Musical Notes & Neurons

Alya Manji z3437921
Gabriel Rothman z3476827
Madeleine Radnan z3420568
Samuel Potter z3377303

<iframe width="480" height="360" src="//" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> (Short Clip)
Bobby McFerrin in "World Science Festival 2009" (Notes & Neurons)


Neuroscience is an area of study that deals with the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology of nerves and nervous tissue, especially their relation to behaviour and learning within the brain and central nervous system (Lawrence, 2005). The Youtube clip title "Notes and Neurons: In Search for the Common Chorus" focuses on the neuroscience involved in music's potential ability to function as a universal language. This event is conducted at the World Science Festival on June 12 2009 at the Gerald Lynch theatre John Jay College in the United States. Bobby McFerrin opens this topic to the crowd by creating simple vocals in the microphone, and then introduces percussion by beating his hand on his chest. This leads the audience, who have no prior knowledge of his performance, to join in accompanying Bobby McFerrin with the melody. This opening example brings out a curiosity as to how this synchronisation of producing the next note in the melody is generated by the brain. Radio producer John Schaefer, Lawrence Parsons, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Scheffield, Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Canada, Jamshed Bharucha, former provost and vice president at Tufts University, and Bobby McFerrin begin the discussion about neural expectations using music as a basis to explain the role of the brain in generating this idea of the common chorus. Notes and Neurons: In Search for the Common Chorus was brought to our attention as a topic by Gabriel Rothman he had previously viewed the short clip (link attached) of this which had interested him to look into this idea further. Gabriel is a student from Tuffs university which provides further interest having Jamshed Bharucha vice president at Tuffs University as a speaker on this topic. When We first listened to the short clip the team was interested in this theory of the common chours and it was this idea that the brain works with music as a universal language that made this out groups topic.


Aims of the Media Piece

This media piece is targeted towards educated people in the general population who have a desire to learn more about science and recent scientific research for their own enjoyment. The World Science Foundation, the organisation behind this panel, states on their website that their mission is, “ to cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future” (World Science Foundation). The panel has a similar model to the TED talks, which present various topics for the sole purpose of spreading knowledge (TED). This particular clip on music and the brain is likely to get the attention of professionals involved in neuroscientific fields, social scientists interested in learning more about different forms of language, or musicians with scientific inclinations, in addition to anyone in the general populace with an interest in learning about novel scientific research.

Presentation of Content

Simplification of Information

The information in this video is not presented at the same level as it would be in a scientific paper, and the topics are abridged so that a general audience with no prior knowledge of the topic can understand the discussion. I do not think that this simplification decreases the quality of information at all, and in fact, serves a beneficial purpose for the viewer. For example, Professor Parsons gives an overview of the various brain regions involved in neural processing of music, but does not cover their scientific names or locations within the brain in any depth (20:00). For the purpose of this particular panel, the audience did not need to know much about the intricacies of brain structures; viewers only needed to understand that many parts of the brain are simultaneously involved in human responses to musical stimuli, and Professor Parsons made that point clearer by ignoring the more technical aspects. Similarly, when Professor Bharucha discusses how the brain develops neuronal connections associated with expectations for certain notes in a scale, he uses a theoretical representation of the neurons that interpret pitch (51:50). In reality, there are complex neural networks that involve a whole series of brain signals to create the perception of pitch, but by using the simplified diagram, Professor Bharucha allows his audience to grasp the main concept of how the brain develops perceptive pathways based on cultural expectations. The panelists highlighted aspects of their research that were applicable to the questions at hand, and while more intricate details were excluded, the main points were conveyed effectively, and the information still maintained a very high quality.

Validity of Claims

All of the panelists make an exerted attempt to present information without bias, and use either scientific research or their extensive experience to back up claims. Professor Bharucha references his own research directly when discussing the emotional content within musical intervals (34:25), and when he covers culturally-rooted expectations (44:00). For the latter, he provides video footage of his actual research, which gives his claims a high level of validity. Presuming that all of the panelists’ studies have been conducted with sound experimental practices and procedures, their information can be considered unbiased and valid. Bobby McFerrin doesn’t have published research to support his claims, and instead uses his 20 years of experience touring and performing worldwide to explain how he thinks people interact with music. He discusses the innate human desire to be involved in a community, and explains that no matter where he is in the world, he finds that audiences, when invited, will readily participate in his performances (15:00). However, there is some bias associated with this claim; for example, people who have bought tickets to see Bobby McFerrin are likely to have listened to and enjoyed his music prior to the concert, or are generally open-minded about exploring new music, and these precursors may have an effect on their willingness to join the performance.

Quality of Information

The quality of the information in this clip seems to be very high, given that the three scientific panelists are all leading researchers in the area of music and neuroscience, and Mr. McFerrin has so many years of experience in the global music community. At the time of the conference (in 2009), the academic panelists’ publications were the top sources on musical neuroscience, and they have all continued to publish in peer-reviewed journals and partake in conferences to discuss the topic of music and the brain; for example, Professor Bharucha participated in World Science Festival panels again in 2010 and 2011 (World Science Foundation). The three academic panelists are all considered experts in music perception, and Mr. McFerrin is widely considered an expert in music performance, so together they are able to provide their audience with a simplified, yet valid and accurate representation of how music interacts with the human brain.

Neuroscientific Claims

Bobby McFerrin is providing evidence for his theory that a sense for and understanding of music, particularly harmony, is a natural and fundamental aspect of being human. This idea is widely supported by scientific investigation from neurophysiological, neurological and psychoacoustic research of the various mechanisms that underpin an appreciation of harmony. In 2009, the scientific community had a good understanding of the anatomical & physiological bases behind our awareness of harmony. The body of work supporting Bobby McFerrin’s inference has grown and been consolidated since. This report focuses on harmony as the intercultural, anatomical fundamental behind the universality of musical awareness.Since harmony is based on pitch our attention must be towards the frequency of that sound and the resultant action potentials traveling down the auditory nerve. "The characteristics of the auditory system that underpin our perception of pitch include the capacity of peripheral auditory neurons to encode temporal regularities in acoustic fine structure, the differential tuning of many neurons throughout the auditory system to a narrow range of frequencies in the audible spectrum” (Peretz & Zatorre, 2009).

The Neuroscience of Harmony

When notes are struck on an instrument of some kind, the pitch is matched to the fundamental frequency of that instrument. Two notes played simultaneously is considered a harmonic interval. The worlds consonant and dissonant are important terms when interpreting our perception of a harmony. Those harmonic intervals that are deemed pleasant, beautiful or euphonious fall into our consonant category while dissonant describe those which seem rough or in need of additional notes (Kaestner,1909). It is the constituent notes and tones of a harmonic progression that determine our overall perception (Van de Geer, Levelt & Plomp 1962). For any two notes played simultaneously with fundamental frequencies F1 and F2 respectively, the degree consonance depends of the ratio of F1:F2. Considering only the range of 25Hz - 5kHz which occurs due to “the highest frequency at which neurons can fire in time with amplitude fluctuations in the acoustic waveform” (Peretz & Zatorre, 2009), the ratios that are most simple are those that we receive as most consonant. The intervals that musical theory declares most consonant work out to ratios of 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, 5:4,and 6:5.“The neural coding mechanisms that provide representations of these pitch relationships form part of the neurobiological foundation for the theory of harmony in its vertical dimension” (Galilei & de Salvio, 1954). The human auditory nerve is synapsed with sensory receptors in the cochlear. Upon receiving some interval of notes, the volume of actions potentials increases only if the nerve cells are sensitive to the particular frequencies. The time between successive action potentials can be shown to correlate well with the components of the sound understudy. By comparing the components of a tone and the rate of action potential firing, the physiological mechanism has can be directly linked to the source of the sound. The ability of human beings to appreciate music can be traced back to common neurophysiology.
Anatomy of the Ear -



Bobby McFerrin and the rest of the panel have constructively explored the implications of music and the brain. This research is shown to be important for the understanding of music and its contribution to the human experience. They have taken into account cultural conditioning, and examined the effect of culture on the musical mind. Musical fundamentals are hard-wired within the brain: Parsons explains that the brain and the combined central and peripheral nervous systems does not specifically dedicate regions for the interpretation and processing of music. Instead, music is an aspect of life that affects our entire being and every part of the body. Despite aspects of music being hard-wired, Bharucha explains there are cultural aspects whereby varying cultures may adhere to different scales of music and correlate different musical tones played in succession with different emotions. He further explains that through cultural conditioning, when asked to complete a scale, Eastern and Western cultures have specific notes that they have been conditioned into processing.However, through exposure, both cultures can adapt to the scales of the other. Levitin touches on the notion that individual attitudes and mindsets further influence how one interprets music-whether they like or dislike the sounds, and whether they are willing to engage in sounds that may be foreign to their common musical knowledge. McFerrin acknowledges that there are cultural differences in regards to music, but he additionally explains that despite the difference in culture, audiences across the world still strive to engage in his performance, outlining the similarity of emotional responses that can be generated through different types of music, which therefore outlines the similarities between all human brains.The panel has presented their information in a clear and concise format whereby their audience is able to engage and understand the topics of interest. Parsons touches on the importance of understanding music and its innate drive within all humans and throughout life. By putting together visual presentations, the panel allows the audience to gain a greater understanding of neurons and music. Overall, the entire panel has admirably adapted a very complicated topic to the understanding capabilities of their audience explaining how our brains interpret music. This World Science Festival talk on notes and neurons outlines the basic idea behind music and the brain excellently, supporting their claims through varying degrees of research and experience.

References & Resources

Eleanor Lawrence Henderson's Dictionary of Biology 2005 Pearson/Prentice HallTED. (n.d.). About TED. TED. Retrieved August 27, 2013, Science Foundation. (n.d.).World Science Festival. Retrieved August 27, 2013,from http://www.worldsciencefestival.comThe cognitive neuroscience of music, oxford press, Isabelle Peretz, Robert J.Zatorre Editors of a previouslypublished source 2009.Kaestner, G. (1909) Untersuchungen uber den Gefuhlseindruck unanalysieter Zweiklange. Psychol. Studien. 4, 473–504.

Van de Geer, J. P., W. J. M. Levelt, and R. Plomp (1962) The connotation of musical consonance. Acta Psychologia 20,308-
Galileo Galilei (1638/1954) Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences. Translated by H. Crew and A. de Salvio, 1914. New York: Dover Publications.

Dowling, W. and D. Harwood (1986) Music Cognition. Series in cognition and perception. NewYork. Academic Press.
Parncutt, R. (1989) Harmony: A Psychoacoustical Approach. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Moore, B. C. J. (1980) Neural interspike intervals and pitch. Audiology 19, 363–5.

Group to meet in person or online 8th September to review submission of draft.
Group meeting today 23/08 in library to review roles and assign dates for draft submission to each other. Have agreed to submit our drafts to Madeleine by September 2nd for assembly of conclusion and appendix. Group has organized to re-meet before September 9th in person or online to submit drafts.
Review comments on your allocated project by Monday, September 16 at 10 am
- Review comments to be provided by all students by September 14th
Final project must be submitted by Monday, September 23 at 10 am
-Group meeting in person or online 8th September before first draft
- Group meeting in person or online 17th September to discuss amendments for final project.
- Group meeting in person 21st September to review final project and submit.
All minutes to meeting to be posted within 24hours of meetingMusical notes & Neurons

Time Annotations of Clip
Transcript: June 12 2009 Gerald Lynch Theatre John Jay College

Bobby McFerrin
(HOST – FAR LEFT ) John Schaefer radio producer WNYC’S soundtrack
(4TH LEFT) Lawrence Parsons professor of cognitive neuroscience university of scheffield UK
(3RD LEFT) Daniel J. Levitin neuroscientist at MaGill University Canada
(2ND LEFT) Jamshed Bharucha provost and vice president Tuffs university
Notes and Neurons- in search for the common chorus

First 10 minutes of clip Bobbby Mc Ferrin – vocals into microphone – uses hand to beat on chest.

11:00 John Schaefer radio producer WNYC’S soundtrack – ASK what just happened here –
goes into explain Bobby started making musical notes and the crowd picked up and joined in and was
able to construct the next section How is our brain able to pick up on the cues that bobby was
indirectly giving us?

12:48 Daniel: Neuroscience the study of how neurons communicate with each other assemble
into circuits that govern the brain. Neuroscience study not interested in just music directly but all of
neuro behaviour and functions. Last 20 years neuroscience developed to look at the living brain in

13:40 Directed at Jamshed poses the question is MUSIC A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE? Jamshed
responds some truth to this particularly universal language in regards to emotion however there are
aspects within cultures that are specific to certain music

14:26 Bobby did you consciously make music which is not culturally defined – Bobby: NO start
unfamiliar and what where it goes and how it falls into place. Relays the idea that every here is
interested and want to participate which overrides where he is when he performs and the crowd
follow through.
Jamshed aggress that one of music function is to breed or foster a social cohesion.

17:21 Larry (Explanation of brain and response to music) Brain basis of music – Music and dance
Physically and participation element to it. No single part specialised all areas both left and right gets
involved in some way SUM UP: MUSIC IS a whole nervous system activity include something as
simple as listening. All happening at once.

20:00 Uses display to show are of brains for memory auditory personality etc. music speaks
emotional language. The ability to presume where it is going etc. Immediate auditory regions area in
the medial temporal associations general knowledge. pre frontal and inferior frontal region driving
and maintain the expectancies – what you think is going to happen – performing supporting the next
move. Sensory are Outside of the brain the medial surface represents the basic brain areas that sub
serve emotion different areas different emotion.

23:14 Bobby ask the question: How do we experience music differently – in regards to knowing
your going to a concert or spontaneously finding a band playing? Psychically do you experience the
music differently? Differently processed

25:18 Larry: in terms of Brain function it is all processed in the same way. Implicit
unconsciousness like tapping of foot.

26.33 Daniel comments on the idea that pre purchased tickets to an event you are mentally
preparing yourself – long term expectation but then once at the concert short term expectation
partly presumed and partly not. Still question whether the beat will still be done this way ect.

28.30 Bobby talks about an experience where he went to see Miles play and left feeling
psychically changed.

29:14 Daniel comments – Maybe had a big burst of dopamine production we say that physiology
changing is new connections in the brain which is what probably happened.

30:17 Daniel is asked to explain his recent comment in his book – If a tree falls in the forest does
it make a sound ? NO – why do you say that Daniel: Sound is a construction of the brain. Physicist can
measure molecules and intensity of vibration but that is not sound- sound requires a brain to
interpret it for it to be sound! End of chain of events of neuro processing.

32.12 Explanation of octave by Daniel - Building blocks of music pitch octave and tanner: Pitch
fancy word for changes in frequency of sound standard since BC era all had octave and 5th building block of western music is 4th and 3rd.

34:37 Jamshed: have done research weather speech intervals can convey emotion in regards to
the way music conveys emotion. Turns out that through analyse musical descending minor 3rd is prevalent in sad speech, angry speech - minor 2nd or semi tones – only negative emotions.

36:29 Lawrence talks about timbre performing the same note with many diffewrent timbre. Timbre –
everything that you hear when the musician is not changing the pitch or duration of the note.

37:30 Bobby gives example soft different Timbre – each associated with a particular emotion.

38:00 Lawerence furthers on about how it is known that it is part of a common cultural vocabulary if
you do certain things it relays certain emotions based on metaphors from baby and animal cries.
Rhythm different temporal patterns. Dotted rhythms.
Points out here main talk referring to western. Topic shift to Indian classical music.

40:00 indian classical rhythm is different rhythmic cycles groups of 7 and 13. Example played

41:41 Scale different cultures different scales used

43:25 expectation – how quickly the mind adjust – (Jamshed) When you hear a fragment of music
the brain fills in a much larger representation base don cultural expectations which are implements
by the brain which are fast and almost impossible to suppress. People miss remember notes that are
supposed to be in a scale. I f we play a fragment to western listeners the brain will note fill in this
note and if Indian listeners do? Clips are shown at the end of experiment they show that eventual the note is filled in (see experiment). Indian singers insert the flat were as americans inserted the
western note except for the one at the end. Can develop some degree of culturation – is this
individualised or not. . example shown in regards to brain circuit.

52:01 Brain each oval represents a neuron/ neurons tuned to different pitches at the bottom and at
the top are the expectation representations (what the brain expects) connected by synapses. Talk
about no cultural exposure and then cultural exposure. (See clip for more detail) Brain isn’t born hard
wired. Brain can learn any world music or language exposure is the input

59:52 Talk about sound and brain actions of vibrations end of chain of events of neuro processing.
Hearing many sound waves


Search Strategy

There was little disagreeance when deciding to pick the topic of interest. There were a few different videos suggested to choose from, but ultimately we chose Notes and Neurons, as the phenomenon that is music interests us all. At first, the video was a 3.04min video clip of Bobby McFerrin demonstrating how he can create a tune that the audience will automatically be able to follow and complete. Unfortunately, this specific clip did not contain any verbal information about notes and neurons and did not discuss any neuroscinetific concepts. Considering we all thoroughly enjoyed the clip, we decided to go for the longer version, which happened to be a complete talk at the World Science Festival in 2009.

The clip was quite lengthy at 1 hour and 17.5 minutes and Dr. Vickery, when approving the video clips, acknowledged that it may be too long and therefore, difficult to critique. He suggested that we may want to decide on a shorter clip, or to include within our wiki page a time annotation to help navigate the reader to specific parts of the video. We decided to analyse the clip as much of the video time consisted of musical demonstrations. Furthermore, we found that the actually content of neuroscientific information was sufficient enough to analyse but not too much to be overwhelmed by the amount.

Another contributing factor to the decision of analysing this clip was that we were all quite familiar with the layout of the video and the audience it would attract. World Science Festival talks are very similar to TED talks which are conferences where speakers address forthcoming scientific research and concepts. We knew that the speakers would either be academics or experts in their field and would have an outstanding understanding of notes and neurons. These particular talks are generally presented to the audience in very interesting and engaging ways.

Summary of Reviewers comments:
Over all well written:
The essay is elaborate, and constructive; it seems it has been well thought out. It is grammatically correct and has a flow to the entire analysis. Each aspect of the video has been covered to make each point clear with supporting credible evidence. There is also an extensive reference list meaning arguments are well supported and that the analysis takes into account various perceptions from a variety of resources. Most paragraphs have a topic sentence to introduce the reader to the context in the later paragraph. Time annotation is always handy for readers for further information

Improvement and suggestions:
The introduction require more personal input as to how the group became interested in it - From this suggestion we have added into the introduction how we came about this topic.
Structure should be reconsidered and typo's, heading and general format - From this we have amended the wiki to have headings, same font, structure re designed, this has been read over by each member to ensure that the text is flowing and format is correct.
Need diagrams/pictures/a bit technical - We added the anatomy of the ear to assist in the technical aspect as well as diagram to break down the information.
Reference list is now in alaphabetical order.
Dismissed a few suggestions due to the fact that we felt they were covered enough for the aim of this wiki for example the idea to provide background for the speakers. Also we state that the target audence is educated people who want to further knowledge in the science field.

External notes

Looks interesting. Is there a transcript or something else to refer to - hard to critique a video of more than 60 minutes (and hard for me to mark). If not, then put some running time annotations (e.g 45 min 28s) against specific topics within the neuroscientific context and analysis.
Thank you Dr Vickery the original clip we found was 3 minutes without enough neuroscientific spoken content. Will most likley use the time annotations as mentioned above.//
Due dates & Planning:
Group formation due: Monday, August 12 at 10 am (completed)
Draft of the project: Monday, September 9 at 10 am (completed)
– Analysis & Evidence to theory Monday 2nd Sept. Introduction and appendix Wednesday 7th Sept. Group

Alya: Introduction - the brain, neurons and theory behind article.

Gabriel: Discussion – analysis of neuroscientific content and its relation to specific targeted audience

Samuel: Evidence to theory using today’s available sources and previous research

Madeleine: Conclusion and appendix

Group Members:
Alya Gabe Maddie Sam