This is Your Brain on Music


This is Your Brain on Music

This book is about the science of music, from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience–the field that is at the intersection of psychology and neurology

  • Believed that music is processed in the right hemisphere of our brains… Recent findings show that music is distributed throughout the brain.
    • No newspapers, can read music
    • Play piano, cannot button their own sweater
    • The question was left for us to ponder: Does this support the claims that listening to Mozart (for example) for 20 minutes/day will make us smarter?
  • Couple generations ago….
    • Families sat around and played music together for entertainment
    • No TV
  • Today…
    • We place great emphasis on technique and skill.
    • Whether a musician is “good enough” to play for other people
    • Distinction between a class of expert performers and the rest of us.
  • Some parts of the world, (in this case, specifically, the nation of Lesotho) singing and dancing are as natural and walking and talking.
    • Seamlessly integrated and involving everyone.
  • The power of music to evoke everyone
    • Advertising
      • Make drinks, clothes, cars, etc. seem more appealing than others.
    • Filmmakers
      • Tell us how to feel about scenes that otherwise might be ambiguous, or to augment our feelings at particularly dramatic moments.
    • Military commanders
    • Mothers
      • As far back in time as we can imagine, mothers have used music to soothe their babies to sleep or to distract from the situation that made them cry.

‘The unnatural gap that has grown between musical performance and music listening has been paralleled by a gap between those who love music (and love to talk about it) and those who are discovering new things about how it works.’ If all of us hear music differently, how can we account for pieces that seem to move so many people–Handel’s Messiah or Don McLean’s “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” for example? ON THE OTHER HAND How can we account for wide differences in musical preference–why is it that one man’s Mozart is another man’s Madonna?


Teaching 4th Grade Music at Oakland Heights


1.  What do you think was the favorite part of your lesson for the class?

I think the favorite part of the lesson for the entire class was playing along with the rhythm sticks on the beats they felt were accented.

2.  What is one thing you would do differently if you taught the lesson again?

If I had it to do over again, I would be sure to specify to the students that accented beats are not always just where the beat lies. It can also be in unpredictable places. I went back and made that clear once we had listed to The Russian Dance once and it was obvious that the students were playing just on the beats in the measure.

  • Welcomed class (Brandon had his guitar out)
  • I explained what accents are and what the accent marks look like in music (drew on the board)
  • We gave examples by singing through the ABCs and accenting letters that are not normally accented
  • We asked the students to accent random letters of the alphabet that are not normally accented and they had a great time making the letters we assigned really stick out.
  • I passed out rhythm sticks while Brandon played The Russian Dance on YouTube.
  • Students were asked to listen to the song that was very familiar to most of them and see if they could pick out notes that were more accented than others. (This song is a great example of accents in music)
  • The students seemed to be very great at picking out the beat of the song but not always the beats that were unusually accented.
  • We went through The Russian Dance another time per their request to see if the students would hear things the next time that were missed before.
  • I started at the beginning again and explained that accents are not always right on the beat.
  • Brandon and I went back to the ABC examples (This seemed to be the best activity to help them better understand)
  • At the end of the lesson we thanked them for being such respectful students and for participating with enthusiasm.
  • The students brought the rhythm sticks back up to the front of the room and got in line to leave.

This is the link to the YouTube video we used to play The Russian Dance



  1. Walter, A. (1959). The Eclectic Curriculum in American Music Education. Carl Orff’s Music for Children. 157-160.
  2. SYNOPSIS: When a child is made to “hold his own” in music-making, they develop more useful talents in themselves for music than if they are made to do something “by the book.”
    • Melody is made to grow from rhythm.
    • When doing activities, let the students improvise with the pentatonic scale
    • Students need music activities that challenge them, but aren’t impossible.
    • The musical development of children adds to the growth of music history.

I completely agree with the idea of “breaching the gap” in the minds of the children who will one day desire to learn only what is popular in culture. If we do not teach them to appreciate music for everything that it is NOW, then they will never fully appreciate music in its entirety. I believe that allowing students to teach themselves music is a wonderful approach. I would have never thought to have students learn rhythm on their own before they even attempt the rest of the piece. I find it very wise to develop your own method of teaching music to children, just like the art teachers have done. it may be more difficult for first-year teacher, but developing your own system for teaching the students to create music on their own is a truly unique and effective way to reach the greatest level of creativity in a child. How rewarding!!

    • “Beauty is only of value when recreated by those who discover it.”-Jean Piaget

MEJ Articles



Herz, B. (September 2014). What is the Band Sound of the Future?. Segue, 36 (1), 10-11.


In this article, “What is the Band Sound of the Future?” by Bill Herz (September 2014), he explains the changes in the sound of bands in the future based on changes being made in school bands.

  • The variety of instruments is being replaced by a plethora of saxophones.
  • Professional concert band began its decline at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Band music is being composed in an SATB fashion more often.

Even though composing SATB type music for school bands may make the music easier to teach to students, it is almost a choral approach that I do not believe gives the band students the variety of sound that they need to know a band can have. Yes, you can make pretty music with the SATB style, but it is not the same as the arrangemets over a hundred years ago.

‘…it does seem clear that a great many bandleaders, festival and contest judges, and other band aficionados accept non-traditional instrumentations realizing that instrumental shortcomings are expected and the bands are playing the music in the best way possible.’ Page 11




Misenhelter, D. (September 2014). Editors Notes. Segue. 36 (1). 8-9.


“Editor’s Notes”, by Dale Misenhelter (September 2014), explains what music today’s students view as their own as well as explains simple behavioral tasks for listening.


  • Students consider whatever the commercial media is pushing as a marketable tune as their own music.
  • Behavioral tasks for listening are wonderful ways to get your elementary students using their musical ear to hear different rhythms, modes, etc.
  • Elementary music teachers have the ability to make a profound difference for the future in terms of how students grow to appreciate music to the depth that exceeds the DJ music that captures their attention today.

I realized just how much influence elementary music teachers can have over the young students that affect our future. I also learned some very helpful listening ideas for exercises that the students can do to help elementary students listen to music in a deeper fashion than they already are.