Daniel Levitin - Books and Movies

I've just started reading Dan Levitin's "The is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession", and by started, I mean I just got through the 12 page introduction! The whole book is 250 pages, so it shouldn't take me too long. What I like about the introduction is how Levitin has given his bio leading up to being a neuroscientist. While I haven't been an instrumentalist, I didn't start with an interest in music and the brain. It took Levitin some time to get where he is now, so that gives me hope that I can still get where I'm going!

I did, however, finish watching two of Levitin's videos, produced by PBS - "The Music Instinct: Science and Song" featuring Bobby McFerrin and a number of other psychologists, scientists, and archaeologists interested in the connection between the brain and music; AND "Musical Brain" featuring Sting.  My husband would argue that "Musical Brain" was the better of the two, but I enjoyed each of them.

In "Musical Brain", Levitin finds that Sting is a student as well as a musician. He agrees to have Levitin scan his brain to see what if any differences there are between an "expert musician" and someone with less experience. The most significant thing I learned with this brain scan is the increased activity between the left and right brain. Levitin explains that he has seen this before with seasoned musicians. The left brain communicating with the right brain demonstrates skill as well as creativity - and this is something that has to be developed: it is not innate. The two converse throughout with Sting thoroughly enjoying what Levitin is teaching him. Of course, I envied Sting. How amazing to have a one-on-one with Levitin and ask him all the burning questions I have!

The second video, "The Music Instinct", contained a much broader description of the connection of music to the brain - an archaeological standpoint, educational development, and cultural music connections. I didn't initially understand McFerrin's involvement in this video, but I think his experience with multi-cultural music was a vital component. A lot of what I saw in this video was familiar. I knew about the important correlating between early music learning and academic achievement, and I knew that music was probably the earliest form of communication. The significant part of this video, for me, was the multicultural component of music. Each culture has notes/melodies that sound normal to them, but might sound like a cacophony to the rest of us. Despite that difference, most cultures can listen to music they've never heard before and be able to distinguish the language of the composer and whether the music infers happiness, sadness, or fright. Further, despite the differences in cultural music, each musician is able to harmonize with another. The difference in feelings came from a study with indigenous tribe who had never heard a piano before, let alone western music. It is amazing to me how universal music is. I also enjoyed the round tables that the camera often switched to - Levitin conversed with other experts in the field regarding past, current, and future studies necessary to learn more about music and the brain.

The disappointment I had with both videos is that there was no one featured who lived in the northwest, so I'm still seeking a mentor up here! I will continue to watch videos and read books pertaining to the connection of music to the brain, but I still need the practical experience! If you are reading this and know someone in the Seattle area, let me know!
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