Medical Mysteries of Music

There’s new information on how the brain processes music

For reasons that are still very unclear from an evolutionary and neurological point of view, the human brain is hardwired to deal with music. (I have an Ongoing History program coming up in a few weeks that will explore this strange ability.) No wonder scientists are fascinated at how that mushy grey stuff in our skulls processes music.

New information from McGill University teased things apart just a little more. Boffins were curious about how the brain manages to distinguish between music and lyrics. Those are two completely different types of sounds that need to be decoded simultaneously. How do we do that?

The McGill people say that songs are handled by two different parts of the brain working together at the same time. One is in the left hemisphere and the other is on the right. From NPR:

“‘On the left side you can decode the speech content but not the melodic content, and on the right side you can decode the melodic content but not the speech content,’ says Robert Zatorre, a professor at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute.


“‘If you have a stroke in the left hemisphere you are much more likely to have a language impairment than if you have a stroke in the right hemisphere,’ [says Daniela Sammler, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Cognition and Neurosciences in Leipzig, Germany]. ‘Moreover, brain damage to certain areas of the right hemisphere can affect a person’s ability to perceive music.’:

Read the whole story here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One thought on “There’s new information on how the brain processes music

  • Wernicke’s area as the solitary locus of language processing is so last-century. Brains are much smarter than that! 😃


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