Monday, October 14, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 32

Santa Maria Sun / Music

The following article was posted on July 15th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 19 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 19

Listening to and playing music excites lobes and cortices throughout the brain


This isn’t an album cover from the 1960s—it’s a maximum-contrast Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) that shows the inside of a living human brain, an organ specially adapted to understanding music.

You have a song stuck in your head. Completely unbidden, out of the blue, you hear the familiar notes, instruments, and perhaps words. It doesn’t matter that you are sitting alone in silence, or perhaps you’re among a noisy crowd— there’s the song, existing for only you to hear.

This isn’t something to worry about, no matter how annoying the song is. Whether you’re hearing “It’s a Small World After All” or your favorite tune by The Beatles, the same process is at work, namely the cooperation between your secondary auditory cortex—which perceives present and imagined sounds—and your inferior frontal polar cortex, which stores the memory of literally thousands of melodies, songs, and sounds.

This process is what allwed Beethoven to keep composing well after his ears could no longer feed his brain aural information. The ability to imagine a sound or music, sometimes referred to as perceptual musical imagery, is the neural state that allowed the legendary composer to create his ninth symphony without every really hearing a note of it. We also use this sense every day to compare all of the sounds we hear with what we already know, like people’s voices, emergency sirens, or your favorite jingle.

The wondrous and powerful effect music has on the brain is best illustrated by the ease with which both listening to and playing music activate bilateral cognition. Our brains are divided into two hemispheres, which are connected by the Corpus Callosum. You've  probably heard about “left brain” and “right brain” traits or brain functions, which mostly refer to tasks and ideas that happen in the upper brain. The Corpus Callosum allows the two hemispheres to communicate and coordinate difficult tasks that require both hemispheres. Rubbing your stomach and patting your head is an example of the concentration needed to coordinate both hemispheres to work together while also focusing on unique tasks. Music is one activity that activates bilateral activity in the brain, whether you’re playing music, listening to it, or even imagining musical sounds.

Part of the ease with which music activates the bilateral-brain state has to do with the fact that we enjoy stereoscopic hearing. Whether we use the turntable speakers of the 1970s, or the headphones and ear buds of today, musicians and recording engineers take advantage of the brain to create the illusion of space with sound. When emulated correctly, the brain can image the setting of many performances, from Renaissance cathedral music to Woodstock. When the brain is receiving differing signals through either ear, it forces this bilateral activity.

So, what’s the big deal about music and bilateral cognition? Well, it makes for a healthier brain, that’s for sure. Studies have shown that musicians have statistically lower rates of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia in older age, with the continued activation of both hemispheres simultaneously being a possible cause for this resilience.

Music isn’t just good for preventative brain care; it’s reparative as well. Music therapists use many aspects of music to help stimulate injured brains. Many stroke patients, for instance, lose their ability to speak. They want to speak, try to speak, but can’t make any sounds come out—that is, until someone begins singing a remembered song. Neural networks are able to bypass the damaged clusters disabling speech when activated from more musical areas of the mind, thus stroke survivors are able to speak again, though you might notice a singsong quality to what they’re saying.

Whether you’re playing, writing, or listening closely to music, you’re engaging your mind in an exciting and stimulating activity. It’s more than just music’s ability to stick in the memory that makes it perhaps the most practiced of the art forms; it’s music’s ability to engage our brain on both hemispheres and on several levels, from our primitive lower brain into the strata of our higher grey matter.

If you want to learn more about music and cognition, pick up a copy of This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin. You will find the information presented here in Levitin’s book and much more.


A little bit country

Michael-Ann performs her new album, Heavy Load, on July 19 at 9 p.m. for Country Americana Night at DJ’s Saloon, 724 E. Ocean Ave., Lompoc. More info:

Join the Cult

The Chumash Casino Resort presents The Highwaymen Live tribute show happening July 17 at 8 p.m. Cost is $20. The Cult performs on July 24 at 8 p.m. The Chumash Casino Resort is at 2400 E. Highway 246, Santa Ynez. More information is available at 1-800-CHUMASH or

Bringing the jazz

Jazz in the Garden happens at the Solvang Festival Theater Under the Oaks, including Paul Marinaro and friends performing July 27 at 3 p.m. at the Solvang Festival Theater, 420 2nd St., Solvang. More information is available at

Park yourself

Concerts in the Park is a free concert series featuring live music, including The Tejano Nights Band performing live on July 20 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Rotary Centennial Park, Santa Maria. Free. More information is available at 925-0951, Ext. 260,, or

Juicy jams

The Creative Juices Lounge in Guadalupe presents Mark and Larry and the FOF performing July 18 and the Paisley Brothers with Terry Lawless performing on July 19, both from 7 to 10 p.m. at the lounge, 874 Guadalupe St., Guadalupe. More information is available at 219-0518 or

Fresh off D’Vine

The D’Vine Wine Bar and Bistro features regular live music, including Santa Rosa performing July 19, Audition Night on July 22, Dan Mally performing July 23, and Jerry Stickell performing July 24. Shows happen at 7:30 p.m. at the D’Vine Wine Bar and Bistro, 107 W. Ocean Ave., Lompoc. More information is available at 430-8356 or

Right off the runway

The Radisson Hotel presents live music every Friday and Saturday, including The Mix performing on July 18 and 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel, 3455 Skyway Drive, Santa Maria. More info: 928-8000.

Ridge pickers

The Blacklake Golf Resort presents a Wednesday Night Summer Concert Series featuring Cuesta Ridge on July 23. The Blacklake Golf Resort is at 1490 Golf Course Lane, Nipomo. More info: 343-1214, Ext. 400, or

Get down at GreVino

Ca’ Del GreVino Café and Wine Bar presents Manny Mestas performing on July 23 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the café and wine bar, 400 E. Clark Ave., Santa Maria. More info: 937-6400 or

Maverick country

The Maverick Saloon offers live entertainment each weekend, including a performance by Suicide Cowboys on July 18 at 8 p.m. Concert on the Deck with Blues Bob is July 19 at 3 p.m. Rockability Night with the Crown City Bombers is July 19 at 8 p.m. Suds, Songs, and Sandwiches with Little Guy and Big Steve is July 20 at 3 p.m. A blues concert with Kent Burnside, Jimmie Wood, and JJ Holiday is July 23 at 8 p.m. at the saloon, 3687 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez. More info: 686-4785 or


Contact Arts Editor Joe Payne at

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