The Professors Scherder, Swaab and Honing lecture on the influence of music on the brain. Music is extremely important for a healthy brain. That idea lingers indelibly after a beautiful evening in full Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with a theater lecture by music professor Henkjan Honing and brain professors Erik Scherder and Dick Swaab.

Erik Scherder caused a slight murmur in the room in the middle of the evening, when he said that music evokes all kinds of emotions that you will not experience on the hockey field: joy, tenderness, tension, he said. To immediately turn half: tension is of course on the hockey field, he corrected.

Scherder was the man who played the hall best of the three professors. He wanted to show how music activates our brain and where our brain is active when we make music. He flooded the room with beautiful brain pictures on which colored spots show which parts of the brain are extra active in making music. The more colorful (because active) areas can be seen, the better it is for your brain development and brain maintenance. That is the message. 

Music connects everything with everything

Scherder shows that music in the brain connects everything with everything: motor skills, emotion, reward. It races through the whole brain. “Top!”, In Scherder’s language.

That was convincing until he showed that professional musicians measure much less activity than amateur musicians. The audience realized with a shock that more colors do not always guarantee more talent and greater skill. Brain research struggles with that declining activity with greater skills. Scherder, who took violin lessons at an advanced age, bent it brilliantly to everyone’s advantage: “So if you start taking music lessons now, at least many of your brain areas will be involved for the time being.”

Honing convinced his audience that everyone is musical. That is not to say that everyone can sing or make music, but that everyone is born with a sense of rhythm and the ability to recognize melodies. We learned that first music in the last three months before birth. Honing did listening tests with the audience.

Dick Swaab’s task was to demonstrate the influence of music on illness. He listed that music helps against depression and postpones dementia. Swaab showed a moving film clip of a woman who can no longer speak after a cerebral infarction or cerebral haemorrhage. She wants to say good afternoon, but it doesn’t work. Then the music therapist comes along and sings the word. The woman sings it. There it sounds, “Good afternoon.” How is that possible? The explanation goes no further than that these are overlapping brain areas. The most convincing fragment Swaab came up with, however, was pure fiction, from the Disney animated film Coco. The boy Miguel takes his great-grandmother Coco out of her deep dementia by singing “Remember me” for her, a song she often heard in her youth. The reality in the recreation rooms of nursing homes is more unruly and less beautiful.

Source: Wim Köhler in NRC Next: Theater College. Miracles of music: three professors about music and the brain. Seen 17/1 Concertgebouw Amsterdam. Inl:

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