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Music in the Brain

November 4, 2013

Brain differences explain why not everyone has an ear for music.



The musical mind. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.


Here are two melodies, one slightly different than the other:

[SFX: Two melodies]

Could you hear the difference? McGill neuroscientist Robert Zatorre studies how the brain processes speech and music. In the journal Science, he reviewed what’s currently known, including his own research that found that some people could quickly learn to distinguish between those two melodies, while others took two weeks or more.

ROBERT ZATORRE (McGill University) :

And what we found was that the people who were so good at this actually had a different brain response pattern. So their auditory cortex actually encodes those sounds more effectively than the people who learned more slowly. And so another question becomes, well, “why is that?


He says understanding how different people distinguish changes in pitch, amplitude and timing of sounds could lead to new treatments for patients with speech disabilities. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.