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Issue 28, July 2012
bulletEffects of Music on the Brain
bulletInterview: Investigating the Brain with Music - Prof. Stefan Koelsch
bulletHeidelberg Model of Music Therapy Provides Long-Term Relief for Tinnitus Patients
bulletPlaying Music Alters the Processing of Multisensory Stimuli in the Brain
bulletNobel Prize Laureate Prof. Dr. Peter Grünberg on the Connection between Music and Physics
bulletmp3 - The German Innovation That Revolutionized the Music Industry
article1Effects of Music on the Brain
Music is one of life's pleasures. It has the power to influence a person's mood instantly. Listening to upbeat music can energize us in the morning and soothing tunes can help us unwind at the end of a stressful day. In addition to evoking powerful emotions, music also helps with the learning process and the formation of memories. Some researchers find that listening to baroque music, for example, is especially conducive to processing information, because it engages neuronal activities on both sides of the brain. Irrespective of individual music tastes and preferences, hearing a familiar song causes the region in the brain that handles memories and emotions to light up. Strongly associated with the brain's rewards system, music can induce a strong dopamine rush. It only takes seconds for a person to perceive happiness, anger, disgust, surprise, sadness, or fear in unknown musical segments, as described in a study by the Department of Music Therapy of Heidelberg University and the German Center for Music Therapy Research. From cognitive to motor reactions, music-supported therapy can also help with rehabilitation after strokes or with providing relief for tinnitus patients. Are you interested in learning more? Stefan Koelsch's book, Brain and Music, provides a comprehensive survey of the latest neuroscientific research on the effects of music on the brain.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Koelsch
article2Interview: Investigating the Brain with Music - Prof. Stefan Koelsch

Playing and listening to music engages a large array of psychological processes, including perception, attention, learning and memory, social cognition, and processing of syntax and meaning. "This richness makes music the ideal tool to investigate human psychology and the workings of the human brain," says Prof. Stefan Koelsch, whose book, Brain and Music, was published in May 2012. In this GCRI interview, Prof. Koelsch explains why he considers music psychology a fundamental discipline for understanding the brain, why people have different reactions to the same piece of music, and how adults and children process music differently.  

Born in 1968 in Texas, Prof. Koelsch studied violin, piano, and composition at the Bremen University of Music and Arts, as well as psychology and sociology at the University of Leipzig. After receiving his Ph.D. at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, he worked as a post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Neurology/Neuroimaging at Harvard Medical School. From 2003 to 2008, Prof. Koelsch returned to the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences to lead the "Neurocognition of Music" independent junior research group. In addition to this area, his main research interests include music and emotion, music therapy, and similarities and differences of music and language processing. He is Professor of Biological Psychology and Music Psychology at the Freie Universität Berlin. 

The Heidelberg Model of Music Therapy
article3Heidelberg Model of Music Therapy Provides Long-Term Relief for Tinnitus Patients

Millions of people worldwide suffer from tinnitus, a constant beeping, buzzing, or ringing in the ears. The German Center for Music Therapy Research (DZM) in Heidelberg has developed a novel and economic technique to treat this stress-related acoustic phenomenon. Short-term treatment with the Heidelberg Model of Music Therapy has proven to correct the neuro-physiological brain mechanisms that cause this acoustic distress and effectively reduces tinnitus symptoms for up to five years.

Since its initiation, the Heidelberg music therapy model has been used to treat more than 800 patients who have suffered from chronic tinnitus for more than six months. The therapy, which is conducted on five consecutive days with two individualized 60-minute sessions, is based on two different treatment methods and supportive counseling. During the receptive music therapy, the patient listens to pre-recorded or live music. This therapy form decouples the tinnitus experience from psycho-physiological reaction patterns through reconditioning. The active music therapy, which involves playing instruments and singing, trains the neuroauditive cortex and improves acoustic perception through systematic training of intonation and listening capacity in the range of the transposed tinnitus frequency.

Therapy results reveal that 76% of the patients achieved a reliable reduction in their tinnitus scores, 87% were satisfied with the treatment, and 71% did not undergo any further treatment after the music therapy (apart from hearing aids). Additional evaluations show that female patients and those with higher initial tinnitus strains experienced greater therapy success. Researchers at the DZM are currently investigating whether the effects will last longer than five years. For more information, please contact Dr. Heike Argstatter

A segment of the audiovisual speech (left) and music (right) stimulus. © HweeLing Lee/MPI for Biological Cybernetics
article4Playing Music Alters the Processing of Multisensory Stimuli in the Brain
Text provided by the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

Do the brains of professional musicians process multisensory stimuli in a manner different from non-musicians? Piano practicing is a rich multisensory experience involving the integration of visual, auditory and tactile inputs with motor responses. HweeLing Lee and Uta Noppeney from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, Germany, study how the brain integrates stimuli from several senses and how brain circuits change as a result of piano practicing. Their latest study examined how well 18 amateur pianists perceived the temporal coincidence between finger and mouth movements by advancing or delaying each movement in relation to the sounds heard at intervals of up to 360 milliseconds. Compared to 19 non-musicians, the pianists showed more precision in assessing the synchronicity of piano music, but not of speech. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers  then mapped the areas of the brain active during this process.

According to their findings, the perception of asynchronous music and hand movements in pianists triggers increased error signals in a circuit involving the cerebellum, premotor and associative areas of the brain, which is refined by piano practicing. The study shows that our sensorimotor experience influences the way in which the brain temporally links signals from different senses during perception. For more information, click here.

Photo: © HweeLing Lee / MPI for Biological Cybernetics

Prof. Dr. Peter Grünberg
article5Nobel Prize Laureate Prof. Dr. Peter Grünberg on the Connection between Music and Physics


When a musician plays chords on a guitar to accompany a song, listeners all over the world can hear whether or not the right chords have been played. This is surprising considering the many different styles of music in existence, along with differences in culture and education. It is as if there were objective criteria in existence for finding the right chord to accompany a particular passage of music - similar to criteria used when solving a mathematical problem.

The most plausible suggestion to explain this was put forward by the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. He suggested that depending on the agreement of the harmonics or partials, there is either a natural "consonance" or "sounding together" of two tones separated by an interval, or a "dissonance," i.e. a lack of this consonance. The harmonics can be obtained by using a Fourier analysis of any two given tones.

Consonance is perceived as soft and peaceful, dissonance as full of tension and aggression. Consonant intervals are preferable when calming a baby, for example, whereas dissonant intervals played on horns and shrill whistles can be heard during a soccer game to encourage the home team and to intimidate the opposition. The most famous dissonance is the tritone (a musical interval composed of three whole tones) used to accompany horror scenes in movies.

My special interest lies in the historical development of this concept. With regard to popular and folk music, there has not been very much change evident since Renaissance times. In terms of music played as an accompaniment, one out of three major, plus three minor chords may be chosen. In classical music there is a clear trend to more dissonance. In addition, some chords previously classified as dissonant are now understood to be consonant. Last but not least, dissonance can sometimes be perceived as having a different character, for example, in the form of a chromatic scale, which is actually a series of dissonances.

Prof. Dr. Peter Andreas Grünberg received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007, together with Albert Fert, for their parallel discovery of the giant magnetoresistance effect (GMR), an effect that increases storage density of hard disks. He is Helmholtz professor of physics at the Forschungszentrum Jülich and heads a research group at the Peter Grünberg Institute.

Photo: Forschungszentrum Jülich

mp3 Logo
article6mp3 - The German Innovation That Revolutionized the Music Industry 

For almost 20 years, the audio coding format mp3 has changed the way we buy and access music. The roots of this revolutionary technology lie in the Bavarian city of Erlangen, Germany. Here, at the Fraunhofer IIS, a team of scientists and engineers began their work on audio coding with the intent to transmit music over telephone lines in the late 1980's. 1987 marked the first milestone, when Fraunhofer IIS researchers successfully introduced a functional real-time codec of the LC-ATC algorithm, an early predecessor of mp3. The technological development peaked in 1995 when the Fraunhofer team presented the file ending ".mp3" and the first hardware mp3 player prototype. Since then, mp3 has become the synonym for the standard name "MPEG Layer 3." The Motion Pictures Expert Group (MPEG) is a working group of the ISO Standardization organization with the mission to standardize multimedia technologies. The first commercial mp3 players reached the market three years later, in 1998.

But mp3 is not the only world standard audio file format primarily developed at Fraunhofer IIS: The mp3-research team was also the driving force behind the development of the AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) family of MPEG codecs. Today, the AAC codecs are nearly as widespread as mp3, and have become integral parts of almost all smartphones, mobile music players, PCs, and consumer electronics. For an overview of the history of the mp3, click here. For information on Fraunhofer IIS, here