[Dixielandjazz] Mozart Effect - Redux

Don Mopsick mophandl at landing.com
Sun Jun 5 08:39:32 PDT 2005

Charlie Suhor writes:

<<I don't have the sources on hand, but I've heard of studies done with 
other composers--and even some studies under rigorous controls in which 
some kinds of music had a salutary effect on plant growth. There's 
nothing at stake for me in the way this turns out but I admire those 
who look at new ways of thinking about how our brains and the universe 

A very provocative book written about 15 years ago on this subject:
"Music, the Brain and Ecstasy" by Robert Jourdain. The author has
written extensively on Developmental Psychology. In this book, he laid
out the then current thinking on the brain physiology of music and
musicians based on CAT and PET scans. 

Back then there were tantalizing hints that musician's brains developed
differently than non-musicians' and so processed music differently. The
studies were done by playing different kinds of music for a variety of
people and watching for which areas of the brain showed activity. 

>From my reading and watching public TV I gather that scientists have
recently discovered that the brain is much more flexible and mutable
than previously thought, that it is constantly re-organizing its neural
pathways, and that childrens' brains grow according to which activities
they do. I have not seen proof lately supporting Jourdain's claim that
there are whole areas of the brain devoted to music that musical people
have and the non-musical do not have, but this has been recently shown
to be the case in sexual orientation, that is, that women, men, gay,
straight, and bi all have different brain physiology. So why not with

Does anyone know of a follow-up book on these subjects? There was very
little in Jourdain's book about jazz since the author was interested
primarily in classical vs. rock. There was also very little in it about
the trance-like effect brought about by a jazz band that plays "in the
pocket," nor was there much discussion of rhythm in general. 

What I found VERY fascinating in this book was the discussion about the
physical properties of music itself, how brains react to properties such
as consonance vs. dissonance, and the physiology of perfect pitch. Here
are some points that stayed with me:

*Dissonant music of every type created a marked difference in brain
scans. The implication is that dissonance is hardly processed by the
brain at all as music. This goes along with the pop-psychobabble notion
that dissonance kills your plants and upsets your digestion.

*We lose pitch discrimination ability as we age to the point that a
middle-aged person is not physically able to distinguish between a C and
C#. However, there are other cues that musicians learn to help
compensate as we age. I've noticed that non-fixed-pitch instrumentalists
such as violinists and trombonists (and bassists?) seem have more
trouble with intonation as they age.

*The very existence of perfect pitch is remarkable because it proves
that musical memory exists in the absolute--that there really is an
internal musical world! Also, it is a relatively rare phenomenon. The
author downplays the heritability of perfect pitch and musical ability
in general, but I would like to see updated data on this theory as well.

As far as intelligence, a good book on this subject is "Emotional
Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman published in 1995. It turns out that the
way outdated tool "IQ" measures only a few kinds of intelligence, that
emotional intelligence is the most important kind to have and the best
indicator of success in life, and by the way musical intelligence is in
its own category and not necessarily related to any other kind. However,
in an interview I heard him say that musically intelligent people are
often abundantly intelligent in all other areas, that is to say that
they are generally gifted people. 

But, I'm sure we all know musically gifted people who can barely
function socially and in fact seem to be emotional cripples. This is yet
one more way musical ability can be a curse rather than a blessing.


Don Mopsick, Riverwalk Webmaster

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