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Music Instinct: Science and Song



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The Music Instinct: Science and Song
A film by Elena Mannes
Narrated by Audra McDonald
Hosted by Bobby McFerrin and Daniel Levitin

While listening to music, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, asks the questions "where do goosebumps come from?" and "what's going on in my brain that allows the goosebumps to happen?"  Levitin leads a group of researchers as they investigate music's fundamental physical structure; its biological, emotional and psychological impact; its brain altering and healing powers and its role in human evolution.

The Music Instinct: Science and Song is a ground-breaking exploration into how and why the human organism -- and the whole ebb and flow of the cosmos -- is moved by the undeniable effect of music.

Researchers and scientists from a variety of fields are using groundbreaking techniques that reveal startling new connections between music and the human mind, the body and the universe.  Together with an array of musicians from rock and rap to jazz and classical, they are putting music under the microscope.

Internationally renowned performers Bobby McFerrin and cellist Yo-Yo Ma describe the way musical intervals are used or combined to create melody and harmony.  McFerrin, together with the "World Singers," sing a cappella to demonstrate that basic elements of music; pitch, tempo, rhythm and melody create specific reactions in our brains.  Yo-Yo Ma plays two notes and then five more notes and then plays different combinations that demonstrate the way musical intervals are combined to create a melody or harmony.

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie encounters music in a unique way, as fundamentally a "physical phenomenon."  Profoundly deaf, Glennie "hears" music not through her ears, but by feeling vibrations through the floor and in her body: low frequencies through her legs and feet; high sounds in particular spots of her face, neck and chest.

Rock stars Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley were asked to participate in a new experiment to reveal the difference in the brain when two people perform music together.  Cocker was asked to enter a fMRI machine, while Hawley played his guitar in the room.  When the scan was analyzed it showed a measurable difference in brain activity when Cocker sang along compared to when he sang with Hawley playing the guitar.  During the duet, Cocker's brain was more active in areas for phrasing and coordinating music as well as cognitive and emotional interaction.

Research also shows that music has enormous potential to help explore the complexities of human brain function.  And there's new evidence that music can actually change the physical structure of the brain -- a fact that has critical implications for both education and medicine.  One thing is clear, proven and agreed upon; music has a profound capacity to influence and alter the human experience.

DVD Scene Selections:

  • Introduction
  • Feeling the Sound
  • The Brain Plays Music
  • Our Ancestors & Song
  • The Math of Music
  • Music: Born & Bred
  • Playing Our Emotions
  • Music Changes the Brain
  • Can Music Make us Smarter?
  • Can Music Heal?
  • Music & Language
  • Music & Evolution
  • A Resonant World
  • Credits

Attention Teachers!!!

Click here for complete downloadable lesson plans, available from PBS (this link will take you away from westmusic.com).

The available plans are geared towards grades 5-8 and use national standards to teach music appreciation, harmonics, physics, rhythm and other concepts surrounding music.


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West Music Store
I show this to my fifth graders. They learn about sound in their science class. I extend the lesson in Music on instruments, and show clips of this video.
Christine M on Feb 10, 2013
Saw it in college briefly and was recommended by a colleague to show my middle school students.
Jennifer D on Oct 10, 2012
To use with my 6th grade choir students
I S on Jan 25, 2013
What grade levels is this appropriate for? I teach 6th grade gen music - would it work for me?
MARY M S on Jan 9, 2013
Best Answer: Dear Mary M S,

While the video is truly interesting and informative, not all parts of it are appropriate for students younger than 8th grade. There is some passing mention of sex and a few bleeped expletives. The subject matter could be a bit challenging for anyone with little or no background in music or science. I was hoping there would be more performances of music to demonstrate some of the concepts. You would need to choose carefully which sections to use with 6th graders. I also teach 6th graders, and I will not use all of the video. Hope this helps.
Reply · Report · I S on Jan 10, 2013
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