NYU researchers find that brain waves sync to music you listen to
Anyone who has stood in the forward 50% of a festival main stage crowd or spent a night at a club with a quality sound system can attest that music can be physically felt on an external level. A new study from New York University on the brain’s perception of notes and melodies show that the rhythms that we listen to correspond to internal processes as well.
Researchers from NYU have discovered how brain rhythms are used to process music. “We’ve isolated the rhythms in the brain that match rhythms in music,” explains Keith Doelling, an NYU Ph.D. student and the study’s lead author. “Specifically, our findings show that the presence of these rhythms enhances our perception of music and of pitch changes.”
Doelling’s findings suggest that these rhythms – cortical oscillations of the brain – which are repetitive activities in the central nervous system, are fundamental in detecting music sequences. This discovery builds upon prior research related to brain synchronization with speech. The brain function is the same one that allows us to process speech continuously, despite breaks and punctuation.
The experiment was run on both musicians and non-musicians and unsurprisingly, musicians have more acute processing mechanisms. Subjects were asked to identify the pitch distortions in clips of classical piano music, with several different tempos. For music faster than one note per second, both musicians and non-musicians showed oscillations that synchronized with the clips. Unusually slow tempos, however, only resonated with the professionals.
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. In more plain terms, co-author and NYU professor David Peoppel explained, “musicians, through their experience, are simply better at this type of processing.”
The finding is more than just a new insight into the complex auditory system. It’s yet another confirmation that music’s effect on humans- professional musicians and casual listeners alike- is unifying and biological, programmed in our DNA.