Thought For The Week: Bobby McFerrin – World Science Fair 2009

Now this is interesting. I have always been curious about the link between music and the brain. As anybody who listens to music knows that people like songs because it affects their mood. It can make you sad, angry, sleepy, happy, lovesick and apathetic, you name it. So it’s a well-known phenomenon that our mood and thoughts are affected by our audio senses picking up sound waves, transferring them into electrical signals and sending that message to the brain. The brain then reacts. It’s this reaction of the brain receiving the electrical stimulus that it in turn has an influence on our body. It’s crazy, and I don’t understand it. I’ve always wondered why there is a connection between the two, but ‘why’ might be the wrong type of question. It’s more likely we will find out ‘how’ this happens.
This clip is from an hour-long presentation at World Science Festival in 2009 redarding neuroscience which has a group of neuroscientists on the forefront of their research areas, and this presentation is about music and the brain. Perfect. If any of you have the time and are interested in what these guys have to say, check out the full thing here. The video I give you guys today is a very short exert from that.

Bobby McFerrin is an amazing musician. I think it’s a safe bet everybody has heard ‘don’t worry be happy’ but his live performances sound so intimate. There are many on YouTube of his live shows where he demonstrates so varied genres with his voice alone. It’s so cool to see but this clip made me think more than the others.

I have mixed feelings on this. One thought is that maybe it is true that the pentatonic scale is somehow already a characteristic the human brain has recognized (has engrained upon itself?). My other thought has been more recently that it’s just a crowd statistic thing. I need to find the study, but the argument is that at any concert, with a large enough audience, collectively they will always appear to hit the right notes perfectly, as the people singing too high and too low will average themselves out in the crowd so the sound becomes the correct note overall. This would be why at every live stadium show when the crowd sings it always sounds like the tune. It would also explain why 60000 football fans can sound liek they are actually hitting the notes for ‘God Save The Queen’. So I’m not sure if the crowd already knew the pentatonic scale or if as an audience they averaged each other out to produce the correct note. In this video he does however not tell them all the notes first, so I don’t know. Food for thought.

Hope you guys like it and check out the full presentation if you have time. For Science!!

J

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