A new study has just emerged from NYU that identifies a connection between brain rhythms and the perception of music. Keith Doelling, the leader of the study, explains the study’s findings:
“We’ve isolated the rhythms in the brain that match rhythms in music. Specifically, our findings show that the presence of these rhythms enhances our perception of music and of pitch changes.”
Cortical oscillations in the brain, they’ve found, play a far more important role in the detection of musical rhythms than previously thought. The study suggests that professional musical training may even increase a person’s ability to match their brain rhythms with music. Because of musicians’ more potent oscillatory mechanisms, they are able to more easily recognize pitch changes and tempos.
Previous scientific research revealed these mechanisms to be a large contributing factor in the perception of speech, allowing humans to comprehend isolated syllables and cadences from speech without reading punctuation or spaces between words. Until NYU’s study, the community was relatively unaware of their role in the detection of other, non-lingual sounds like music.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers asked several trained musicians and non-musicians to listen for pitch distortions in clips of classical music. When notes were played once every second, both groups were able to match their brain rhythms and keep time. When the tempo was slowed however, only the musicians were able to synchronize.
“This difference, the researchers say, may suggest that non-musicians are unable to process the music as a continuous melody rather than as individual notes. Moreover, musicians much more accurately detected pitch distortions—as evidenced by corresponding cortical oscillations.”