A Theoretical Background

Why Should We Think Music Therapy Would Have Any Effect?

Although music therapy has an extremely broad, universal and long history, that does not imply that it is efficient in treating disease. Indeed, homoeopathic treatments have existed for thousands of years and there is little to no clinical support or evidence for their use.(40) Therefore we must look at the relationship between music and the brain to understand how exactly music therapy elicits a significant effect on the treatment of illness.

Music and The Brain

In discussing the brain we must first comprehend that the brain is a complex organ, often described as a ‘paradox’ as we know little of its function, relative to other organs like the heart.(41) This adds a layer of difficulty to the study of neurology and neurobiology as a whole, but as the science advances so too will our knowledge.(42)

Music perception - the ability to be aware of music through auditory stimuli - involves not only physical features of the ear but also synaptic and neuronal pathways in the brain.(43) In this section, a background overview on music perception and the brain will be described.

The cochlea is a cavity in the inner ear containing the nerve impulse-producing organ of Corti, where hearing begins.(44) The vibrations produced by sound waves stimulate hairs which make the cavity produce ‘afferent potentials’ or impulses which travel down the ‘cochlear nerve’ to the brainstem.(45) These impulses travel down to the subcortical structures (structures below the cortex) before arriving at the primary auditory cortex.(46)

The primary auditory cortex then ‘relays’ these signals to other regions in the brain, resulting in music perception.(47) The exact structural representation of the auditory cortex still needs further research, however, its activation is clinically significant in ‘cortical auditory disorders’ (disorders involving malfunction of the auditory cortex).(48) However, more recent research needs to be conducted into the specific pathways involved in auditory processing.

Music activates the temporal lobe(49), which is particularly important considering the function of the region; it is implicated in memory, language and knowledge about the world.(50) These are crucial to the basis of personality and identity, given that experience shapes almost everything we do. This is of course clinically significant, as restoring a sense of self can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.(51)

The motor and sensory cortices are activated when someone plays a musical instrument(52) as well as the cerebellum and amygdala if the person is playing from memory.(53) This demonstrates that music activates a wide range of brain regions, which suggests that it is more clinically significant than skeptics of the practice may believe. How exactly music alters the brain and body in order to prevent and alleviate symptoms of dementia, depression and heart disease will be explored later.

© 2017 Nat Barrett. Published by teoria.com


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