Keys to Music Learning

Neuroscience: Deep dive with Gregory Chase Part 2

March 14, 2024 Krista Jadro and Hannah Mayo Season 3 Episode 4
Neuroscience: Deep dive with Gregory Chase Part 2
Keys to Music Learning
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Keys to Music Learning
Neuroscience: Deep dive with Gregory Chase Part 2
Mar 14, 2024 Season 3 Episode 4
Krista Jadro and Hannah Mayo

In Part 2 of our episode with Gregory Chase, we dive into the neuroscience research that validates audiation based-music lessons. Everything from the science of BAH and BUM, the importance of rhythm in the first months of life, why it's important to sing songs many times in the same keyality and in various tonalities and meters, and why students make the same mistakes over and over and how we can support them. 

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Introduction to Audiation-based Piano Instruction and Music Moves for Piano

Ready to learn more about audiation-based piano instruction and Music Moves for Piano? Visit Music Learning Academy for online courses, webinars, and resources.

Want to dive into audiation-based piano instruction? Check out Music Moves for Piano by Marilyn Lowe.

Show Notes Transcript

In Part 2 of our episode with Gregory Chase, we dive into the neuroscience research that validates audiation based-music lessons. Everything from the science of BAH and BUM, the importance of rhythm in the first months of life, why it's important to sing songs many times in the same keyality and in various tonalities and meters, and why students make the same mistakes over and over and how we can support them. 

Support Keys to Music Learning through the Keys to Music Learning Community!

Join us on Facebook!
Introduction to Audiation-based Piano Instruction and Music Moves for Piano

Ready to learn more about audiation-based piano instruction and Music Moves for Piano? Visit Music Learning Academy for online courses, webinars, and resources.

Want to dive into audiation-based piano instruction? Check out Music Moves for Piano by Marilyn Lowe.

Hannah: Oh, you must tell us how does the research validate Music Learning Theory and audiation based lessons. 

Greg: I can give you some examples. There's just lots of affirmation as to what we do in MLT. Some of them were unexpected, but more necessarily, just I would say they were more affirming than unexpected. And one thing that I really found fascinating is that the remediation that really occurs with overcoming auditory processing disorders.

And how it really relates closely to music and with testing. So, there's a lot of things that we do, that they do in auditory processing disorder that we do in the remedial process, I should say, of auditory processing disorder that we also do in MLT. Such things as same and difference. So even when they're doing the testing. And so I was allowed to sit in, my son's testing with the audiologist because she knew that I was involved in music and neuroscience, so [00:01:00] she gave me the privilege of sitting in while she tested him for auditory processing disorders, because usually parents are kicked out completely.

And as she was going through it, I thought, hmm, we do this in MLT. Oh, we do this in MLT. Oh, we also do this in MLT. And so, if it's a natural process, right? If Music Learning Theory is a natural process, then it should really show up in all these other areas. And it does, you know. There are places in the, same and different activities that you do in the auditory testing.

She will also give short rhythm patterns that you then you have to kind of, chant back or say back. Even the order of pitches, you know, might be low, high, high, medium type of thing. My son ended up singing them back, because he was in music, tonal patterns. What do you do with tonal patterns? You sing them. So she found that very interesting that he actually [00:02:00] sang them and it worked. But another, another example of what we do in MLT, which they have found is the syllables. Bah and bum. Right? As we use those neutral syllables. Well, I'm going to start getting a little technical here on you, but when you start talking about the sound envelopes, or the amplitude envelopes, so it really is what represents the sound. And so what ends up happening is that you have a very fast rise time.

Then as soon as that hits its peak, the highest amplitude, it starts to fall. Okay, so then we end up with what we call the decay. Then we have the sustain. And usually the sustain happens around the vowel a lot of times, then eventually it's going to drop off and so then that we just call the fade. So the rise time, it just goes through that process.

All sound kind of follows that. Well, if we take the [00:03:00] word bum, the b (sound) the rise time to the peak, it would be the rise time. Then it starts to decay and when we go (chanting) Buh buh buh, okay, or (singing) bum bum bum, where the (singing) um is going to be the sustain and then it will fade, even with buh. (Chanting) Bah bah bah right?

You can see that it's going to rise, it'll quickly fall, we sustain, bah. Ah, is a sustain, and then it does drop when we have that. Well, bah is an explosive, what we call an explosive onset. So it means that the vowel reaches its peak very quickly. So with a bah sound, it reaches its peak at a hundred and sixty seven milliseconds, so that's a thousandth of a second, okay?

So it's going to reach its peak very quickly, whereas the [00:04:00] syllable wuh, right, is much longer. So the onset of that vowel is three hundred and fifty milliseconds. So much longer. Anything that is longer than 250 milliseconds, a lot of times it's going to be perceived as a continuous sound, just of various loudness, right?

So, wah, right? We just think, well, it starts off loud and it gets soft. Whereas, bah. Right? It has a different feel to it with that. And so knowing that, I thought this is why we use these syllables. Right? Is because it does affect us, with how we hear, and with how sound, the envelope of the sound that happens with it.

Hannah: I am just endlessly 

fascinated by these little technical tidbits. 

Greg: Do you want another one?

Hannah: Yes! Please! [00:05:00] 

Greg: Okay, following the same lines, a research article that came out of Dublin about nine days ago that it came across my computer screen. I read the abstract I thought, I'm grabbing it. And it really commented on how babies learn language best through sing song speech, and that it's not phonetics. So this really goes contrary to the belief that phonetic information is the foundation of language.

Rather, this study really reveals that rhythmic speech plays the crucial role in the language acquisitions during the child's first months. Not years, but months. So phonetic information really isn't reliably processed until about seven months of age. But it's still quite sparse at about eleven months of age.

Whereas rhythmic information helps infants recognize the word boundaries from the start. So I think this really validates the importance of rhythm chants that we do in Music [00:06:00] Learning Theory for infants, and why it is important. So, I mean, the researchers, they took 50 infants, they had 4 month, 7 and 11 month olds, and so they had them watch a video of a teacher singing 18 nursery rhymes.

And so the researchers found that the phonetic encoding in babies really emerged over the first year of life. But, get this, it was really beginning with the bilabial sounds, the bah, right, baby, mummy, and then the nasal sounds of the M for mummy. And so they really believe that it is this rhythmic information that stresses or emphasizes the different syllables of the words in the rise and the fall of tone.

And so that is really key to learning language. They also did a sister study that was showing that the rhythmic speech information was processed by babies at two months of old. And so, the finding is that infants can [00:07:00] use rhythmic information, information like a scaffold or a skeleton, to add that phonetic information onto it.

For example, they might learn that the rhythm pattern of the English words is typically strong weak. Right? Duple meter. Daddy. Mommy. Right? It's a duple meter. With the stress on the first syllabus. Du de. Du de Du de, right? I mean, we do that all the time. And so then they can use that rhythm pattern to then guess where one word ends and another begins.

So this is even happening like at two months and three months of age. And then now we're applying it to music later on in what we're doing. In all language the babies are exposed to, there is a strong beat structure with a strong syllable twice a second, you know, Daddy. Baby. 

Krista: One, I think this validates the importance of early childhood music. And second, do you think [00:08:00] that babies might process this way because in utero they're able to hear but they're probably not able to process phonetic sounds but they're able to process rhythmic sounds and that stress and release or what you're talking about.

So it almost seems like it's a continuation of that, before they start to process the phonetic sounds.

Greg: Yes, exactly.

Krista: It's all very fascinating. It really is.

Greg: That's why I've kind of become a geek. 

Krista: Any other research studies that you'd like to share, Greg? 

Greg: A lot of this is even for early childhood, but then when we're talking about preparatory audiation, even when we talk about our Keyboard Games. To me, they're very much in the preparatory audiation stages. And so I think this is all applicable, regardless of what age we start, but this gives us the reasoning for. Like, for, for timbre, exposure to different timbres, that would be, the practical application to MLT. So I won't go into detail on this, but they found that four month olds to six year [00:09:00] olds have a preference to timbre, that can be developed. So I've got numerous articles on that one. 

Sing songs in the same keyality each time that it is sung so. So we do that very much in the practical applications. So four year olds can actually distinguish pitch as harmonic relations, are merged into a single precept indicating a major shift to how pitch is represented between three and four months of age.

So what they did with this, it's more of the studies that I find fascinating, which then results, this is why we do this in Music Learning Theory. They took three, four, and seven month old infants. They had six pairs of tones, so 12 tones altogether, but they were grouped in pairs, with the second tone always being pitched higher than the first. However, in one of the pairs, what they did is that they took out that fundamental pitch. So there was a missing fundamental pitch, that they took out. If [00:10:00] that fundamental pitch was there, it wouldn't have been a rising. tone, it would have been a descending tone. So they played these tones for the four and seven months old.

And so the four and seven months old could detect that missing fundamental. Yeah. Whereas three months old couldn't. So there's something that happens between three and four months, where children, where infants are able to hear that. And so when we take that, if they're able to hear that, then we know that we really, that it is important that you always sing in the same keyality with that each time.

Hannah: How is that tested? How do they know that the four month olds are doing it, but the three month olds are not? 

Greg: These would be those EEG caps, so the caps that they put on the baby, and they have all those electrodes coming out. They would be specifically placed to go with the auditory process. Yeah, and so then they, they would be able to read the data through that. 

Hannah: I see. 

Greg: Yeah. 

Hannah: [00:11:00] Alright, give us some more. What else? 

Greg: Sing the same songs four to six times over a short period of time, right? Because we do that even in Music Moves for Piano. We are introducing the song a number of times. So infants really develop pitch representation preferences to a particular timbre, which suggests that infants as young as four months old can reflect learning.

I won't go into detail on that, but it's just the importance of that familiarity. Gordon said the best way to learn a piece is by having it repeated over, multiple times rather than breaking it down. And they were able to find that this happens as early as four months old. Yeah, this starts to occur. 

Singing songs with various tonalities and keyalities. So, some of these are my favorite articles. This is one of them. So, six month old infants are capable of segregating mistuned components of a harmonic frequency. So suggesting [00:12:00] that they use harmonicity cues to distinguish simultaneous sounds.

So the different keyalities is what that's leading into. So what they did is they had six months old and so they played and they mistuned one of the frequencies of the tone by 2% and 4%, okay. They could hear that distinction in that, at four months of age. Their brain could pick that up. And so I just thought, wow.

You know, that's, again, some of the importance of what Gordon had said, with what we do. 

Hannah: It seems to me intuitively that all of this research is also validation that we as human beings are meant for this, all human beings. Music is not just for the select few who happen to either have the means to take good quality music lessons or who get [00:13:00] lucky to be talented, the T word I call it. But that music is really a human right. A birthright also, but keep the research coming. What else? I know you have a lot. 

Greg: Singing of folk songs in usual and unusual meters. Okay, so as early as two months old, infants show a preference to unusual meter through novelty preference. So novelty preference is a way that they will kind of, study the child and they will see how long they look at something that is different.

So that's kind of how they test it, so it's how the child reacts or looks at a specific, might be a speaker or might be a person, that type of thing. So they compared three groups. So, a North American adult group, predominantly exposed to Western music throughout their entire life. Then the second group was Bulgarian and Macedonian adults who were exposed to traditional folk [00:14:00] songs. So that would have included usual and unusual meters. And so they would have been exposed to it before the age of five. Then they took six month old infants with limited exposure to music. So the stimulus that they used, it had a rhythmic structured violation, meaning that it went from the duple meter to unusual meter.

So the North American adults really preferred the usual meter, while the six month olds, and the same as the Bulgarian and Macedonian adults, really preferred the unusual meter. Because they were exposed to it. It was familiar to them. So, also, the six month olds looked longer for that structure violation alteration that they showed.

So, of what is different, that is what they really looked at, and that's what they preferred. So, how often do we ask in our lessons, is it the same, or is it different? Right, and it's the different that they talk about, because usually [00:15:00] the beginning of the folk song is the, is, is establishing that context of this is what it is, and then the ending is usually what is different, is how they will refer to it.

Because the first phrase, or the first half, is what is familiar. It's become familiar. So again affirmation, same and different. 

Using of rhythm, chants, and varying meters. Again, this is another of my favorite ones. 12 month olds, with no prior exposure, are capable of distinguishing rhythmic variations in folk songs. So they took 12 month olds who were exposed to Balkan folk songs, so basically uneven, unusual rhythm. They discovered that the 12 month old infant's ability to differentiate the unusual unpaired meter declined by the end of the first year, but their ability to differentiate usual duple meter remained unchanged in comparison to the 6 month old infants.

So to me, this really, like Gordon talks [00:16:00] about a critical period for learning, this is it, to me. This, this gives proof that there is a critical period for these. And so the researchers really concluded that, if exposed to Western music during the first 12 months of their life, it will alter this developmental change, whether they're exposed to unusual meters or not.

And so, it's so important to get infants listening to unusual meter right from the very beginning, so that they have a preference to it, and that they can hear any of the deviations that may happen within that.

Hannah: This is just a little piece of advice for anybody who's listening, who is already, teaching a birth to age three, early childhood music class, or is thinking about teaching a birth to age three. Number one, please do it. We need much more of that in the world, but number two, give this podcast episode to all the parents to listen to so that they can have the full [00:17:00] understanding of why this critical period is so important.

Greg: Yeah. Even acculturation, you know, use of folk songs in various keyalities, tonalities. Again, there's a time period that usually stabilizes about the first year,so you really want to get that culture specific biases. You want to get them listening to different sounds and rhythm, all of that within their first year.

Because otherwise, the study showed, that after, that kind of declines. So they found that not only does passive exposure to music of a particular culture lead to the development of the culture specific sensitivity during infancy, but it has a greater impact during infancy than as adults. Then with movement and activities that we incorporate, so infants learn meter and rhythm through the physical movement. And, so they can really compare two groups of six and eight month olds. So those that were in, kinder music, because again, you want to have [00:18:00] a base. So they used the base for this and this was a study done in Canada in Hamilton. And so they used kindergarten children for this because they knew that they would all have the same kind of foundation with that.

So they really tested the consistency of bouncing infants on parent's lap while listening to the music. And so, a lot of times, both groups showed that the movement played a role in the metrical interpretation, but while infants in the kinder music group showed a familiarity preference to duple meter, infants without that formal music training showed similar familiarity preferences, whether they were bounced in duple or triple, but they showed a higher preference in triple meter compared to those in kindermusic.

So I found that very interesting. That we often kind of say that students will struggle a bit with triple meter. That doesn't have to be the case. [00:19:00] Not at all, especially with this study that they did.

Hannah: That is very fascinating. Triple meter. Cause I have a preference for triple meter. Just personally. And that's very interesting. Yes. 

Krista: And I wonder too, decades ago, if more children were familiar with triple meter. I feel like in the 80s, my mom, my husband's mom, when they were with our little ones, would sing songs and do nursery rhymes and a lot more of them were in triple meter. I'm not sure if parents do as much of that anymore to kind of establish that familiarity with it.

There's a lot to process here, Greg. I'm gonna need to, like, re listen to this whole thing.

Hannah: My mind has blown consistently. What a way to start the week 

Greg: I gave too much information in the downtime. I should have waited. I should have waited for the second prime time [00:20:00] to give you a little bit more. 

Krista: Do you have any more for us, Greg? 

Greg: I'll give you one more. Leaving preparatory audiation stages and entering an audiation stage, the informal to the formal guidance, like loads of brain plasticity. Our brain changes, right? And so plasticity and normal maturation of the brain is developed by a year of musical training. So only one year of musical training in children ages four to six can make a huge difference. So, I mean, there's loads of research out there that really shows the importance of music. Music for language acquisition. Music for education. Everything. And sometimes I wonder whether we need to be more proactive.

Like, why there's all this research, and it baffles me, there's all this research out there. Why aren't the powers that be grabbing onto it and implementing, like music should be a daily activity in every child's life in school. That's just my soapbox [00:21:00] for today.

Hannah: That's a soapbox that I completely agree with. And even if it's just for a short time. Having 20 to 30 minutes a day for every day rather than some long one hour class every week. But I guess that's another topic for another day. 

Krista: To the point Greg that you were just saying about how I don't know, maybe we should be the ones to talk about this research. I'm not sure. But, years ago at the community's music school, I believe it was a brain researcher, maybe you've come across her name, Nadine Gabb. She works in Boston and she did this amazing presentation and she also talked about music aptitude and how it correlates positively with language and literacy skills, reading, verbal memory, fluency, phonological awareness, speech perception, and language processing. 

And I'm looking at my notes that I took, and this was [00:22:00] in 2015, and when she talked about that, I'm like, we should be shouting from the rooftops that music instruction, especially when it's audiation based music instruction can influence music aptitude. Which then will help students with all of these things and I kind of looked into it more at that time, when I heard her presentation, but I didn't really go anywhere. But still, we should be shouting it from the rooftops. All of this research is, is. so important.

Greg: It is. And I kind of chuckle because my son is in, an arts collective school in their program. And so when it comes for awards, it's actually quite hilarious. Well, it's not, but it's very interesting because who are the students who get most of the awards? It's the arts collective students because they have dance, drama, visual art.

It's very interesting. They will get a certificate of merit if their mark is 92 percent higher. So [00:23:00] you get all these students who are in the program that last year they got it for out of 12 classes or 13 classes. My son missed one of the classes. That course is for the year that he didn't get above 92 in.

And he said, Oh, I could have had 14 if I only, you know, and I think his mark was 91. 5 or something in that class. And they just, I thought, Oh, come on. That's just mean. But it's a very interesting, the proof is there. The proof is there, and we just need to advocate more for it. 

Hannah: One final question. Before we start to wrap this up. I think we need to start to move toward the end of this conversation before my brain is just completely overloaded. But just to kind of put a bow on all of this research as it pertains to teaching, how are you using all of this research? We've touched on it a little bit, here and there, about understanding and having more patience and being able [00:24:00] to see what our students are going through at different ages. But is there anything else that you would like to talk about about how you use the research in your teaching specifically? 

Greg: I think because I understand it more, I know why we shouldn't be doing certain things, or why students shouldn't be doing certain things. I have to say, since I've started teaching using Music Learning Theory, the amount of mistakes my students have are far less than what has been in my traditional teaching.

I still get some transfer students. I still get where they kind of play mistakes, and they will play mistakes over and over and over. They'll come to the lesson and they'll say, I always make that mistake. Well, that's just a huge red flag. Well, what are you going to do so that you don't always? But when it comes to mistakes, Hebb's law. There's this law from Hebb who says, neurons that, fire together, wire together. A lot of times, [00:25:00] if mistakes are made, I remember a friend in university saying, you know what ends up happening in music lessons is that you correct in the first, second lesson of the year, you correct everything that they were doing wrong, only for them to repeat all those mistakes at the very end of the year again. And it's because, if you're continuously making the same mistake, those neurons, those motor cortex neurons, and the other neurons, they're going to start wiring together. And so they will fire together. So some mistakes are hard to get rid of. In some of those cases, I just say, this piece is done.

Because we've just gone too far with it. We've allowed it to happen too much. I don't now, but in the past, before I kind of realized. In the same thing, repeating passages over and over in the same way. Like sometimes we'll say that you need to practice that 10 times. You need to do that 20 times.

And we ended up doing it over and over and over in [00:26:00] the exact same way. And is it really going to get any better? No, not necessarily. And so even with my students, I will kind of talk to them, my older students, I will talk to them about this, of what's happening. And I will say, what's happening is that your neurons actually have to reset.

Now we're talking milliseconds, you know? So, it happens fairly quickly. And once they've fired, they need time to reset before they're ready to fire again. And the reaction time will be different whether it's electrical or chemical. And so that's something that you really have to be aware of.

To doing something repeatedly over and over the same way, 20 times, isn't really allowing those neurons to kind of reset and so that's why with all of a sudden you do it one way then do it differently. Okay, now use your middle finger and play it detached. There's a reasoning why we want to do that, in the neuroscience and so it's all of those little [00:27:00] things, really, I then kind of apply in my teaching with my students.

Or laying down the tracks of the neuron. If you're doing the same thing over and over, that neuron is starting to get thicker and thicker and thicker. And I do this with a demonstration of a pencil, and as you go over the line over and over, it's getting thicker and thicker. And then you start getting the myelination that's happening.

That's why, again, with mistakes you really want to catch them right from the beginning. But as I said, through Music Learning Theory process, I find the mistakes are much, much less. But now I know how to go about it and why I need to go about them the way that I do in order to correct it right away.

So I think that's probably one of the applications that I do. Just confidence in knowing that what I'm doing is supported by neuroscience, and having that. And as well, it helps me in talking to parents, because I've got the science behind it. I can let them know this is [00:28:00] why we do this.

Hannah: And as you're talking I'm just thinking about how lucky we are to have this really simple sequence of listening, speaking, thinking, reading, and writing. If we just go in that order, we're setting ourselves up to make far less mistakes in the whole learning process. 

Greg: It's amazing what Gordon gave us. I still say neuroscience is still trying to catch up to him from the 1960s. Because we didn't have the technology then. We're still limited in our technology, of what we can do and how much we can understand of the brain.

We're getting further, but we still have a ways to go to catch up to Gordon and what he said. I still believe, I strongly believe that, and I think it'll be a while before we will get there.

Krista: Well, Greg, thank you so much for being here and for talking about this really [00:29:00] important topic with us.

Greg: Oh, you're welcome. It's my pleasure. It's my passion. I get excited about it. 

Krista: I'm sure there's more to talk about and we would love to have you back in the future. Right now, our brains are probably saturated with so much information that we need to process, but I know I took a lot of notes and from what I learned from you today, we'll definitely kind of be more aware of my students and maybe even make a few changes in my lesson, how I organize them to really be in line with the research and what we talked about today.

Greg: Oh, great. Good. 

Krista: So, listeners, if you are not a part of our Facebook group, Introduction to Audiation based Piano Instruction and Music Moves for Piano, please join us. As Hannah mentioned, Greg is in that group and he does a fantastic job of answering your questions and you're going to want to start to copy and paste his answers into your notes just like Hannah does.

[00:30:00] So thank you all for listening and we'll see you soon.