Musical Mind Meld

Three bits of information from three different sources recently glued together in my brain.

Their convergence is fascinating.

1st bit:   

  • A recent study published by the Acoustical Society of America in which scientists investigated how the unique resonance of a person’s skull might impact their musical preferences and/or appreciation.
  • The theory behind their work: “The cochlea (principle auditory sensory organ) is embedded in the temporal bone of the skull. This extremely dense bone creates a resonant structure around the cochlea that amplifies some tones and attenuates others. Consequently, the resonance of the skull can alter how a listener perceives a sound’s loudness, richness, and timbre. Moreover, since the size, density, and even shape of a person’s skull is somewhat unique, that resonance will vary across individuals. Our current research was designed to explore whether this uniqueness in skull resonance might have a direct influence on the kinds of music a person prefers.”
  • Their conclusion:  “While there is much research needed to fully explore this relationship more, skull resonance seems to have a subtle influence on musical preferences and selections.”

2nd bit:

  • Another study released by scientists at the Max Planck Institute who monitored the brain activity of musicians while they were performing a duet.
  • Their method:  Gathering 32 guitarists they arranged for them to play a sonata in pairs while wearing electrodes by which the scientists monitored their brain activity. Each pair was asked to play the sonata together approximately 60 times.
  • Their conclusion:  “The result was remarkable: When the musicians had to actively coordinate their playing… the signals from frontal and central brains were clearly associated — not only within the head of one player, but also between the heads of the duet partners… When people coordinate actions with one another, small networks within the brain and, remarkably, between the brains are formed, especially when the activities need to be precisely aligned in time, for example at the joint play onset of a piece… Anyone who has ever played in an orchestra will be familiar with the phenomenon: the impulse for one’s own actions does not seem to come from one’s own mind alone, but rather seems to be controlled by the coordinated activity of the group. And indeed, [as we have demonstrated], interbrain networks do emerge when making music together.”

3rd bit:

  • I came across the above photo of someone’s graffiti. And was struck by its uncanny relevance to the two discoveries. On the surface, the symbology could be taken superficially, as in: “Music is universal, it brings us together.” Yet on a deeper level — as these two studies suggest — music can literally unite us on a physical/neurological level. And fuse us, temporarily, into a single being. (Perhaps the fusing can occur selectively and unconsciously between individuals based on the shared resonance of their bones? Hmmm…)

Of course this is yet another example of science catching up to our collective intuition, in some ways “proving” what we already knew in our gut.


I think our instincts only become more compelling when paired with evidence.

And, of course, my thinking has already leapt far from music and carried these ideas into other realms.

More on that in future posts.

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