full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Indre Viskontas: How music makes me a better neuroscientist

Unscramble the Blue Letters

Music isn't music until your brian makes it so. Sounds can be noise in one context and music in another. We can all tell when someone is speaking vs. when they're singing, but as Diana Deutsch discovered if you take a spoken sentence, pull out a pharse, repeat that phrase over and over and over again, it will begin to sound musical. Then, if you listen to the entire sentence again, it will sound as if the person bursts into song when he or she gets to the repeated part. But the sounds reaching your ear are the same in all of those cases; what's changed is your brain. How the brain turns sound into music remains one of the greatest mysteries of neuroscience. The vast majority of us love some kind of music; If you don't, you are very rare and scientists will want to sdtuy you. We call you a person with "amusia" - a cool new name. We don't all love the same music. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of smooth jazz, and you might not like opera. This characteristic of music, the fact that it's universally loved, but hhigly subjective, has esernud that it ctenouins to baffle us. We all need certain things to survive and reproduce: food, water, sex. Our minds have elovved in such a way that when we don't have those things, we seek them out. They become enjoyable; we call them "biological rroceirfnes." But music is just a bunch of sounds strung together, it doesn't provide us with the essential nutrients; it doesn't bind to our neurons the way drugs do; it doesn't ensure that our genes live on although that might be debatable. Why do we love music? It's a question I've sultreggd to answer, and I can't promise you a full, complete solution today, but I like to share with you some of the scientific insights that had made me a better musician, and some of the artistic insights I hope will help neuroscientists slvoe this mystery. I come from a family of physicians: two agssitsotoniehles, a gastroenterologist, a genlsieart, an orthopedic surgeon, an ophthalmic surgeon, and an ER doctor. Thanksgiving dinner at our house is the safest plcae to be outside of the hospital. (luehagtr) so I can't guarantee it's the most fun. Then there is my mother; she is a conductor, much to my two-year old son's dismay, not of the locomotive kind but very much of the music kind. Growing up, I saw how dflifucit it is to make a living as a musician in a society where music is universally loved but hopelessly undervalued. She works long hours, she still sacrifices every hadiloy, and there is a part of her that never stops wondering what ppleoe thought of her last performance. If you count up all the aardws, the recognitions, and distinctions, she's by far, the most sssccueful member of our family, but she certainly wouldn't think so. Not that being a doctor isn't stfsesurl - it is - but at the end of the day, you've spent your time trying to exnetd or enahcne a person's life, and who can argue the value of that? So when it was my turn to decide what to do with my professional life, the choice seemed pretty sgtiahrt forward: go to medical school, and in your free time, cnionute up your musical training. But then I watched my brother trnaied to become an orthopedic surgeon, and I realized there is no such thing as free time in med school and especially in the years that follow. I didn't want to give up the most important years of my vocal training. I also couldn't see how I could sruoppt myself and pay for those expensive singing lessons if I didn't have some other way to make money. So I tnerud to neuroscience. To me, it was the a perfect blend of science and poetry. Like pretty much every other neuroscientist of my generation, I dueoervd the writings of oevilr Sacks; I studied topics like autobiographical meromy, analogical reasoning, creativity. So you'd think then I'd turn to science to help me become a better musician. After all, if I was using science to understand something as elusive as insight, wouldn't it make ssene to turn there to learn the things that I loved? But the truth is the more I looked at anatomical drawings of the larynx, the tongue, and the daraghpim, the less I felt I understood about my instrument; I couldn't see how knowing what parts of the brain were aictve or even enhanced in musicians would make me sing better. For a while, I even tried very hard to give up singing, because, after all, there are so many geart senrgis in the wrlod. We all need to get one-on-one care from a physician, but many hundreds of thousands of us can be moved by the same musician. So wouldn't I, and maybe the world, be better off if I stuck to medical research? The problem was that the more time I let elapse between singing engagements, the more I felt there was something really iamonprtt missing from my life. The more I felt that I couldn't be the person I nedeed to be, I became moody, iialbtrre, a little irrational, often mean; and I found too often I would cap off a difficult day in the lab with a martini or two and an hour of self-loathing. So when I finished my neuroscience PhD, I decided to dedicate myself full time to music; I enrolled in a Master's of Music program. ccasslial musical training follows the apprenticeship medol where you study with one or two teachers for many years until you can pcdruoe the sounds that you hear in your imagination on your instrument. But the one thing that kept gnawing at me over and over again was how little nncescoiuree had trickled down into this model. After all, most of the techniques are built upon performing the same exercises over and over and over again, often, in the same way, everyday; until you build those skills. To demonstrate this, I want to introduce to you one of my favorite collaborators, kskeuie ngokhasai. (Applause) Keisuke is going to give us an example of what a typical piano training exercise sounds like. (Piano music strtas) (Piano music ends) Over and over and over again! But the truth is if you want to take what you're learning, what you're developing in that skill, and apply it to any piece of music, racseerh in mootr learning suggests that you should in fact interleave and space out your tlaris introducing some randomness - what we call "desirable difficulties." There is even a study of pianists dtaomrnsniteg this effect, but so many teachers have never heard of such a thing. So then I began to wonder, "What would happen if I actually try it on myself?" as most scientists use themselves as guinea pigs, and I found that I started to improve much more rapidly. So I developed a course called taninrig the Musical Brain; how to use neuroscience to develop more effective practice strategies which I now teach at the Conservatory of Music here in San Francisco. I started to wonder, "Are there other ways that science can make me a better musician that I couldn't see ten yreas ago?" When I was a clihd, I remember one of my evaluations at the Royal Conservatory of Music; it'll always stick with me. I was a kid, I sang all my pieces well, I didn't make any mistakes, the judges said my tone was very good, I had good technique, but my performance was demeed "unmusical." I was dsateveatd. How could these judges gauge my musicality? Couldn't they see that I feel and understand this music deeply? But the truth is feeling the music and producing music other people feel are two different skills. In the rehearsal room, I can cry as much as I need to when my cacraethr is dying, but when I get on stage, it's your time to cry not mine. So what could science tell me about that? That's when my two worlds collided; because after all, art and sncecie are after the same thing: the goal is to understand the hmuan experience. Science does it by ectniratxg general principles about the world, and art uses individual eenpexcire to highlight what's universal. So here is what I learned in a nutshell: your brain is perimd to saecrh for meaning, for parentts, in a random, chaotic world. We look for these things everywhere, and we've evolved in such a way that it's enjoyable when we make a new connection, when we lraen something new, when we urnatedsnd something meaningful. We find pleasure in it. We see things that are meaningful to us even when they are not there. We see faces everywhere; they are important to us. We aoophrrhmopitnze or attribute human-like traits to our pets, or cars, or digital devices. When we hear repeated sounds, and we know what they mean, we call it music. Speech becomes song just by ritpeetoin. In fact, repetition is the one quality of music that seems to be common across all cultures and genres, even in the one genre in which it's exitcilply avoided - we call this classical contemporary music composition." Elizabeth Margulis found if you artificially insert repetition into these pciees, people find them more enjoyable, more interesting, more likely to be rated as having been composed by a human being rather than a cemptuor. Why? Because repetition signals intention, it frames the ptetran, it shows you that there is something meaningful here to listen to. But that's not enough to explain a human obisssoen. After all, music can cause riots, tppole governments, raise the hairs on the back of your neck. What can science tell us about that? It turns out that when your brain is enjoying a piece of music that might even give you the chills, it's aawsh with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine, despite its widespread fame, has actually been undersold in many ways; people think of it as the "pleasure chemical," but that's not all it does. A better term for it is the "salience chemical," because it's awash in some parts of your brain when you're trying to hold important things in mind, when you're netaeausd, when you want something, when there is a meaning to be found. The way that dopamine's awash in the brain while you're getting the chills from music is very sifipcec to when and where it happens. There's a paper from Robert Zatorre's lab at McGill with Valorie Salimpoor, the first atuhor that dnucomets these changes and showed me, finally, what it means to be musical. Even as a master's student, I self-doubted my ability to sing musically; it was a bit like being cool: everyone seemed to know what it was and how to do it, but if you even asked the question, it showed that you weren't cool. I guess the fact I turned to science for help puts the nail in the coffin of my coolness. (Laughter) Even though in the practice room, I'd spned almost all my time perfecting my high neots, after all, that's what gets you hired. They come at the caimlx of the piece; they get the biggest reaction from the audience; and if you screw them up, they are the most memorable. But my singing teacher would say to me, "It's all the notes that are lndeaig up to the high note that are more important than the high note, and that's what you should practice." I understood that from a tcieachnl perspective but not from a musical one until I read the Salimpoor paper. In the Salimpoor paper, they show that there are two regions of the brain that maetdie getting the chills from music and they tracked dopamine in these regions. They are the caudate and the nucleus accumbens. You can think of the caudate as your parent: it tells you that your behavior has consequences, it tracks how the things that you see, hear, observe, and do have outcomes; it sets up the expectation of a reward of pleasure and esnuers, in the future, you will behave in such a way that you will seek reward and aviod the things that led to punishment. The caudate is awash with dopamine when you are leading up to the special moment that will give you the chills. But when you get to the moment that give you the cllihs, there is a dopamine spike in your nucleus accumbens. Your nucleus accumbens is your BFF, it's your best friend for life, because more dopamine in the neculus accumbens correlates with a bigger high. In the 1950s, Olds and Milner stuck electrodes into the nucleus accumbens of a bunch of rats. Then, they taught those rats to press the lever; and every time they pressed the leevr, they'd get a little electric current that stimulates their nucleus accumbens. Those rats wanted nothing more than to press that lever. One rat preessd it 7,500 times in 12 huros, suggesting that it would sravte rather than stop pressing. The nucleus accumbens lekis, but the catuade wants. The intensity of the chills that you feel from music depends on how much dopamine there is in your nucleus accumbens, but the nemubr of times you get the chills or, if you get them at all, dndepes on the amount of dopamine in your caudate. That's what I learned, that's what it means to be musical. You need to set up the misucal intention for your audience so that they will pay attention, so that the caudate will know that there is a reward to be had, and we better pay attention. Then, as a musician, you use all kinds of tools, once you've set up the tension, to delay it, to delay the reaesle. There's all kinds of msuic tolos you can use to increase the desire, the ettxpaceoin, the motivation for the rwraed, because, after all, paelurse is the death of dsiere. But the more desire there is, the better the pleasure. That's what I learned. So let me demonstrate to you this little theory in pctrcaie. One of my favorite opera is "La Traviata" by Verdi. It tells the story of a Parisian courtesan, a high class prostitute, who is dying of tborleuiuscs, as lots of sopranos do. (Laughter) She is entertaining a lavish party because she's gnivig everybody pleasure. That's what she does for a living, she gives pleasure, and she gets exhausted by the party; but at the party, she meets this young man who has been stiintg outside her wndiow while she was ill, unable to give pleasure when all her friends had abandoned her, and he was waiting for her because he really loevd her. And now, alone in her room, she wonders, "What would it be like to feel true love?" "What is this mysterious thing, this pulse of the urvisene?" She realizes that it's a double-edged sword, that love is both torture and dgelhit, (Italian) "croce e delizia." That's the intention I want to camtumnoice to you, mausclliy, because, of course, the idea is much more complicated than we can say. In order to do that, I'll first sing a reeapt of what the tenor's saying earlier in the act. Clever Verdi! We like things better the second time around; repetition. Then I will set up the expectation, I'll tell you straight off, there will be a high note - Setting that up? - but I will daley that high note as long as possible to isneacre your mttiivoaon to get dopamine into your caudates, so that by the time we relax that tension, there is a dopamine spike in your nucleus accumbens. (Laughter) (Piano music starts) (Singing) (Singing and piano music end) (apluspae)

Open Cloze

Music isn't music until your _____ makes it so. Sounds can be noise in one context and music in another. We can all tell when someone is speaking vs. when they're singing, but as Diana Deutsch discovered if you take a spoken sentence, pull out a ______, repeat that phrase over and over and over again, it will begin to sound musical. Then, if you listen to the entire sentence again, it will sound as if the person bursts into song when he or she gets to the repeated part. But the sounds reaching your ear are the same in all of those cases; what's changed is your brain. How the brain turns sound into music remains one of the greatest mysteries of neuroscience. The vast majority of us love some kind of music; If you don't, you are very rare and scientists will want to _____ you. We call you a person with "amusia" - a cool new name. We don't all love the same music. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of smooth jazz, and you might not like opera. This characteristic of music, the fact that it's universally loved, but ______ subjective, has _______ that it _________ to baffle us. We all need certain things to survive and reproduce: food, water, sex. Our minds have _______ in such a way that when we don't have those things, we seek them out. They become enjoyable; we call them "biological ___________." But music is just a bunch of sounds strung together, it doesn't provide us with the essential nutrients; it doesn't bind to our neurons the way drugs do; it doesn't ensure that our genes live on although that might be debatable. Why do we love music? It's a question I've _________ to answer, and I can't promise you a full, complete solution today, but I like to share with you some of the scientific insights that had made me a better musician, and some of the artistic insights I hope will help neuroscientists _____ this mystery. I come from a family of physicians: two _________________, a gastroenterologist, a __________, an orthopedic surgeon, an ophthalmic surgeon, and an ER doctor. Thanksgiving dinner at our house is the safest _____ to be outside of the hospital. (________) so I can't guarantee it's the most fun. Then there is my mother; she is a conductor, much to my two-year old son's dismay, not of the locomotive kind but very much of the music kind. Growing up, I saw how _________ it is to make a living as a musician in a society where music is universally loved but hopelessly undervalued. She works long hours, she still sacrifices every _______, and there is a part of her that never stops wondering what ______ thought of her last performance. If you count up all the ______, the recognitions, and distinctions, she's by far, the most __________ member of our family, but she certainly wouldn't think so. Not that being a doctor isn't _________ - it is - but at the end of the day, you've spent your time trying to ______ or _______ a person's life, and who can argue the value of that? So when it was my turn to decide what to do with my professional life, the choice seemed pretty ________ forward: go to medical school, and in your free time, ________ up your musical training. But then I watched my brother _______ to become an orthopedic surgeon, and I realized there is no such thing as free time in med school and especially in the years that follow. I didn't want to give up the most important years of my vocal training. I also couldn't see how I could _______ myself and pay for those expensive singing lessons if I didn't have some other way to make money. So I ______ to neuroscience. To me, it was the a perfect blend of science and poetry. Like pretty much every other neuroscientist of my generation, I ________ the writings of ______ Sacks; I studied topics like autobiographical ______, analogical reasoning, creativity. So you'd think then I'd turn to science to help me become a better musician. After all, if I was using science to understand something as elusive as insight, wouldn't it make _____ to turn there to learn the things that I loved? But the truth is the more I looked at anatomical drawings of the larynx, the tongue, and the _________, the less I felt I understood about my instrument; I couldn't see how knowing what parts of the brain were ______ or even enhanced in musicians would make me sing better. For a while, I even tried very hard to give up singing, because, after all, there are so many _____ _______ in the _____. We all need to get one-on-one care from a physician, but many hundreds of thousands of us can be moved by the same musician. So wouldn't I, and maybe the world, be better off if I stuck to medical research? The problem was that the more time I let elapse between singing engagements, the more I felt there was something really _________ missing from my life. The more I felt that I couldn't be the person I ______ to be, I became moody, _________, a little irrational, often mean; and I found too often I would cap off a difficult day in the lab with a martini or two and an hour of self-loathing. So when I finished my neuroscience PhD, I decided to dedicate myself full time to music; I enrolled in a Master's of Music program. _________ musical training follows the apprenticeship _____ where you study with one or two teachers for many years until you can _______ the sounds that you hear in your imagination on your instrument. But the one thing that kept gnawing at me over and over again was how little ____________ had trickled down into this model. After all, most of the techniques are built upon performing the same exercises over and over and over again, often, in the same way, everyday; until you build those skills. To demonstrate this, I want to introduce to you one of my favorite collaborators, _______ _________. (Applause) Keisuke is going to give us an example of what a typical piano training exercise sounds like. (Piano music ______) (Piano music ends) Over and over and over again! But the truth is if you want to take what you're learning, what you're developing in that skill, and apply it to any piece of music, ________ in _____ learning suggests that you should in fact interleave and space out your ______ introducing some randomness - what we call "desirable difficulties." There is even a study of pianists _____________ this effect, but so many teachers have never heard of such a thing. So then I began to wonder, "What would happen if I actually try it on myself?" as most scientists use themselves as guinea pigs, and I found that I started to improve much more rapidly. So I developed a course called ________ the Musical Brain; how to use neuroscience to develop more effective practice strategies which I now teach at the Conservatory of Music here in San Francisco. I started to wonder, "Are there other ways that science can make me a better musician that I couldn't see ten _____ ago?" When I was a _____, I remember one of my evaluations at the Royal Conservatory of Music; it'll always stick with me. I was a kid, I sang all my pieces well, I didn't make any mistakes, the judges said my tone was very good, I had good technique, but my performance was ______ "unmusical." I was __________. How could these judges gauge my musicality? Couldn't they see that I feel and understand this music deeply? But the truth is feeling the music and producing music other people feel are two different skills. In the rehearsal room, I can cry as much as I need to when my _________ is dying, but when I get on stage, it's your time to cry not mine. So what could science tell me about that? That's when my two worlds collided; because after all, art and _______ are after the same thing: the goal is to understand the _____ experience. Science does it by __________ general principles about the world, and art uses individual __________ to highlight what's universal. So here is what I learned in a nutshell: your brain is ______ to ______ for meaning, for ________, in a random, chaotic world. We look for these things everywhere, and we've evolved in such a way that it's enjoyable when we make a new connection, when we _____ something new, when we __________ something meaningful. We find pleasure in it. We see things that are meaningful to us even when they are not there. We see faces everywhere; they are important to us. We ________________ or attribute human-like traits to our pets, or cars, or digital devices. When we hear repeated sounds, and we know what they mean, we call it music. Speech becomes song just by __________. In fact, repetition is the one quality of music that seems to be common across all cultures and genres, even in the one genre in which it's __________ avoided - we call this classical contemporary music composition." Elizabeth Margulis found if you artificially insert repetition into these ______, people find them more enjoyable, more interesting, more likely to be rated as having been composed by a human being rather than a ________. Why? Because repetition signals intention, it frames the _______, it shows you that there is something meaningful here to listen to. But that's not enough to explain a human _________. After all, music can cause riots, ______ governments, raise the hairs on the back of your neck. What can science tell us about that? It turns out that when your brain is enjoying a piece of music that might even give you the chills, it's _____ with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine, despite its widespread fame, has actually been undersold in many ways; people think of it as the "pleasure chemical," but that's not all it does. A better term for it is the "salience chemical," because it's awash in some parts of your brain when you're trying to hold important things in mind, when you're _________, when you want something, when there is a meaning to be found. The way that dopamine's awash in the brain while you're getting the chills from music is very ________ to when and where it happens. There's a paper from Robert Zatorre's lab at McGill with Valorie Salimpoor, the first ______ that _________ these changes and showed me, finally, what it means to be musical. Even as a master's student, I self-doubted my ability to sing musically; it was a bit like being cool: everyone seemed to know what it was and how to do it, but if you even asked the question, it showed that you weren't cool. I guess the fact I turned to science for help puts the nail in the coffin of my coolness. (Laughter) Even though in the practice room, I'd _____ almost all my time perfecting my high _____, after all, that's what gets you hired. They come at the ______ of the piece; they get the biggest reaction from the audience; and if you screw them up, they are the most memorable. But my singing teacher would say to me, "It's all the notes that are _______ up to the high note that are more important than the high note, and that's what you should practice." I understood that from a _________ perspective but not from a musical one until I read the Salimpoor paper. In the Salimpoor paper, they show that there are two regions of the brain that _______ getting the chills from music and they tracked dopamine in these regions. They are the caudate and the nucleus accumbens. You can think of the caudate as your parent: it tells you that your behavior has consequences, it tracks how the things that you see, hear, observe, and do have outcomes; it sets up the expectation of a reward of pleasure and _______, in the future, you will behave in such a way that you will seek reward and _____ the things that led to punishment. The caudate is awash with dopamine when you are leading up to the special moment that will give you the chills. But when you get to the moment that give you the ______, there is a dopamine spike in your nucleus accumbens. Your nucleus accumbens is your BFF, it's your best friend for life, because more dopamine in the _______ accumbens correlates with a bigger high. In the 1950s, Olds and Milner stuck electrodes into the nucleus accumbens of a bunch of rats. Then, they taught those rats to press the lever; and every time they pressed the _____, they'd get a little electric current that stimulates their nucleus accumbens. Those rats wanted nothing more than to press that lever. One rat _______ it 7,500 times in 12 _____, suggesting that it would ______ rather than stop pressing. The nucleus accumbens _____, but the _______ wants. The intensity of the chills that you feel from music depends on how much dopamine there is in your nucleus accumbens, but the ______ of times you get the chills or, if you get them at all, _______ on the amount of dopamine in your caudate. That's what I learned, that's what it means to be musical. You need to set up the _______ intention for your audience so that they will pay attention, so that the caudate will know that there is a reward to be had, and we better pay attention. Then, as a musician, you use all kinds of tools, once you've set up the tension, to delay it, to delay the _______. There's all kinds of _____ _____ you can use to increase the desire, the ___________, the motivation for the ______, because, after all, ________ is the death of ______. But the more desire there is, the better the pleasure. That's what I learned. So let me demonstrate to you this little theory in ________. One of my favorite opera is "La Traviata" by Verdi. It tells the story of a Parisian courtesan, a high class prostitute, who is dying of ____________, as lots of sopranos do. (Laughter) She is entertaining a lavish party because she's ______ everybody pleasure. That's what she does for a living, she gives pleasure, and she gets exhausted by the party; but at the party, she meets this young man who has been _______ outside her ______ while she was ill, unable to give pleasure when all her friends had abandoned her, and he was waiting for her because he really _____ her. And now, alone in her room, she wonders, "What would it be like to feel true love?" "What is this mysterious thing, this pulse of the ________?" She realizes that it's a double-edged sword, that love is both torture and _______, (Italian) "croce e delizia." That's the intention I want to ___________ to you, _________, because, of course, the idea is much more complicated than we can say. In order to do that, I'll first sing a ______ of what the tenor's saying earlier in the act. Clever Verdi! We like things better the second time around; repetition. Then I will set up the expectation, I'll tell you straight off, there will be a high note - Setting that up? - but I will _____ that high note as long as possible to ________ your __________ to get dopamine into your caudates, so that by the time we relax that tension, there is a dopamine spike in your nucleus accumbens. (Laughter) (Piano music starts) (Singing) (Singing and piano music end) (________)

Solution

  1. produce
  2. nauseated
  3. window
  4. music
  5. deemed
  6. extracting
  7. devastated
  8. nucleus
  9. turned
  10. chills
  11. patterns
  12. pieces
  13. topple
  14. laughter
  15. continues
  16. starve
  17. reward
  18. stressful
  19. solve
  20. practice
  21. successful
  22. years
  23. depends
  24. evolved
  25. generalist
  26. musical
  27. sitting
  28. computer
  29. sense
  30. singers
  31. awash
  32. child
  33. trials
  34. spend
  35. obsession
  36. likes
  37. delay
  38. hours
  39. important
  40. search
  41. character
  42. expectation
  43. musically
  44. support
  45. understand
  46. author
  47. study
  48. neuroscience
  49. straight
  50. extend
  51. world
  52. pressed
  53. struggled
  54. tuberculosis
  55. people
  56. starts
  57. pattern
  58. repetition
  59. enhance
  60. pleasure
  61. notes
  62. active
  63. repeat
  64. ensures
  65. delight
  66. devoured
  67. leading
  68. science
  69. trained
  70. research
  71. motivation
  72. communicate
  73. technical
  74. brain
  75. training
  76. climax
  77. tools
  78. awards
  79. universe
  80. memory
  81. model
  82. classical
  83. applause
  84. number
  85. oliver
  86. demonstrating
  87. anesthesiologists
  88. primed
  89. diaphragm
  90. specific
  91. desire
  92. learn
  93. giving
  94. irritable
  95. loved
  96. experience
  97. anthropomorphize
  98. keisuke
  99. place
  100. lever
  101. mediate
  102. caudate
  103. documents
  104. phrase
  105. human
  106. difficult
  107. great
  108. highly
  109. reinforcers
  110. nakagoshi
  111. holiday
  112. avoid
  113. explicitly
  114. motor
  115. release
  116. continue
  117. ensured
  118. needed
  119. increase

Original Text

Music isn't music until your brain makes it so. Sounds can be noise in one context and music in another. We can all tell when someone is speaking vs. when they're singing, but as Diana Deutsch discovered if you take a spoken sentence, pull out a phrase, repeat that phrase over and over and over again, it will begin to sound musical. Then, if you listen to the entire sentence again, it will sound as if the person bursts into song when he or she gets to the repeated part. But the sounds reaching your ear are the same in all of those cases; what's changed is your brain. How the brain turns sound into music remains one of the greatest mysteries of neuroscience. The vast majority of us love some kind of music; If you don't, you are very rare and scientists will want to study you. We call you a person with "amusia" - a cool new name. We don't all love the same music. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of smooth jazz, and you might not like opera. This characteristic of music, the fact that it's universally loved, but highly subjective, has ensured that it continues to baffle us. We all need certain things to survive and reproduce: food, water, sex. Our minds have evolved in such a way that when we don't have those things, we seek them out. They become enjoyable; we call them "biological reinforcers." But music is just a bunch of sounds strung together, it doesn't provide us with the essential nutrients; it doesn't bind to our neurons the way drugs do; it doesn't ensure that our genes live on although that might be debatable. Why do we love music? It's a question I've struggled to answer, and I can't promise you a full, complete solution today, but I like to share with you some of the scientific insights that had made me a better musician, and some of the artistic insights I hope will help neuroscientists solve this mystery. I come from a family of physicians: two anesthesiologists, a gastroenterologist, a generalist, an orthopedic surgeon, an ophthalmic surgeon, and an ER doctor. Thanksgiving dinner at our house is the safest place to be outside of the hospital. (Laughter) so I can't guarantee it's the most fun. Then there is my mother; she is a conductor, much to my two-year old son's dismay, not of the locomotive kind but very much of the music kind. Growing up, I saw how difficult it is to make a living as a musician in a society where music is universally loved but hopelessly undervalued. She works long hours, she still sacrifices every holiday, and there is a part of her that never stops wondering what people thought of her last performance. If you count up all the awards, the recognitions, and distinctions, she's by far, the most successful member of our family, but she certainly wouldn't think so. Not that being a doctor isn't stressful - it is - but at the end of the day, you've spent your time trying to extend or enhance a person's life, and who can argue the value of that? So when it was my turn to decide what to do with my professional life, the choice seemed pretty straight forward: go to medical school, and in your free time, continue up your musical training. But then I watched my brother trained to become an orthopedic surgeon, and I realized there is no such thing as free time in med school and especially in the years that follow. I didn't want to give up the most important years of my vocal training. I also couldn't see how I could support myself and pay for those expensive singing lessons if I didn't have some other way to make money. So I turned to neuroscience. To me, it was the a perfect blend of science and poetry. Like pretty much every other neuroscientist of my generation, I devoured the writings of Oliver Sacks; I studied topics like autobiographical memory, analogical reasoning, creativity. So you'd think then I'd turn to science to help me become a better musician. After all, if I was using science to understand something as elusive as insight, wouldn't it make sense to turn there to learn the things that I loved? But the truth is the more I looked at anatomical drawings of the larynx, the tongue, and the diaphragm, the less I felt I understood about my instrument; I couldn't see how knowing what parts of the brain were active or even enhanced in musicians would make me sing better. For a while, I even tried very hard to give up singing, because, after all, there are so many great singers in the world. We all need to get one-on-one care from a physician, but many hundreds of thousands of us can be moved by the same musician. So wouldn't I, and maybe the world, be better off if I stuck to medical research? The problem was that the more time I let elapse between singing engagements, the more I felt there was something really important missing from my life. The more I felt that I couldn't be the person I needed to be, I became moody, irritable, a little irrational, often mean; and I found too often I would cap off a difficult day in the lab with a martini or two and an hour of self-loathing. So when I finished my neuroscience PhD, I decided to dedicate myself full time to music; I enrolled in a Master's of Music program. Classical musical training follows the apprenticeship model where you study with one or two teachers for many years until you can produce the sounds that you hear in your imagination on your instrument. But the one thing that kept gnawing at me over and over again was how little neuroscience had trickled down into this model. After all, most of the techniques are built upon performing the same exercises over and over and over again, often, in the same way, everyday; until you build those skills. To demonstrate this, I want to introduce to you one of my favorite collaborators, Keisuke Nakagoshi. (Applause) Keisuke is going to give us an example of what a typical piano training exercise sounds like. (Piano music starts) (Piano music ends) Over and over and over again! But the truth is if you want to take what you're learning, what you're developing in that skill, and apply it to any piece of music, research in motor learning suggests that you should in fact interleave and space out your trials introducing some randomness - what we call "desirable difficulties." There is even a study of pianists demonstrating this effect, but so many teachers have never heard of such a thing. So then I began to wonder, "What would happen if I actually try it on myself?" as most scientists use themselves as guinea pigs, and I found that I started to improve much more rapidly. So I developed a course called Training the Musical Brain; how to use neuroscience to develop more effective practice strategies which I now teach at the Conservatory of Music here in San Francisco. I started to wonder, "Are there other ways that science can make me a better musician that I couldn't see ten years ago?" When I was a child, I remember one of my evaluations at the Royal Conservatory of Music; it'll always stick with me. I was a kid, I sang all my pieces well, I didn't make any mistakes, the judges said my tone was very good, I had good technique, but my performance was deemed "unmusical." I was devastated. How could these judges gauge my musicality? Couldn't they see that I feel and understand this music deeply? But the truth is feeling the music and producing music other people feel are two different skills. In the rehearsal room, I can cry as much as I need to when my character is dying, but when I get on stage, it's your time to cry not mine. So what could science tell me about that? That's when my two worlds collided; because after all, art and science are after the same thing: the goal is to understand the human experience. Science does it by extracting general principles about the world, and art uses individual experience to highlight what's universal. So here is what I learned in a nutshell: your brain is primed to search for meaning, for patterns, in a random, chaotic world. We look for these things everywhere, and we've evolved in such a way that it's enjoyable when we make a new connection, when we learn something new, when we understand something meaningful. We find pleasure in it. We see things that are meaningful to us even when they are not there. We see faces everywhere; they are important to us. We anthropomorphize or attribute human-like traits to our pets, or cars, or digital devices. When we hear repeated sounds, and we know what they mean, we call it music. Speech becomes song just by repetition. In fact, repetition is the one quality of music that seems to be common across all cultures and genres, even in the one genre in which it's explicitly avoided - we call this classical contemporary music composition." Elizabeth Margulis found if you artificially insert repetition into these pieces, people find them more enjoyable, more interesting, more likely to be rated as having been composed by a human being rather than a computer. Why? Because repetition signals intention, it frames the pattern, it shows you that there is something meaningful here to listen to. But that's not enough to explain a human obsession. After all, music can cause riots, topple governments, raise the hairs on the back of your neck. What can science tell us about that? It turns out that when your brain is enjoying a piece of music that might even give you the chills, it's awash with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine, despite its widespread fame, has actually been undersold in many ways; people think of it as the "pleasure chemical," but that's not all it does. A better term for it is the "salience chemical," because it's awash in some parts of your brain when you're trying to hold important things in mind, when you're nauseated, when you want something, when there is a meaning to be found. The way that dopamine's awash in the brain while you're getting the chills from music is very specific to when and where it happens. There's a paper from Robert Zatorre's lab at McGill with Valorie Salimpoor, the first author that documents these changes and showed me, finally, what it means to be musical. Even as a master's student, I self-doubted my ability to sing musically; it was a bit like being cool: everyone seemed to know what it was and how to do it, but if you even asked the question, it showed that you weren't cool. I guess the fact I turned to science for help puts the nail in the coffin of my coolness. (Laughter) Even though in the practice room, I'd spend almost all my time perfecting my high notes, after all, that's what gets you hired. They come at the climax of the piece; they get the biggest reaction from the audience; and if you screw them up, they are the most memorable. But my singing teacher would say to me, "It's all the notes that are leading up to the high note that are more important than the high note, and that's what you should practice." I understood that from a technical perspective but not from a musical one until I read the Salimpoor paper. In the Salimpoor paper, they show that there are two regions of the brain that mediate getting the chills from music and they tracked dopamine in these regions. They are the caudate and the nucleus accumbens. You can think of the caudate as your parent: it tells you that your behavior has consequences, it tracks how the things that you see, hear, observe, and do have outcomes; it sets up the expectation of a reward of pleasure and ensures, in the future, you will behave in such a way that you will seek reward and avoid the things that led to punishment. The caudate is awash with dopamine when you are leading up to the special moment that will give you the chills. But when you get to the moment that give you the chills, there is a dopamine spike in your nucleus accumbens. Your nucleus accumbens is your BFF, it's your best friend for life, because more dopamine in the nucleus accumbens correlates with a bigger high. In the 1950s, Olds and Milner stuck electrodes into the nucleus accumbens of a bunch of rats. Then, they taught those rats to press the lever; and every time they pressed the lever, they'd get a little electric current that stimulates their nucleus accumbens. Those rats wanted nothing more than to press that lever. One rat pressed it 7,500 times in 12 hours, suggesting that it would starve rather than stop pressing. The nucleus accumbens likes, but the caudate wants. The intensity of the chills that you feel from music depends on how much dopamine there is in your nucleus accumbens, but the number of times you get the chills or, if you get them at all, depends on the amount of dopamine in your caudate. That's what I learned, that's what it means to be musical. You need to set up the musical intention for your audience so that they will pay attention, so that the caudate will know that there is a reward to be had, and we better pay attention. Then, as a musician, you use all kinds of tools, once you've set up the tension, to delay it, to delay the release. There's all kinds of music tools you can use to increase the desire, the expectation, the motivation for the reward, because, after all, pleasure is the death of desire. But the more desire there is, the better the pleasure. That's what I learned. So let me demonstrate to you this little theory in practice. One of my favorite opera is "La Traviata" by Verdi. It tells the story of a Parisian courtesan, a high class prostitute, who is dying of tuberculosis, as lots of sopranos do. (Laughter) She is entertaining a lavish party because she's giving everybody pleasure. That's what she does for a living, she gives pleasure, and she gets exhausted by the party; but at the party, she meets this young man who has been sitting outside her window while she was ill, unable to give pleasure when all her friends had abandoned her, and he was waiting for her because he really loved her. And now, alone in her room, she wonders, "What would it be like to feel true love?" "What is this mysterious thing, this pulse of the universe?" She realizes that it's a double-edged sword, that love is both torture and delight, (Italian) "croce e delizia." That's the intention I want to communicate to you, musically, because, of course, the idea is much more complicated than we can say. In order to do that, I'll first sing a repeat of what the tenor's saying earlier in the act. Clever Verdi! We like things better the second time around; repetition. Then I will set up the expectation, I'll tell you straight off, there will be a high note - Setting that up? - but I will delay that high note as long as possible to increase your motivation to get dopamine into your caudates, so that by the time we relax that tension, there is a dopamine spike in your nucleus accumbens. (Laughter) (Piano music starts) (Singing) (Singing and piano music end) (Applause)

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
nucleus accumbens 8
high note 3
musical training 2
dopamine spike 2

Important Words

  1. abandoned
  2. ability
  3. accumbens
  4. act
  5. active
  6. amount
  7. analogical
  8. anatomical
  9. anesthesiologists
  10. answer
  11. anthropomorphize
  12. applause
  13. apply
  14. apprenticeship
  15. argue
  16. art
  17. artificially
  18. artistic
  19. asked
  20. attention
  21. attribute
  22. audience
  23. author
  24. autobiographical
  25. avoid
  26. avoided
  27. awards
  28. awash
  29. baffle
  30. began
  31. behave
  32. behavior
  33. bff
  34. bigger
  35. biggest
  36. bind
  37. bit
  38. blend
  39. brain
  40. brother
  41. build
  42. built
  43. bunch
  44. bursts
  45. call
  46. called
  47. cap
  48. care
  49. cars
  50. caudate
  51. caudates
  52. changed
  53. chaotic
  54. character
  55. characteristic
  56. chemical
  57. child
  58. chills
  59. choice
  60. class
  61. classical
  62. clever
  63. climax
  64. coffin
  65. collaborators
  66. common
  67. communicate
  68. complete
  69. complicated
  70. composed
  71. composition
  72. computer
  73. conductor
  74. connection
  75. consequences
  76. conservatory
  77. contemporary
  78. context
  79. continue
  80. continues
  81. cool
  82. coolness
  83. correlates
  84. count
  85. courtesan
  86. creativity
  87. cry
  88. cultures
  89. current
  90. day
  91. death
  92. debatable
  93. decide
  94. decided
  95. dedicate
  96. deemed
  97. deeply
  98. delay
  99. delight
  100. delizia
  101. demonstrate
  102. demonstrating
  103. depends
  104. desire
  105. deutsch
  106. devastated
  107. develop
  108. developed
  109. developing
  110. devices
  111. devoured
  112. diana
  113. diaphragm
  114. difficult
  115. difficulties
  116. digital
  117. dinner
  118. discovered
  119. dismay
  120. distinctions
  121. doctor
  122. documents
  123. dopamine
  124. drawings
  125. drugs
  126. dying
  127. ear
  128. earlier
  129. effect
  130. effective
  131. elapse
  132. electric
  133. electrodes
  134. elizabeth
  135. elusive
  136. ends
  137. engagements
  138. enhance
  139. enhanced
  140. enjoyable
  141. enjoying
  142. enrolled
  143. ensure
  144. ensured
  145. ensures
  146. entertaining
  147. entire
  148. er
  149. essential
  150. evaluations
  151. evolved
  152. exercise
  153. exercises
  154. exhausted
  155. expectation
  156. expensive
  157. experience
  158. explain
  159. explicitly
  160. extend
  161. extracting
  162. faces
  163. fact
  164. fame
  165. family
  166. fan
  167. favorite
  168. feel
  169. feeling
  170. felt
  171. finally
  172. find
  173. finished
  174. follow
  175. food
  176. frames
  177. francisco
  178. free
  179. friend
  180. friends
  181. full
  182. fun
  183. future
  184. gastroenterologist
  185. gauge
  186. general
  187. generalist
  188. generation
  189. genes
  190. genre
  191. genres
  192. give
  193. giving
  194. gnawing
  195. goal
  196. good
  197. governments
  198. great
  199. greatest
  200. growing
  201. guarantee
  202. guess
  203. guinea
  204. hairs
  205. happen
  206. hard
  207. hear
  208. heard
  209. high
  210. highlight
  211. highly
  212. hired
  213. hold
  214. holiday
  215. hope
  216. hopelessly
  217. hospital
  218. hour
  219. hours
  220. house
  221. huge
  222. human
  223. hundreds
  224. idea
  225. ill
  226. imagination
  227. important
  228. improve
  229. increase
  230. individual
  231. insert
  232. insight
  233. insights
  234. instrument
  235. intensity
  236. intention
  237. interesting
  238. interleave
  239. introduce
  240. introducing
  241. irrational
  242. irritable
  243. italian
  244. jazz
  245. judges
  246. keisuke
  247. kid
  248. kind
  249. kinds
  250. knowing
  251. lab
  252. larynx
  253. laughter
  254. lavish
  255. leading
  256. learn
  257. learned
  258. learning
  259. led
  260. lessons
  261. lever
  262. life
  263. likes
  264. listen
  265. live
  266. living
  267. locomotive
  268. long
  269. looked
  270. lots
  271. love
  272. loved
  273. majority
  274. man
  275. margulis
  276. martini
  277. mcgill
  278. meaning
  279. meaningful
  280. means
  281. med
  282. mediate
  283. medical
  284. meets
  285. member
  286. memorable
  287. memory
  288. milner
  289. mind
  290. minds
  291. missing
  292. mistakes
  293. model
  294. moment
  295. money
  296. moody
  297. motivation
  298. motor
  299. moved
  300. music
  301. musical
  302. musicality
  303. musically
  304. musician
  305. musicians
  306. mysteries
  307. mysterious
  308. mystery
  309. nail
  310. nakagoshi
  311. nauseated
  312. neck
  313. needed
  314. neurons
  315. neuroscience
  316. neuroscientist
  317. neuroscientists
  318. neurotransmitter
  319. noise
  320. note
  321. notes
  322. nucleus
  323. number
  324. observe
  325. obsession
  326. olds
  327. oliver
  328. opera
  329. ophthalmic
  330. order
  331. orthopedic
  332. paper
  333. parisian
  334. part
  335. parts
  336. party
  337. pattern
  338. patterns
  339. pay
  340. people
  341. perfect
  342. perfecting
  343. performance
  344. performing
  345. person
  346. personally
  347. perspective
  348. pets
  349. phd
  350. phrase
  351. physician
  352. pianists
  353. piano
  354. piece
  355. pieces
  356. pigs
  357. place
  358. pleasure
  359. poetry
  360. practice
  361. press
  362. pressed
  363. pressing
  364. pretty
  365. primed
  366. principles
  367. problem
  368. produce
  369. producing
  370. professional
  371. program
  372. promise
  373. prostitute
  374. provide
  375. pull
  376. pulse
  377. punishment
  378. puts
  379. quality
  380. question
  381. raise
  382. random
  383. randomness
  384. rapidly
  385. rare
  386. rat
  387. rated
  388. rats
  389. reaching
  390. reaction
  391. read
  392. realized
  393. realizes
  394. reasoning
  395. recognitions
  396. regions
  397. rehearsal
  398. reinforcers
  399. relax
  400. release
  401. remains
  402. remember
  403. repeat
  404. repeated
  405. repetition
  406. research
  407. reward
  408. riots
  409. robert
  410. room
  411. royal
  412. sacrifices
  413. safest
  414. salimpoor
  415. san
  416. sang
  417. school
  418. science
  419. scientific
  420. scientists
  421. screw
  422. search
  423. seek
  424. sense
  425. sentence
  426. set
  427. sets
  428. setting
  429. sex
  430. share
  431. show
  432. showed
  433. shows
  434. signals
  435. sing
  436. singers
  437. singing
  438. sitting
  439. skill
  440. skills
  441. smooth
  442. society
  443. solution
  444. solve
  445. song
  446. sopranos
  447. sound
  448. sounds
  449. space
  450. speaking
  451. special
  452. specific
  453. speech
  454. spend
  455. spent
  456. spike
  457. spoken
  458. stage
  459. started
  460. starts
  461. starve
  462. stick
  463. stimulates
  464. stop
  465. stops
  466. story
  467. straight
  468. strategies
  469. stressful
  470. struggled
  471. strung
  472. stuck
  473. student
  474. studied
  475. study
  476. subjective
  477. successful
  478. suggesting
  479. suggests
  480. support
  481. surgeon
  482. survive
  483. sword
  484. taught
  485. teach
  486. teacher
  487. teachers
  488. technical
  489. technique
  490. techniques
  491. tells
  492. ten
  493. tension
  494. term
  495. thanksgiving
  496. theory
  497. thought
  498. thousands
  499. time
  500. times
  501. today
  502. tone
  503. tongue
  504. tools
  505. topics
  506. topple
  507. torture
  508. tracked
  509. tracks
  510. trained
  511. training
  512. traits
  513. trials
  514. trickled
  515. true
  516. truth
  517. tuberculosis
  518. turn
  519. turned
  520. turns
  521. typical
  522. unable
  523. undersold
  524. understand
  525. understood
  526. undervalued
  527. universal
  528. universally
  529. universe
  530. valorie
  531. vast
  532. verdi
  533. vocal
  534. waiting
  535. wanted
  536. watched
  537. water
  538. ways
  539. widespread
  540. window
  541. wondering
  542. wonders
  543. works
  544. world
  545. worlds
  546. writings
  547. years
  548. young