involved in computing the emotional significance of events (“Amygdala” Np.) and is involved in processing music (Satoh et.al. 1843). It is responsible for the influence of emotion on perception, through its connections with those brain regions that process sensory experiences, and allows perception of emotionally significant events to occur despite inattention (“Amygdala” Np.).  It is also involved in forming new associations between cues and outcomes teaching us when we do something even as ordinary as greeting a friend or ordering a burger.

Music and the Memory JMV

Memory is an essential component of music. Music is sound that unfolds over time and the auditory cognitive system has to be able to maintain the stimuli long enough to relate one element in the sequence to another one that comes later. The right auditory, frontal, and temporal cortices interact for memory of tones. This is a  specialized subsystem within the framework of general working memory (Peretz and Zatorre Np.). To recognize a specific tune, melodic and time relations have to be mapped onto a stored long-term representation in the brain that contains the unchanging properties of the musical selection.

 This memory is a perceptual system regarding form and structure of events and is not based on meaning or other associative properties (Peretz and Zatorre Np.).  Learning and performing music requires a strong ability in the mastery of sequences; learning to do things in very precise and specific order (Peretz and Zatorre Np.). The frontal lobe is critical in this process.  The frontal lobe is also important in controlling emotions. Emotional brain functions apply to music because an essential part of the musical experience is an emotional one. Deep in the oldest part of our brain, the limbic section controls emotions. It sends messages to other parts of our brain to take immediate action. Such action can be necessary for our survival in a life threatening situation, but usually it is an over reaction to the perceived threat. The frontal lobe puts the brakes on emotions giving you time to think before you act on the feeling (Peretz and Zatorre Np.; “Human Brain” Np.).

                             Vision and hearing are unique sensory functions because unlike all other stimuli they do not enter the brain via the spinal cord, but enter directly into the brain through the eyes and ears.  Our ear contains a fluid filled structure called the cochlea which contains two membranes and specialized receptors called Hair cells that transmit sound onto the neurons of the auditory nerve. Hair cells dictate the loudness of sound. The membranes and the hair cells also dictate pitch (Sancar 1994). Loudness and pitch information is integrated in the brain stem where sound location is also processed as well as the defining and shaping of sounds to help identify individual notes (Sancar 1998). This very basic information is sent to the cerebral cortex where a more complex assessment of notes is achieved (Sancar 1998).  The parietal lobe is involved in this process because it integrates sensory information from different modalities (“Parietal Lobe” Np.). 

 The right-brain auditory cortex specializes in determining hierarchies of harmonic relations and rich overtones and is expert at analyzing the highly harmonic vowel sounds of language (Sancar 1999). The left auditory hemisphere deciphers the sequencing of sounds and perception of rhythm (Sancar 1999). A German study found that a region of the auditory cortex was more active in professional musicians listening to tones of varying frequencies compared to amateur musicians and considerably more active than that of non-musicians (Briggs Np.). The musicians  had 130% more grey matter in the part of the brain that makes sense of music compared with people who were not musical (Briggs Np.).  According to the research team’s leader Dr Peter Schneider “There must be a great influence of genetics to account for the great volume of grey matter in the professional musicians” (qtd in Briggs Np.). Schneider believes that  how much we have of this type of brain cell is fixed from birth. However the repeated flexing of the brain by practicing a musical instrument may also have influenced the development of the brain (Briggs Np.). The parietal lobe has a section called Wernicke’s area, which is the primary location for processing auditory and visual information associated with language.

 (“Wernicke’s Area” Np.).  It receives information from other lobes of the brain and uses it to produce language. Damage to this area produces “sensory aphasia,” in which people cannot understand language but can still produce sounds (“Wernicke’s Area” Np.). There is an area in this lobe called the angular gyrus located where the areas for processing touch, hearing, and vision come together that researchers associate with the ability to understand metaphor, an important element in poetry, literature and music (“Angular Gyrus” Np.). I think that’s enough to remember for now. ;-) Next time we will occupy ourselves with the occipital lobe. stay tuned!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewX3OIUulrw

The frontal lobe is the most advanced part of our brain and is responsible for the functions of planning, organizing, and controlling our activities and behavior. The frontal lobe is involved in motor skills (including speech) and performs associative processes i.e. thought, learning, and memory (“Human Brain” Np; “Frontal Lobe” Np.). An area on the left side of the frontal lobe, called Broca’s area, is involved in processing language including  controlling the muscles that make sounds (mouth, lips and larynx) (“Human Brain” Np ). Wernicke’s area, which spans between the temporal and parietal lobes, plays a key role with Broca’s area processing speech (“Wernicke’s Area” Np.).  Damage here results in “Broca’s aphasia,” in which people can understand language, but can’t produce meaningful sounds. Scientists still do not know for certain exactly how language and music are processed in our brain and if there are separate or shared processes. Patel states “A growing body of evidence suggests language and music are more closely related than previously believed” (680).  Broca’s area has been studied numerous times related to brain injury and deficits associated with the loss of the ability to use rules governing the combination of separate elements of language into a cohesive structure (linguistic syntax). Studies of the loss of the ability to use the rules for combining separate elements of music into a cohesive structure (musical syntax) are more recent and fewer. Usually they were done using only trained musicians as subjects which made it difficult to know if the findings applied to non-musicians. These studies are useful in trying to discover if the  brain uses the same or different mechanism to process language and music because the scientists know where the brain damage is before they do the study which helps them isolate different brain functions depending on the deficits they are investigating. Studies at the Neuroscience Institute (16) looked at the loss of the ability to use musical syntax in non-musicians. They found that tests showed a musical syntax deficit existed that could not be explained by auditory processing problems.  They determined that the loss of musical syntax ability was a strong predictor of the degree of linguistic syntactic deficit. When they then tested linguistic deficits their theory was supported (Neurosciences Institute Scientific Report 16). Apparently musical and language syntax rely on some common brain mechanisms and there is some functional overlap because it is the brain processing the structured sequences, not language (Neurosciences Institute Scientific Report 16 ). Patel (674) theorizes that the overlap occurs in the frontal lobe; he found that harmonic processing stimulated the Broca’s area in both the left and right frontal lobe.  The frontal lobe then sends the information to the back of the brain where different areas have specialized abilities to use it. Patel (679) believes we process musical syntax in both Broca’s area (processes production of language) and Wernicke’s area (processes auditory and visual information associated with language). He thinks our structural knowledge about music is represented in Broca’s area and our processing of syntax in Wernicke’s area involves operations conducted on the knowledge from Broca’s to build perception.  According to him, these two areas have separate memory systems (Patel 679). 

  However, Hebert (200) believes that language and music are separate processes and are not associated even in singing which naturally brings the two together. She found the ability to preserve one and lose the other well documented. According to her findings which are based on studying the existing literature of studies done on musicians with brain damage reading music and reading text are functionally separate, but both deficits frequently occur together.  She believes the two functions are separate, but share adjacent brain areas (Hébert and Cuddy 200).  She found damage to the ability to write music occurs without damage to the ability to write words (Hébert and Cuddy 200).  She was the only researcher I found who suggested that there is such a thing as musical dyslexia and that it can be either a developmental disability or be caused by brain injury (Hébert and Cuddy 203).

Tag Cloud

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.