Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dr. Dale Taylor Talks Music and the Brain

Dr। Dale Taylor, the Interim Music Therapy Director at Augsburg College, will be holding a seminar on Music and the Brain on March 25 at 3pm on the Augsburg campus. While concrete location and format of the seminar are still being decided, the seminar will focus on explaining the biomedical theory behind music therapy. In addition to Dr. Taylor’s extensive research background in the area of music and the brain, he also ran his own practice for many years and taught music therapy at the University of Minnesota. In preparation for this event, Dr. Taylor spoke with The Echo about the fundamental components of why music therapy has proved successful.

Dr। Taylor first noted the advantages of using music, rather than simple speech commands, to engage the brain during speech therapy. He went on to explain how using music therapy for speech development works by using a complex stimulus (music) to activate more areas of the brain than only talking. “Any use of language symbols will activate certain specific parts of the brain such as the visual memory centers, the primary auditory cortex, and then the main language centers,” says Taylor, “but when you add music…it uses any and all of those structures plus a lot of [association and cognitive area] that is not activated when music is not there.” This fact, Dr. Taylor says, has been confirmed through the use of brain scanning technology.

Dr। Taylor also added that research shows a positive correlation between the total amount of brain activation during an exercise and the success of completing the goals of that particular therapeutic exercise effectively.

But how and why is music so effective at activating brain functions? Dr। Taylor says research shows that “when music is played, even if [the person is] just listening to music, but certainly when the person is actively involved in the music production, the auditory cortex in a sense broadcasts that information to the rest of the brain and the different parts of the brain respond according to their normal jobs.” In this way, Taylor explains, “music changes the neuro-impulse pattern of the brain,” like generating an external heartbeat for the body.

Dr। Taylor refers to the common foot-tapping reaction people have when music is played. He points out that many people respond this way without even being aware of it and without trying to consciously control it. This foot-tapping is an example of how the auditory cortex, which is responsible for creating the concept of sound in our minds, can activate other parts of the brain which then respond through their respective functions. In this case, the foot-tapping would be attributed to a response from a signal sent to the motor cortex.

Essentially, the richness of most musical stimuli (as opposed to more common simple stimuli) causes a chain reaction initiated from the auditory cortex in the brain that increases total brain activity। The effects of this increased brain activity allow easier access to important brain functions, like critical cognition, and in turn help patients access their brain’s full operating potential. In this case, one can see why the brain/muscle metaphor is so appropriate in explaining brain functioning; the more you work out your brain, the stronger it gets.

There are a wide range of treatment areas where music is utilized for therapy and rehabilitation including cognitive therapy is the case of memory loss, speech therapy, physical therapy and chemical dependency treatment।

Dr। Taylor explained that “in working with people who have cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities, or neurological disorders…without music they may be calling upon certain parts of the brain that may be damaged or may be decreased in function…but when we involve them in music, the brain can re-learn those tasks using much more brain tissue than it would normally be using without the music.”

He also mentioned the issue of functional neuro-plasticity, which basically translates to your brain’s degree of flexibility in handling tasks। Some therapeutic methods are designed to increase this flexibility of the brain among the different cognitive structures. By increasing this flexibility, Dr. Taylor says we can “transfer jobs that are normally done in damaged parts of [the brain] to undamaged parts…[shifting] jobs to parts of the brain that are functioning normally, even though those parts would not normally be involved in that task.”

Chemical dependency treatment differs slightly from other music therapy treatments in that the activities are directed more towards distracting the brain from damaging thoughts and redirecting the source through which the brain receives gratification for certain cravings।

“With chemical dependency, our goals and objectives primarily are to get the person to realize that they can function well without the reliance on the chemical dependency without needing to escape to the altered state that chemical dependency give them,” says Taylor।

Another technique Dr। Taylor mentions is used by some music therapists is encouraging patients to use “music to enhance the brain’s own production neurotransmitters which stimulate parts of the brain that generate feelings of pleasure…and those neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin will do somewhat the same thing as the illegal drugs or pharmaceuticals that people take.”

Another tactical variation a music therapy involves the type of music a therapists uses to achieve a particular result। Dr. Taylor says, “For instance if we’re working with someone with a gate disorder, all we need is [a click] to help organize the rhythm and tempo of the patient’s responses. However, when we hear and entire symphony or an entire orchestra playing symphonic progressions of chords, that will not only involve the parts of the brain that have to do with music, but it will also activate long and short term memory and the limbic system of the brain.”

The limbic system controls the brain’s conscious and unconscious emotional responses to outward stimuli through changes in chemical production। In this way, music directly affects an individual’s emotions because these chemicals change when music stimulates a change in our outward neuro-impulse cues.

In addition to an apple a day, Dr. Taylor advises the use of music as a preventative measure to control stress and to promote good emotional health. For more information on this music therapy research, visit musictherapy.org or other resources are available in the Lindell Library.

1 comment:

Martin Walker said...

How true.

I used to work at a high stress job. I found that if I played music (piano or guitar) in the evening it really helped reduce my overall level of stress, and take my mind off work.

I now run a small company that publishes brain training programs. Much less stressful! Interestingly, we've found that customers report improved musical ability after brain training, and even improved appreciation when listening to music.

I guess the plasticity works both ways.

If anyone is interested, the training protocol we use was designed Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl's for their study on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008). It's an intensive training of visual and aural working memory.

Best wishes,
Martin Walker
Effective, Affordable Brain Training Software