Music has been a feature of all human cultures, likely since our species evolved. Engaging in musical activity stimulates an area in nearly every part of our brain, suggesting that it possibly developed simultaneously with language. With this in mind, the EU-funded EBRAMUS (Europe, brain and music: New perspectives for stimulating cognitive and sensory processes) project wanted to see whether music can boost brain function, particularly in people with impaired cognitive ability. EBRAMUS combined brain physiology, psychology and computational simulations of neural networks to uncover music's role in hearing and language, learning and memory, and motor skills. Researchers particularly wanted to see whether music could be a non-invasive rehabilitation tool for patients suffering from brain damage or diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. To find neural pathways involved in both music and language, researchers repeated the same tune with different lyrics or the same lyrics with different tunes. They then used brain imaging to see which parts of the brain respond (or don't) to both kinds of repetition. Researchers found that music improved language in hearing-impaired children. Stemming from this study, cochlear implants were developed that better identify different pitches and subsequently improve music perception. Lastly, researchers used computer models to simulate how people synchronise with music and perform complex rhythms. This information can be used to help rehabilitate people with motor disabilities. The work of EBRAMUS may have a long-lasting impact on brain research and rehabilitation through new understanding of this complex organ.
Music, brain, brain function, language, rehabilitation, neural pathways