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Music and the Brain

Satisfactory Essays
Music and the Brain: Processing and Responding (A General Overview)

For any individual who either avidly listens to or performs music, it is understood that many melodies have amazing effects on both our emotions and our perception. To address the effects of music on the brain, it seems most logical to initially map the auditory and neural pathways of sound. In the case of humans, the mechanism responsible for receiving and transmitting sound to the brain are the ears. Briefly stated, the outer ear (or pinna) 'catches' and amplifies sound by funneling it into the ear canal. Interestingly, the outer ear serves only to boost high frequency sound components (1). The resonance provided by the outer ear also serves in amplifying a higher range of frequencies corresponding to the top octave of the piano key board. The air pressure wave travels through the ear canal to ultimately reach and vibrate the timpanic membrane (i.e.-- the eardrum). At this particular juncture, the pressure wave energy of sound is translated into mechanical energy via the middle ear. Here, three small bones, the ossicles, vibrate in succession to produce a unique pattern of movements that embodies the frequencies contained in every sound we are capable of hearing. The middle ear is also an important component in what music we actually keep out of our 'head'. The muscles grasping the ossicles can contract to prevent as much as two thirds of the sound from entering the inner ear. (1, 2)

The mechanical motions of the ossicles directly vibrate a small membrane that connects to the fluid filled inner ear. From this point, vibration of the connective membrane (oval window) transforms mechanical motion into a pressure wave in fluid. This pressure wave enters and hence passes vibrations into the fluid filled structure called the cochlea. The cochlea contains two membranes and between these two membranes, are specialized neurons or receptors called Hair cells. Once vibrations enter the cochlea, they cause the lower membrane (basilar membrane) to move in respect to the upper membrane (i.e. --the tectorial membrane in which the hair cells are embedded). This movement bends the hair cells to cause receptor potentials in these cells which in turn cause the release of transmitter onto the neurons of the auditory nerve. In this case, the hair cell receptors are very pressure sensitive. The greater the force of the vibrations on the membrane, the more the hair cells bend and hence the greater the receptor potential generated by these hair cells.
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