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What is the secret of the mesmerizing power of music

Music is all around us. At the sound of a powerful orchestral crescendo, tears come to my eyes and goosebumps run down my back. The musical accompaniment enhances the artistic expressiveness of films and performances. Rock musicians make us jump to our feet and dance, and parents lullabies quiet kids songs.

The love for music has deep roots: people compose and listen to her since the very beginning of the culture. More than 30 thousand years ago our ancestors already played stone flutes and bone harps. It seems that this hobby has an innate nature. Babies turn to the source of pleasant sounds (consonances) and turn away from unpleasant (dissonances). And when we experience awe at the final sounds of the Symphony, the same pleasure centers are activated in the brain as during a delicious meal, sex or taking drugs. MUSIC
When we listen to music, the brain reacts to it by activating several
areas outside the auditory cortex. To recycle music
information is influenced by a person’s visual, tactile and emotional experience.


Reaching human sounds are transformed
the structures of the outer and middle ear in the fluid oscillations in the inner ear. A tiny bone in the middle ear, the stapes, “shakes” the snail, changing the pressure of the fluid filling it.
In turn, the vibrations of the cochlea’s basilar membrane cause sensory receptors in the ear, hair cells, to generate electrical signals traveling along the auditory nerve to the brain. Each hair cell is tuned to a specific frequency of fluid oscillations.


The processing of music by the brain is based on hierarchical and spatial principles. The primary auditory cortex, which receives inputs from the ear and (through the thalamus) the lower auditory centers, is involved in the initial processes of music perception, for example, the analysis of pitch (tone frequency). Under the influence of experience, the primary auditory cortex can be reconfigured – it increases the number of cells with maximum reactivity to important human sounds and musical tones, which affects the further processing of musical information in the secondary auditory areas of the cortex and auditory associative zones, where the processing of more complex musical characteristics (harmony, melody and rhythm).

When a musician plays an instrument, the activity of the motor cortex, cerebellum and other brain structures involved in the planning and implementation of specific, precisely timed movements increases.
Why is music so important for a person and has such power over him? Neuroscientists don’t have final answers yet. In recent years, however, some data have begun to emerge on where and how the processing of musical information takes place. The study of patients with craniocerebral injuries and the study of healthy people with modern methods of neuroimaging led scientists to an unexpected conclusion: in the human brain there is no specialized center of music. Its processing involves numerous areas scattered throughout the brain, including those that are usually involved in other forms of cognitive activity. The size of the active zones varies depending on the individual experience and musical training of the person. Our ear has the smallest number of sensory cells in comparison with other senses: in the inner ear there are only 3.5 thousand hair cells, and in the eye – 100 million photoreceptors. But our mental reactions to music are incredibly plastic, because they are very different. even short-term training can change the way the brain processes “music inputs.”

Music in my head

Before modern methods of neuroimaging were developed, researchers studied the musical abilities of the brain, observing patients (including famous composers) with various disorders of its activity due to injury or stroke. Thus, in 1933, the French composer Maurice Ravel developed symptoms of local brain degeneration – a disease accompanied by atrophy of certain areas of brain tissue. The composer’s thinking abilities were not affected: he remembered his old works and played scales well. But he could not compose music. Speaking about his supposed Opera “Joan of Arc”, Ravel admitted: “the Opera in my head, I hear it, but never write. It’s over. I am no longer able to compose music.” He died four years later after unsuccessful surgery. The history of his disease gave rise to the idea among scientists that the brain is deprived of a specialized center of music.

The hypothesis was confirmed by the case of another famous musician. After a stroke in 1953, the Russian composer Vissarion Shebalin became paralyzed and ceased to understand speech, but until his death, which followed 10 years later, he retained the ability to compose. Thus, the assumption of independent processing of musical and speech information was correct. However, more recent studies have made adjustments related to two common features of music and language: both mental functions are a means of communication and have a syntax – a set of rules that determine the proper connection of elements (notes and words, respectively). According to Anirudh Patel (Aniruddh D. Patel) from The Institute of neurobiology in San Diego, studies conducted by neuroimaging methods indicate that the correct construction of language and musical syntaxes provides a portion of the frontal (frontal) cortex, and other parts of the brain are responsible for processing the associated components of language and music.

We also got a complete picture of how the brain responds to music. The auditory system, like all other sensory systems of the body, has a hierarchical organization. It consists of a chain of centers that process nerve signals from the ear to the upper part of the auditory analyzer – the auditory cortex. Processing of sounds (e.g., musical tones) starts in the inner ear (the cochlea) that sorts complex sounds (emitted, for example, a violin) the components of basic frequency. Then the cochlea sends information in the form of a sequence of neural discharges (impulses) to the brain via the auditory nerve fibers tuned to different frequencies. As a result, they reach the auditory cortex in the temporal lobes of the brain, where each cell responds to sounds of a certain frequency. Curves, the tuning frequency of the neighbouring cell are overlapped, i.e., the gaps between them do not exist, and on the surface of the auditory cortex is formed frequency sound map.

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