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Music Science

Music Memories Stored In Different Part of Brain Than Other Memories 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the soothe-the-savage-brain dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Scientists have long believed that the ability to learn and appreciate music was stored in a different part of the brain than other types of memories. Now, researchers in Berlin think that they have concluded that theory. Dr. Christoph J. Ploner, Carson Finke, and Nazli Esfahani at the Department of Neurology at the Virchow campus in Berlin, Germany have examined a man who has lost all of his memories but has retained his ability to remember and learn songs."
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Music Memories Stored In Different Part of Brain Than Other Memories

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  • These experiments based on one or a very small group of individuals are all too prevalent in neuro research.

    Maybe this particular guy remembered music/songs in a unique way. Maybe he's acting.

    • Re:sigh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:03AM (#41092639)

      If you understood why that was then maybe you wouldn't sigh.

      We pretty much rely on people with borked bits of grey matter for pretty much everything we know about the brain. That is to say, to understand the whole we have to understand how all the parts work together, which means looking at the parts in isolation, which means looking at people who have parts of their brain that are swithced off.

      Unless you're advocating labotomising a load of people with the hopes of raising the statistical significance...

      • Re:sigh (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:15AM (#41092721)

        Unless you're advocating labotomising a load of people with the hopes of raising the statistical significance...

        Screw statistical significance, this is obviously a source of unauthorized copies of musical compositions without compensation to the rights holders!

        BURN IT OUT.

        • Screw statistical significance, this is obviously a source of unauthorized copies of musical compositions without compensation to the rights holders!

          BURN IT OUT.

          The guy is legally innocent - he can't remember the copyright law because nobody bothered to make it into a #1 hit single.

      • Unless you're advocating labotomising a load of people with the hopes of raising the statistical significance...

        A sample size of six million should be enough.

      • Absolutely right. A friend of mine is at one of the California universities doing and teaching brain research. The brains they get...well, remember that checkbox on your driver's license about "organ donor"? So the pool of volunteers for brain research is made of people who are either very recently dead, or suffering from "borked bits".
      • Unless you're advocating labotomising a load of people with the hopes of raising the statistical significance...

        Lawyers and Politicians! We've got lots of extras.

        We'll even ship them to you.

    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by oodaloop (1229816) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:14AM (#41092713)
      This is much more prevalent than one guy. Stroke victims who can't talk can often sing. So when they want to say something, they can simply say it to some made-up tune.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why do people complain about statistical significance so much? Statistical significance only matters if you need to reject the null hypothesis. Rejecting it only matters if it is in the least bit plausible. Statistical significance shouldn't be a geek mantra, it is just a tool.

      If there is a structural cause that is clearly identified, then getting data for statistical significance would be a waste of time. If these doctors can lesion a small part of the brain containing music memories while not affecting ot

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I think they're studying the wrong thing. Why does music exist at all? What evolutionary advantage does music give us? No other animal has music; there was a story a few days ago that said they disproved birdsong being music.

      This study does sort of explain why tunes have a tendancy to stick in one's head (maybe, or maybe they're misreading the data).

      • Not everything needs an evolutionary advantage to exist. Music may have co evolved with the structures required for language (for example). As long as it's not deleterious, it would not be selected out.

        And once humans decided they 'liked' music, you can argue for an evolutionary advantage to the talent. (Ogg can sing, Ogg stay alive. Bonch grunt and fart, Bonch gets bonked with club....)

        • by Zirbert (1936162)

          And once humans decided they 'liked' music, you can argue for an evolutionary advantage to the talent.

          Rumour has it that people with musical talent can sometimes leverage said talent into additional reproductive opportunities.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Not everything needs an evolutionary advantage to exist.

          Are you sure of that? I can't think of any other trait in any species that doesn't help survival and reproduction. A trait that isn't selected for would surely die out after enough generations. And music is so powerful for us now, it couldn't simply be the result of one minor mutation.

          Music may have co evolved with the structures required for language

          But as I pointed out, language evolved long before we were human. Of course, it could have co-evolved w

  • Psychological trauma (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'd be curious to find out how psychological trauma affects music memory. Nothing fucks with memory worse than severe psychological trauma other than traumatic brain injuries). One of the reasons, as far as I understand, that psychological trauma affects memory is because adrenaline and cortisol are hormones used to form flashbulb memories. People who are traumatized often produce these hormones for longer durations and this damages the brain. If people who have psychologically caused memory loss can still

  • Nazli Esfahani

    Godwin?

    • No, it sounds like an Iranian name. (Esfahan is a city in Iran, and that surname is quite popular)

  • The Original Work (Score:5, Informative)

    by hutsell (1228828) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:15AM (#41092719) Homepage

    The Summary links to a (somewhat useful) fluff review by the Medical Daily Web Site (and will hit the visitor with 37 cookies). Fwiw, readers at Slashdot may prefer bypassing it by going the Cell's Current Biology Web Site where they'll be able to find the Authors' Original Summary [cell.com] or perhaps the Full Text [cell.com] instead.

  • Might be something (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:17AM (#41092739)

    My grandfather has very advanced Alzheimers. He's been to the point for a while where he can't recognize family and doesn't have much to say about anything. However, in the 40's & 50's, he was a musician (played harmonica in a jazz-standards harmonica band). Through the 80's & 90's, he had a recording studio in his house and kept his music alive through multitracking himself. He definitely built his music into parts of his brain that haven't been ravaged by the disease.

    Given a harmonica, he can bring back those songs, almost note-perfect.

    I've also wondered if it's possible that music (or the ability to play) gets pushed into some sort of muscle memory rather than memory in the brain. As a musician myself, I know I can think about other things as I play things that are super-well-rehearsed. My fingers just somehow find the right notes.

    • by Ragzouken (943900) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:32AM (#41092825)

      I wonder if you could prepare yourself for Alzheimers by writing and learning songs about all your important memories

      • by ryanw (131814) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @08:34AM (#41093343)

        I wonder if you could prepare yourself for Alzheimers by writing and learning songs about all your important memories

        I wonder if you could prepare yourself for Alzheimers by writing and learning songs about all your important memories

        That reminds me of what the north American Indians had done. I would imagine there are songs of ancient time passed along due to this type of memory being the most protected.

        Makes you wonder if there is something to the notion of singing angel references in the bible and why people sing in churches.

        I have always found it so fascinating at how prevalent music is in our culture and profound an impact music has made on our history and makes up "who we are". Just about every kid in America is defined by a band or song or type of music. Just about every era is depicted by a musical theme.

        It is almost completely correlated of advancements in music relate to advancements in technology.

        Interesting.

        • by 68kmac (471061)

          That reminds me of what the north American Indians had done. I would imagine there are songs of ancient time passed along due to this type of memory being the most protected.

          Hmm. That made me think of Songlines [wikipedia.org].

        • by mooingyak (720677)

          I wonder if you could prepare yourself for Alzheimers by writing and learning songs about all your important memories

          I wonder if you could prepare yourself for Alzheimers by writing and learning songs about all your important memories

          OT, but this is twice in two days that I've seen someone on slashdot double quote their parent post. Wonder if it's some new bug.

      • by jpapon (1877296)
        It's theorized that song developed originally for exactly that purpose, to help with recall before the advent of writing.
      • by archen (447353)

        I should be good to go then, because the memories I'll "recall" from AC/DC songs are way better than mine.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, yes, clearly the ability to play notes or play (or type!) on a keyboard are stored in "muscle memory". It certainly seems that common sequences are stored there, too, not just how to reach top C from middle F. Watch the mistakes you make when typing, for instance. Do you ever type the wrong word because it has a prefix with a word you type often? I find this with C++ keywords a lot. It seems my muscle memory is typing the keyword and my brain has to stop it doing that - usually too late, using ba

      • by jpapon (1877296)
        It's probably more of a probabilistic thing. The pathways in the pre-motor and primary motor cortex which correspond to typing a keyword are going to be heavily reinforced since you use them so much. When you begin a sequence of characters similar to this keyword, there's a high probability that neural connections will lead down the mostly heavily reinforced neural pathway.

        Only later, when you receive feedback via your eyes or your conscious thought do you realize that this most common branch was an error

    • by frenchbedroom (936100) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @08:30AM (#41093295)

      It's not "muscle memory", it's procedural memory, and it really comes from the brain! There's nothing magical about playing your tune and thinking of something else, without being conscious of what your fingers do. We all do lots of things without being conscious of every minute movement required.

      Like walking to work. You don't have to vividly recall the way, you don't need to pay a constant, conscious attention to your surroundings. You just think about something else, and your feet and eyes (or walking stick if you're blind) relay the necessary information to your reptilian brain to run the procedure. You step out of your home and before you realize it, you're at your desk. Just as your fingers "somehow find the right notes", your legs somehow transport you to work.

      Procedural memory is much more robust than "normal" memory. That's why Alzheimer's patients still know how to walk, take a shower, wipe their ass, do a triple jump, or dance the lambada. There's nothing surprising about them being able to play music, except for non-musicians or people who have tried learning an instrument, and who haven't got to the stage where what is learnt is pushed back in procedural memory.

      Notice how sometimes, you make a mistake in your tune, and you can't remember for shit how the next part goes, unless you take it from the top ? That's the tell-tale sign your tune is in procedural memory : it's great because it allows you to think of something else, but it sucks when you make a mistake because procedural memory is "read" in sequences only. That's why it's good to rehearse your tunes by starting at an arbitrary point, so you have multiple points of entry to the same procedural sequence.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        It's not "muscle memory", it's procedural memory, and it really comes from the brain! There's nothing magical about playing your tune and thinking of something else, without being conscious of what your fingers do. We all do lots of things without being conscious of every minute movement required.

        As I said elsewhere in this thread, you should read Musicophilia [amazon.com] by Oliver Sacks.

        It's not a procedural memory thing, it's that different parts of the brain structures are actually involved in music than simple memo

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          Oh, and there's even a fair bit of evidence to suggest that infants respond to music [nih.gov] and move rhythmically along with it, which strongly suggests that some very basic parts of the brain are associated with music from a very early age.

          That's far more than procedural memory at play. If we respond to music before we've even begun to process language, that points to more fundamental things going on.

          Which is pretty cool, really.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          I believe ultimately there is some belief that language evolved from music instead of the other way around.

          I doubt either evolved from the other, but if they are connected, music would have evolved from language. Other animals have language, however rudimentary; everyone knows that a barking dog is saying "GTFO or I'll eat you!" Also, they've recently found that some species have fairly sophisticated communications abilities, but no other animal has music. Not even birds; a recent study showed that birdsong

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Why would you think that a trait other animals share would have been evolved from a trait that is unique to our species?

            Well, since I don't think that, I can't give you an answer to that.

            My (albeit limited) understanding is that older structures in the brain than those found just in humans is involved in processing of music, and that it's far more fundamental to us than something which we simply learn (which is consistent with what you've just said).

            If infants respond to music and move in time with the rhyt

          • by modecx (130548)

            Humpback whales. I'm not sure the line between vocal communication (what we'd call speech) or music can be drawn clearly, if at all, but during mating season male humpback whales 'sing' in patterns that seem to have measures, notes and patterns to we humans, and all of the males in a given locality sing roughly the same song, which varies over time, and doesn't necessarily repeat between seasons, kind of like improvisational song of a jam band.

            P.S. I propose that humpback whales henceforth be known as the "

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              Wikipedia seems to disagree with you.

              Whalesong" redirects here. For the student newspaper, see University of Alaska Southeast#Publications.

              Humpback whales are well known for their songs[citation needed]Whale sounds are the sounds made by whales and which are used for different kinds of communication.[1]

              The mechanisms used to produce sound vary from one family of cetaceans to another. Marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises, are much more dependent on sound for communication and sensation tha

        • And as I replied to you in that other part of the thread, I have read Musicophilia. I wasn't saying that listening to music, or appreciating music, or even responding to music is a "procedural memory" thing. I certainly don't deny what the book says.

          I was only responding to a fellow /.er and talking about playing music. Actually, I should be more precise : procedural memory is only about executing the tune. You play the first couple of notes and "the fingers" (your brain, really) run the rest of the proce

    • by jpapon (1877296)
      "Muscle memory" is in the brain, it's just likely that in resides in a different part of the brain than "normal memory".

      It's possible that memory of a tune resides largely in the premotor cortex or a neighboring region, since this is where you plan how you will move your muscles - for instance, how to move your fingers to play a melody, or control your vocal chords/tongue to sing a song.

      This leads to the interesting situation where you may remember how to play a song perfectly, but you cannot remember t

  • Text (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord Lode (1290856) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:17AM (#41092741)

    Does this mean you store text in non-song form in a different location than text in song-form?

    Since that looks like a binary decision: how much melody is required for the sudden switch from the one storage location to the other?

    • Does this mean you store text in non-song form in a different location than text in song-form?

      The guy in TFA is a cellist, so I assume the music he remembers does not have a text component.

      I have a somewhat different handicap. While I can easily memorize melodies, I can't for the life of me reproduce the "text" of the lyrics. My version invariably comes out as a paraphrase of the meaning of the lyrics.

    • by ryanw (131814)

      Does this mean you store text in non-song form in a different location than text in song-form?

      Since that looks like a binary decision: how much melody is required for the sudden switch from the one storage location to the other?

      Who said the brain is binary? Computers are binary, brains are analog. There's a lot more going on then on and off switches.

      • I didn't mean binary encoding, I mean two possibilities (two memory storage locations).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Memories
    Light the corners of my mind
    Misty watercolor memories
    Of the way we were
    Scattered pictures
    Of the smiles we left behind
    Smiles we gave to one another
    For the way we were

    Can it be that it was all so simple then
    Or has time rewritten every line
    If we had the chance to do it all again
    Tell me - Would we? Could we?

    Memories
    May be beautiful and yet
    What's too painful to remember
    We simply choose to forget

    So it's the laughter
    We will remember
    Whenever we remember
    The way we were

    So it's the laughter
    We will remember
    When

  • researchers in Berlin think that they have concluded that theory.

    What exactly does it mean to conclude a theory, and how does this happen when your sample size is 1?

    • by Knuckles (8964)

      Sample size does not matter that much when you can show a direct, structural link between cause and effect.

  • by locofungus (179280) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:45AM (#41092907)

    I have always been able to memorize plays or poetry with almost effortless ease. In fact in my acting days at school I often knew pretty much all the words of all the parts (except for the acts/scenes that I was not involved in rehearsing) and I can still quote vast tracts of plays that I've not re-read for 20 years.

    I also play the piano. Playing that from memory is a herculean effort with hours and hours of repetitive work required to get anything to stick. It also doesn't take very long for me to forget again unless I regularly play through something and I can get sudden blank moments when playing through something that I've played through dozens of times before without a problem. It's also not stress related as it happens regardless of whether I'm playing with someone else listening.

    Tim.

    • I've found similar quirks. Almost perfect encyclopedic knowledge on many things, including melodies, but I've never been able to sing through a verse of a song without either blanking out or missing/ mixing words.

      I play cello and the mandolin, and struggle similarly when playing. I know what notes should be there, but it takes hours to work through small sections of song to get them to be consistently correct, and then that only lasts for a couple days before I need to start over.

      Mnemonic schemes for rememb
    • I play the piano as well, and the "muscle memory" is almost scripted. I can only start from the beginning, and I couldn't tell you what notes I'm playing or where I am in the music. If I'm interrupted, I can't pick up where I left off--I have to start over again. The battle isn't accessing the music memory, it's turning off the conscious brain because it only gets in the way.
    • And I am the opposite. It takes a great deal of effort for me to memorize a poem or spoken text without a melody, but I can sing or pick out a melody from memory, usually only having heard it once, and I can recognize a piece I'm listening to that I heard once ten years ago. (I may not remember the name of it, but the actual music will give me a big dose of deja vu.) If it's a tune with words, I'll be humming and half singing along with it on the second listen, and usually by the third go round I'll have
    • by jpapon (1877296)
      You can try a little "synesthesia-like" experiment with your memory. When trying to memorize a piece on the piano, do your best to try to memorize it as a poem. Associate words with notes, phrases with sequences of notes.
  • To prove that musical memories are actually stored in a different brain module then all other memories you need a double dissociation. It's not enough to find a patient who can use no other memories except musical memories, you also have to find a patient who can use all other memories but has lost musical memories.

  • Perhaps this is why learning a little jingle helps us memorize things like the alphabet, storing something in two different places as a song and as information. Works for the old tale-spread bards, too. Hmmm.

  • It might prove that music is stored differently but only a brain scan showing activity in different locations can prove that it's stored separately.

    Also, brains are wired differently in each individual, to an extent. Sample size of 1 fail.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Sample size of 1 fail.

      In this case, you can more accurately say "reporting of science by the media fail".

      This isn't the only instance of this, it's fairly well reported, and has been known about for some time.

      People have done brain scans, cognitive tests, and actually a fair bit of stuff which demonstrate similar effects.

      This is far from a sample size of one, but this piece glosses over all of the other stuff that's come before. (And if you want a citation, I've given it twice in this thread, a book by a

  • Now that the RIAA has located the parts of the brain where copyrighted music is stored. You can now be assured that no starving record artists will go hungry because evil heartless souls have copied their artistic efforts into their memory and are playing them back without paying.

    A government sanctioned brain scan will discover any music stored within the grey matter and charge the owner of said brain the correct licensing fees.

    Those unwilling to pay will be directed to sit in the red chair for removal of c

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @09:30AM (#41094055) Homepage

    This isn't new, and it's been well known for years.

    Read the book Musicophilia [amazon.com]. There's literally dozens of cases in which people can no longer really communicate or otherwise have some diminished mental capacity, but they respond to music by either singing or playing. That part of the brain seems intact.

    Heck, this might even be one of the cases in that book. But he's a professor of neurology, and I believe that was published in 2007.

    I don't believe this is a new theory, and it certainly isn't the first time someone has demonstrated this. Given how long I've known this, I'm surprised this is being touted as a first time we've confirmed this.

  • "Dr. Christoph J. Ploner, Carson Finke, and Nazli Esfahani at the Department of Neurology at the Virchow campus in Berlin, Germany have examined..."

    A German scientist named Nazli...danger Will Robinson. Yes, I noticed the "L" in his name, but in German "li" is appended to words to make the the diminutive (so he must be a short Nazi).

    He must have sadistic parents :-)

  • My wife is a Board-Certified Music Therapist [musictherapy.org], and she sees this sort of thing all the time. Often, when she's working with an elderly patient with advanced dementia, the patient will start to sing along to a song that's familiar to them (often a hymn), even though they might otherwise be completely nonverbal.

    Music Therapy has been used by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords as part of her rehabilitation, and is often used as a treatment for a variety of conditions.

  • Could this be the source of Earworms? A song overpowers your music memory and keeps replaying. You try to stop it, but your brain is trying to "turn it off" in non-music memory so you fail and you hear it over and over and over again.

    In related news, Hey, I just met you and this is crazy..... (earworm pass on completed)

  • by CFTM (513264) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @02:08PM (#41098569)

    But it is /. so I'm sure y'all will forgive my divergence from topic at hand.

    Music holds a particularly unique place in my life, and this may be the same for others; I can pick a track that I listened to from any period of my life and it literally takes me back to the emotional state I was in during that period of life.

    Throw on some Tool or Bush and all I've sudden the "how I felt" in my teen years come flooding back to me.

    Throw on some tunes from college, same thing.

    It's a fascinating phenomenon and obviously it's all anecdotal. I wouldn't be surprised if it's related to how I listen to music; I'll listen to the same CD for six to eight months at a time and then I'll pick a new one and listen to that one for long period of time.

Do you suffer painful illumination? -- Isaac Newton, "Optics"

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