A Night of Music and Science at U of T

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It’s not every day that two passions of mine–music and science–show up in one place. This week, the University of Toronto held an event called “Sounds of Science: Music, Technology, Medicine.” It brought together many demonstrations of progress in the field of medicine and technology that involve music, both directly and indirectly. Music is being used to treatParkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, performance therapy and much more.

Imagine a world where a Parkinson’s patient, with that classic, stilted gait and moments of “freezing,” learning to walk normally using a technique involving tap rhythms. OrAlzheimer’s patients being treated with a specific frequency that stops the progress of the disease? Or how music can help heart patients be more active simply by including it in their rehabilitation?

The organizers were clearly thrilled and perhaps a little surprised by the turnout. I was told they overbooked the event by 400 people, requiring a hasty convening of a video room outside the theatre.

The first part of the evening was numerous displays highlighting the various technology and therapies. Here are a few of the booths on display:

Music and long-term care

The Stroop Effect

Performance therapy

Here is a demonstration of a game used to help kids regain mobility:

The rest of the evening involved performances and demonstrations across the spectrum. The night was hosted by Denise Donlon who many of you will know from MuchMusic and beyond. There was a running visual display called ‘Harmonia’ which showed images generated from music to demonstrate the geometric structures of music.

There was a running visual display called ‘Harmonia’ which showed images generated from music to demonstrate the geometric structures of music.

Images from music
Image courtesy of Ian Graham.

They also played some of Hugh Le Caine’s “Dripsody” which was done in 1955 and was put together from a single drop of water.  It is considered one of the earliest examples of electronic music.  Here’s a video (not from the show):

One of the research areas explored was that of performance. You might not think of musicians when you think of performance management but they presented some stats showing how many musicians from rock to classical play hurt. The research demonstrated involved a violin piece played while wearing monitors. The screen displayed stress points as she played. The information they gather can help artists avoid injuries. They can also help fine tune the abilities of world class musicians in order to reach peak performance.

The research demonstrated involved a violin piece played while wearing monitors. The screen displayed stress points as she played. The information they gather can help artists avoid injuries. They can also help fine tune the abilities of world class musicians in order to reach peak performance.

Video courtesy of Ian Graham

There was much more to the show and my interviews with 3 of the doctors involved are below (and unfortunately the acoustics in the old theatre did not make for quality video from their presentations):

Dr. Lee Bartel
Dr. Lee Bartel

What is your official role? How long have you been in this role?
I am Professor of Music and Founding Director of the Music and Health Research Collaboratory – started the MaHRC in 2012 – I am now Associate Director since we hired Michael Thaut as Director in January. I was Associate Dean Research until July 2015. I am this year on sabbatical leave and beginning a phased retirement trajectory.

What would you say the education and work path was that led you to your current role as researcher?
I started my work like as a bench chemist in a control lab for a sugar refinery. I then became a science teacher in junior high – and then a music teacher – but I always liked the scientific side – strong interest in electronic music. My PhD in 80’s focused on cognitive and affective response to music and so I continued as a social science researcher with interest in psychology. That led to involvement in a project at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab in mid 90’s studying effect of music on attention rehab in head injured kids. Then to designing brainwave entraining CD’s – for which I trained in EEG. And on to more medical studies with sound stimulation. I took opportunities that combined my interest in science and music –often outside my main work responsibilities – but I slowly implemented that into my teaching and more legit university based research.

Can you give a high-level statement of your current research and its goals?

My current research focuses on effect of rhythmic sound stimulation on oscillatory neural activity (brain waves) and the clinical application to brain rhythm re-regulation.    (by rhythmic sound stimulation I mean the vibratory level – so  this could be a metronome click at 2 times a second, a harp arpeggio at 10 notes per second, the waw waw effect between two pitches detuned by 8 Hz, or the actual air molecule compressions at 41 per second for the lowest E on the piano).

Can you talk about your findings with Alzheimer’s?

What we see in the research with AD patients is that they have reduced electro-potential power in the gamma (40Hz) zone. We now have evidence that 40Hz is used as a brain connectivity – intra-brain communication – frequency. So if someone has less functional power at that frequency there is a likelihood that parts of the brain will not connect as well as they should. My premise is that we can use sound to increase the power in a specific frequency zone – so if we stimulate the brain with 40Hz sound, the person will have an increase in gamma activity – and hence better connectivity.

Do different frequencies help with different aspects of healing at all?

Yes. So music that features delta (1 – 4 events per second – so for example the tick of a metronome is an event. If you played notes for every tick, those notes are events. So for every note you play- say 2 per second in a Bach slow movement)  you will have a delta brain effect.  This would be treatment for someone with a sleep disorder. If the person has an attention disorder the “events” should be in beta (12 – 20 events per second).  When it gets that fast we typcially use  other devices to make that happen – like detunement.  And faster it is specific pitches – so lowest note on piano is 27.7 events (vibrations) per second.

With your focus on Alzheimer’s/dementia did your study provide positive results?  Did anyone have no positive results or negative impacts?

We had very positive results – we had a positive effect size of .58 per treatment session – so over 3 weeks and 6 sessions we had an average gain of about 12% of the total test score.  The results were best and most consistent for mild and medium level Alzheimer’s. They were still positive but less so for severe AD. We did not observe any negative effects.

Given the results, what’s next?  Where does this research lead you next?  Do you have further studies in the works already or in progress?

We are doing studies driving brain rhythms now with Fibromyalgia (had a very positive pilot published last year) and just starting with Major Depressive Disorder.  We are also starting with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome for pain. With the AD studies, our next steps are brain imaging to observe more closely what the real brain effect is. Then a RCT to compare different treatments.

Do you have a view on where this research might be, say, 5 years down the road?

We are hoping we may find an electrophysiological biomarker to help diagnose Alzheimer’s. I am hoping we might find ways with auditory stimulation alone to have a positive effect. I would like to see it become a possible preventative treatment.

Dr. Michael Thaut

Dr. Michael Thaut

What is your official role?

  • I am the director of the Music and Health Research Collaboratory MaHRC and the director of the graduate MA and PhD programs in Music and Health Sciences
  • I am also appointed a full professor in music with cross-appointments in Rehabilitation Sciences and Neuroscience

What would you say the education and work path was that led you to your current role as a researcher?

  • To establish a research career similar to mine, your education and training has to be interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary. My first degree, German Diplom was in Psychology –then I studied music at the Mozarteum/Salzburg and played professionally, then I got an MM and PhD in an interdisciplinary degree musicpsychology/musictherapy/musiceducation

Can you give a high level statement of your current research and its goals?

  • The current research expands previous research studying (a) brain responses in music perception and music perception, and (b) how these brain responses can be applied to neurodevelopment and re-training the injured brain

The SONATA device is described as ‘using digital music technology in neurorehabilitation’.  Can you explain what that means in layman’s terms?

  • The device consist of a large touch-sensitive monitor whose surface can be programmed via a tablet into touch buttons or graphic figures (lines) generating sound feedback when touched or traced. The device is pitch tunable and has a metronome function to provide rhythmic time cues. The sound function are all digital (MIDI).

So how is the device used?  How do patients interact with the device?

  • Patients will exercise arm and hand motions in different patterns (e.g., flexion/extension) on the monitor set by the therapist via the tablet.

What kind of music do you use with the device?  Is it tailored to the patient or is tailored for best-expected results?  What role does the music play in the therapy?

  • The device can be tuned in semitones, major/minor scales or chord progressions and has with different instruments to choose from. The devise creates music as feedback but external music can added since the device is tunable
  • In Neurologic Music Therapy the clinical techniques are all derived from brain mechanisms in music perception and music performance. The structure, patterns and elements of music (e.g., rhythm) drive the therapeutic response of the clients, for examples through rhythmic cuing of movement in stroke and Parkinson, singing to access alternate language pathways in aphasia, use musical exercises to exercise sustained auditory attention, or use melodies as mnemonic device  for mempry (ABC song model).

Would you say you’ve had a significant success rate with it thus far?

  • We have had significant success using musical instruments to exercise movement – the translation to a digital music sources is new but the same principles will apply

Given the results, what’s next?  Where does this research lead you next?  Do you have further studies in the works already or in progress?  Do you have design improvements for the device in mind at this point?

  • Large studies with different types of movement disorders including children. The design of such technology is always an iterative process of making improvements

Do you have a view on where this research might be, say, 5 years down the road?

  • The goal is to bring this technology on a large basis into brain rehabilitation to make the rehabilitation process more effective

Dr. Molly Shoichet

Dr. Molly Shoichet

What is your official role?  How long have you been in this role?

I’m Senior Advisor on Science and Engineering Engagement at the University of Toronto to President Gertler. I’ve been in this role for almost 2 years and I’ve been a Professor at U of T for 20+ years.

How long have you been supporting this particular area of research?

I’ve been passionate about research communication and public engagement in research for as long as I can remember.  In 2015, we launched Research2Reality – a national social media campaign that connects today’s research with tomorrow’s reality.

What is your role for this event?

I approached the Professor Don McLean, Dean of the Faculty of Music with a simple idea of a performance that included science and music.  He loved the idea and together with Professor Lee Bartel, our simple idea blossomed into Sounds of Science: music, technology, medicine.

What aspects of ‘music as medicine’ excite you the most?

I’m excited by every part really, but perhaps what is remarkable is that music’s healing powers have been proven in clinical studies, so it’s not anecdotal, but real.

What is the biggest takeaway you hope people have from the event?

I hope that people will discover the role of science in music and the role of music in medicine, and that all of this is in their backyard at the University of Toronto.

Do you foresee some of the progress made in these areas being used in other areas of medicine?

Yes, the data is compelling and while working on the Sounds of Science, I learned of research being done by a neurosurgeon on the role of music in epilepsy.  So this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Do you believe events like this will become more regular as progress and new findings continue?

I hope so. Last year we hosted from Good to Gold, this year it is Sounds of Science, and next year we will focus on science and cities.  It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share these cutting-edge findings with our neighbours.

 

Larry Lootsteen

Music is life and I love to write about all things music. Independent music blogger. Writer in general. I am a big fan of alternative and indie music but there's no genre I haven't found something to like.

One thought on “A Night of Music and Science at U of T

  • May 6, 2016 at 10:14 am
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    Great article on an even greater and informative evening! It needs to be said that music is not just a “hobby” and something our society as a whole needs to realize. It’s the best “drug” for so many ailments and so important to our soul and being. Thanks Larry!
    Ian Graham

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