Music is “useful”

Music can make people relax, happy… Besides, music can help stroke victims communicate! For the many stroke victims devastated by the loss of their ability to speak, music may be the key to unlock language.

The patients couldn’t speak anymore after a stroke to the left hemisphere of the brain. According to Gottfried Schlaug, a neurology professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, patients who were taught to essentially sing their words improved their verbal abilities and maintained the improvement for up to a month after the end of the therapy. After the therapy, patients may continue to speak in a more ”sing-songy” way.

The theory behind the treatment is that there are separate brain networks associated with vocal output, with one more engaged with speech and the other with music. With certain types of stroke, fibers on the left side of the brain that are important to the interaction of the auditory and the motor system are disrupted. But if the brain could recruit the fibers from the right side, which are more engaged with music, then the system could adapt. Dr. Schlaug believes that the tapping of the left hand works to engage the auditory and motor systems.

The treatment, called melodic intonation therapy, was devised in the 1970s after clinicians observed that some patients who suffered strokes were no longer able to talk but could still sing. However, the therapy never really caught and its efficacy hasn’t been fully assessed, Dr. Schlaug said.


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USO spring concert!

Hi everyone!

Again this year USO will have a spring concert Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th of April! Annnnd I will be there and play for you guys!

All members in University Symphony Orchestra (USO) are from universities in Leuven. We all have passion for music and come together every Wednesday evening to share this passion. Now we are going to share this passion with you!

We open the evening with Rossini’s lively overture from Il barbiere di Siviglia. After that, pianist Anne Vandewalle will accompany us in Rachmaninoff’s beautiful 2nd pianoconcerto. After you had a go at identifying all of the concerto’s popular tunes – did anyone hum All by myself? Or was it the soundtrack of Eastwoods Hereafter? – we take you to new worlds with Dvořák’s ninth symphony. We’ll eventually close the evening with the equally illustrious third half, freely offered by Leffe.

When? Thursday 3rd and Fiday 4th of April, 8 pm. (Doors open at 7:54 pm)

Where? Pieter De Somer Aula, Charles Deberiotstraat 24, 3000 Leuven

How much? Presale: €9 / €5 (student) / €4 (culture card)
Ticket desk: prices + €1

Tickets: here or with orchestra members.

Here is a short video about USO:

And a short introduction about our conductor:

And our home page to know us deeper!

See you at the concert!

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Making music reduces physical strain

A relatively recent study “Musical agency reduces perceived exertion during strenuous physical performance”, by Thomas Hans Fritz et al., conducted in Germany and Belgium, has found that “making music makes strenuous physical activities less exhausting”. What does that mean? I believe it doesn’t come as a surprise that music can be mentally supportive during exercise. Some good music (while running, for example) can be motivating and push someone to put in that little extra effort, or distract someone (reduce the person’s self-awareness), making the work seem easier.

But what this research shows goes a step further; if the hard physical work incorporates a form of creating music, the physical strain is decreased. The amount of energy used is effectively reduced, making the physical actions more efficient.

In the study, scientists performed a series of test with fitness machines. One of the tests compared people passively listening to music while exercising and another group with the ability to control musical characteristics through physical movements.

The scientists measured metabolic data as well as questioned the participants about their sense of exertion. Both forms of measurements gave a similar result: The questions showed that for most participants the strain was felt less when they were actively creating music and the metabolic measurements indicated that in those cases the muscles used less energy and hence were used more efficiently.

The underlying reasons why the human body reacts like this are still unclear (presumably it has something to do with emotionally driven motor control), but the results of this study may already prove useful in the development of new athletic sports technology, and help understand the therapeutic power of music and its role in the creation of human society.


The next post will be Lichen talking about other benefits of music!

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Judge music at the first note? No! At the first sight!

Listening to music with your eyes closed is a good way to judge if the music is your dish or not. However, some research started a few years ago to judge music without sound. IS THAT POSSIBLE? Some researchers think yes. “Social judgements are made on the basis of both visual and auditory information, with consequential implications for our decisions” — Sight over sound in the judgment of music performance, written by Chia-Jung Tsay.

An experiment was designed to test the truth of this theory. During the experiment, volunteers were separated into two groups to test who would be better at predicting the winners of a music contest. For one group, she had them only listen to audio or only view a silent video of the contestants performing. For the other group, they could watch the video with sound. Then she asked both groups to identify, from experiencing just one of those types of media, which of the contestants they thought had won the competition.

“What was surprising was that even though most people will say sound matters the most, it turned out that it was only in the silent videos, the videos without any sound, that participants were able to identify the actual winners,” Tsay says.

Incredibly, the volunteers were better able to identify the winners when they couldn’t hear the music at all, compared with when they could only hear the music. In fact, it was even worse than that: When the volunteers could see the musicians and hear the music, they became less accurate in picking the winners compared with when they could only see the performers. The music was actually a distraction.

–NPR recently reported

So… Are you ready for QUIET music judgment?


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Auto-Tune. Sounds perfect, but…

“The Voice of China”, a famous singing competition programme in China, was doubted by the audience that the contestants’ voices were being altered via Auto-Tune. Also the same happened on X Factor in the US. The technique of Auto-Tune has become more popular the last decade and a half, from commercial recordings to live music shows.

Let’s first have a rough view of what Auto-Tune is. An octave in the chromatic musical scale is divided into 12 pitches, each separated by a semitone (Think of a piano, which has 12 keys in each octave. A semitone is the difference in note between two adjacent piano keys). The goal of pitch correction is to retune a slightly high or low note to the nearest semitone. If an attempt at singing an A note actually was for example 445Hz instead of the desired 440Hz, then using a computer to correct the frequency back down would ensure that the recording sounds in tune.

“While working with Cher on the song “Believe” in 1998, producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling discovered that if they set Auto-Tune on its most aggressive setting, so that it corrected the pitch at the exact moment it received the signal, the result was an unsettlingly robotic tone.”  —Greg Milner (2009)

Recorded in 1998, the song “Believe” from Cher was the first commercial recording to use the software for auto-tune. Personally, I heard this song several years ago and I like it very much. This  song is “widely credited with injecting Auto-Tune’s mechanical modulations into pop consciousness.” (Chris Lee of the Los Angeles Times)
However, the condition in live music show is not that positive:

This video shows how it works:

Few singers are perfect indeed. Sometimes, the pitch of their vocal slightly misses the exact note that they are trying to hit. But is that fair to the audience that if the singers use the auto-tune during their live music show? Personally I don’t like it even if that means I will hear perfect music at the end. It is a bit like cheating. And I don’t believe that people love some singers only because of the perfect artificial music out from the speaker.

At the end, I would like to hear from you about this topic!!

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The benefits of music

You may have heard of the Mozart effect. Simply said, this claims that ‘listening to Mozart makes you smarter’, or a more moderate version is that children who listened to Mozart’s music perform better for some mental tasks. But is this really true?

Some studies suggest there is a short-term improvement of some cognitive skills, but the evidence is scarce. In a recent Harvard study music education of young children and the influence on cognitive skills was investigated. Samuel Mehr, the first author on the study, made a video that addresses the key points of the paper:

In the video (and in the paper) he explains how they could not find statistically relevant evidence that preschool music enrichment improves cognitive skills. Does that mean that previous reports on this effect are false? Not necessarily: he just says that more research is needed, and I think that’s true. I know this is a complex matter, but there is surprisingly little material to be found on the benefits of music education. Even for this study it’s not hard to find ways to improve it (mostly because of the limited resources they had available): for example, preferably there would be larger sample sizes, different types of musical training and a longer period of training and observation.

Samuel also adds his own opinion (in the video, not in the paper) about teaching music classes in school: he says “I don’t think there is any reason to teach music for reasons other than the fact that we think it is important, just like all the other academic subjects.” On this point I disagree however because of the reason why we think it is important. Sciences for example are more likely to be useful for the future careers of children/students, even in case they won’t directly need sciences for their jobs.

I could go further into detail about my opinion, but first I would like to hear yours!

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Judging other people’s taste in music


Last week Laura Miller published an article “Is the literary world elitist?”, which addresses the way people judge the taste in literature of others, focusing on how and why they express their disapproval. My first reaction was familiarity, since I recognized elements from attitudes towards music. For example, (in my experience) it’s popular to hate Nickelback, and even if you like Metallica, you’re not supposed to like their collaboration with Lou Reed.

I’m going to use these parallels between literature and music to discuss the judgment of musical taste in a similar fashion (if you think I shouldn’t directly apply the same arguments, the comment section is waiting for you! 🙂 ).

According to the article, the destructive attitude is based on insecurity and I fully agree with this: I believe it is a way of listeners to achieve a form of confirmation; if they don’t like something that is popular, they write it off as garbage in an attempt to reduce their insecurity.

The author also says it is an important point that “our relationship to any given book is also a relationship to its reputation”. Replace the word ‘book’ with ‘song’, ‘artist’ or ‘music genre’ and the point is the same.

I try myself to respect everyone’s tastes, though it’s probably impossible not to be influenced by it. For example, it would be harder for me to make friends with someone who dislikes the music I like. On the other hand, I regularly find myself making remarks (even if it’s half-jokingly) when one of my friends is listening to the newest pop hit. Do you have music that you “love to hate”, because you feel like you’re supposed to, or without having real arguments for it?

Bonus question: what about the role of the internet?  

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