by Dr. Norman  Doidge

As it says on the front cover "REMARKABLE  DISCOVERIES  and  RECOVERIES  from  the  FRONTIERS  of  NEUROPLASTICITY" - Keith Hunt

IV. Solving the Mystery at the Abbey

How Music Raises Our Spirits and Energy

There remains one piece of unfinished business, the matter of the languishing monks of the Abbaye d'En Calcat, whose mysterious illness brought Alfred Tomatis to the monastery in the same weeks that eighteen-year-old Paul Madaule sought solace there. When Tomatis arrived, he found seventy dispirited men, who were, he said, "slumping in their cells like wet dishrags." When he examined them, he found the cause was not an infectious outbreak but a theological event. The Second Vatican Council of 1960-65, called Vatican II, had instituted new ways for the Church to respond to changes in the modern world. The monastery had just been taken over by a zealous young abbot who, though Vatican II did not forbid Gregorian chant, decided that the singing the monks did from six to eight hours a day served no useful purpose, and he ended it. A collective nervous breakdown ensued.

Monks often take vows of silence; now with chanting eliminated, they had no stimulation from the human voice, neither their brethren's nor their own. They were starved not for meat, vitamins, or sleep, but for the energy of sound. Tomatis reestablished the chanting, then saw that many were too depressed to sing. So in June 1967 he asked them to sing into Electronic Ears and listen to their own voices, through a filter adjusted to emphasize the higher, energizing frequencies of speech.

Their slumping posture changed almost immediately, and they became more upright. By November, almost all were restored, and they returned, reenergized, to their Benedictine work schedules of long workdays and only a few hours of sleep a night. The Benedictines, Tomatis said, "had been chanting in order to charge' themselves, but hadn't realized what they were doing."

Chanting, in many traditions, is known to energize the chanter. Tomatis himself chanted, to keep charged through the day. "There are sounds which are as good as two cups of coffee," he said. He was so energetic that he slept only four hours a night.


Just as some voices energize and "charge" both the speaker and the listener, making both more alert, other voices "discharge" or sap the energy of whoever produces them—or hears them. (Some teachers who might otherwise be stimulating have voices that drone on and put their students to sleep because they produce enervating sounds, owing to their own listening problem.)

For a chant to be effective, the chanter must produce high frequencies, which stimulate the cochlea, which has many receptors for these frequencies. When sung properly, Tibetan Buddhist chants of "om"— often perceived as deep and low—actually produce many high overtones, or harmonics, which is why they sound so rich. "It is the high frequencies," says Paul, "that give life to the sound. You can have a low voice that is lively... rich in harmonics that are high frequency. Or, you can have a voice that is high but narrow and poor in overtones, which will be unattractive. Anyone can produce a low-toned om,' but it will be flat without the highs." It can take decades for a monk to perfect this sound, which is so filled with harmonics (higher sounds), it is actually a chord. A solitary monk, listening to himself singing in a resonating stone monastery or medieval church with vaulted ceilings that amplify his voice's higher frequencies, might as well be sitting inside a huge Electronic Ear, because the effect is the same.

Gregorian chant does not only energize; it is also effective in calming the spirit at the same time, which is why Paul often ends his clients' listening sessions with it. The Gregorian music that he plays is modified to quickly alternate between emphasizing the higher and the lower frequencies, so it also has a training effect on the middle ear system; but the chant still covers the full spectrum of sound, which strengthens the calming, grounding effect.

The rhythm of the chant often corresponds to the respiration of a calm, unstressed person, and it has an immediate calming effect— probably by entrainment. Entrainment is a process in which one rhythmic frequency influences another, until they synchronize, or approach synchronization, or have a strong influence on each other—much as waves of water influence one another when they intersect.*

Brain scan studies show that when the brain is stimulated by music, its neurons begin to fire in perfect synchrony with it, entraining with the music it hears. This happens because the brain evolved to reach out into the world, and the ear works as a transducer. Transducers transform energy from one form into another. For instance, a loudspeaker transforms electrical energy into sound. The cochlea inside our ear transforms patterns of sound energy from the external world into patterns of electrical energy that the brain can use internally. Even though the form of the energy changes, the information carried by the wave patterns is often preserved.

Since neurons fire in unison to music, music is a way to change the rhythms of the brain. An expert in the neuroplasticity of sound, Dr. Nina Kraus of Northwestern University, and her lab colleagues recorded the sound waves given off by a Mozart serenade. They also placed an electrical sensor on a persons scalp to record his brains waves as he listened to the Mozart. (Brain waves are the electrical waves produced by millions of neurons working together in time.) Then they played back

* Entrainment was discovered in 1665 by the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens, who was also the first scientist to propose that light was made of waves. He observed that two swinging pendulums mounted together—out of sync—will over time begin a synchronized swing, in what he called an "odd sympathy." This occurs because moving pendulums create waves of vibration that influence each other. Similarly, striking one tuning fork in the proximity of another of the same frequency will start the second one vibrating—giving off a sound—even if the two forks are not touching, because as a tuning fork vibrates, it creates pressure waves in the air, which is a medium that can conduct these waves.

the patterns of the brain waves firing. Amazingly, they found that the sound waves from the Mozart piece and the brain waves that they triggered looked the same. They even found that the brain waves in the brain stem sounded the same as the music that triggered them!*

Neurons can be entrained by a variety of nonelectrical stimuli, including light and sound; these effects can be demonstrated using an EEC Many kinds of sensory stimulation can radically alter the frequency of brain waves. For example, in a hyperexcitable brain, as in some cases of photosensitive epilepsy, strobe lights (flashing at about ten times a second) can cause large numbers of neurons to fire synchronously; a victim may have a seizure, lose consciousness, and start writhing out of control. Music can cause seizures as well.1

Entrainment is so graphic that when people are hooked up to EEGs and asked to listen to a waltz rhythm of 2.4 beats a second, their brain waves' dominant frequency spikes at 2.4 beats per second. No wonder people move to the beat of a song—much of the brain, including the motor cortex, is entrained to that beat. But entrainment also happens between people. When musicians jam, their dominant brain waves begin to entrain with one another. In 2009 the psychologist Ulman Lindenberger and his colleagues hooked nine pairs of guitarists up to EEGs, while they played jazz together. The brain waves of each pair began to entrain together, to synchronize their dominant neuronal firing rates. No doubt this is part of what musicians' "getting into a groove" is all about. But the study also showed that entrainment didn't occur only between the musicians. Different regions of individual musicians' brains synchronized as well, so that overall, many more areas of the brain showed the dominant frequency. Not only were the musicians playing

* You can hear and see the brain responding to music by going to the lab's Web site at www.soc Kraus and her colleagues were able to hear the sound of the brain waves by recording them on an electroencephalogram (EEG), which uses electrical sensors placed on the scalp to measure the electrical waves produced by the brain, then amplifying them. They then resampled the EEG recording of waves as a .wav file (much like the files people use to listen to music on MP3 players or iTunes).

1.  Oliver Sacks describes a case from the scientific literature of a man who had a seizure at 8:59 every evening. It was found to be caused by the sound of the church bells preceding the BBC nine o'clock news. No other sound caused the seizure, only the sounds of that specific frequency. O. Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), p. 24n.

together in an ensemble; the coordinated ensembles of the neurons within each players brain were playing together with the ensembles of neurons in their fellow musicians' brains.

Because so many brain disorders are caused when the brain loses its rhythm and fires in an offbeat or "dysrhythmic" way, music therapy is especially promising for these conditions. The rhythms of music medicine can provide a noninvasive way to get the brain back "on beat." Kraus and others have shown that the subcortical brain areas, which were once thought to lack plasticity, are in fact quite neuroplastic.

Different rhythms of neuronal activity correspond to different mental states. When a person is sleeping, for instance, the dominant rhythm— that is, the brain waves with the highest amplitude—on an EEG are those that are firing 1 to 3 brain waves per second (or 1 to 3 Hz). When a person is awake and in a calm, focused state, the brain wave frequency is faster, about 12 to 15 Hz; as she concentrates on a problem, the 15 to 18 Hz waves are dominant; and when she is worrying about a problem and anxious, the waves increase to 20 Hz. Normally our brain rhythms are set by a combination of factors: external stimulation, our level of arousal, and our conscious intentions (say, to focus on a problem, or to go to sleep). Within the brain are multiple "pacemakers" that, like a conductor, generate the timing of these rhythms. But with neuroplastic training, we can develop some control over our brain rhythms. Neurofeedback (see Appendix 3) trains a person whose brain rhythms are off to control them. So it is excellent for people with attention or sleep problems, or a noisy brain in general.

But it is not a sound therapy. One that is, and which focuses directly on rhythm, is called Interactive Metronome, and I have seen some remarkable results with it. The brain has its own internal clock or timekeeper that is offbeat in some children. Some children's clocks run too fast and they become "early responders" to sensory stimuli. They interrupt other people, and seem impulsive, irritable, or inconsiderate, but their problems are really with timing. Other children may seem unmotivated and "slow" socially and intellectually, but, again, their problem is timing—an internal clock that is too slow. Training that clock—by learning to listen to and react to sounds—so that one is "on beat" can be transformative for these children. Suddenly, they seem more alert, and present.

"The ear is a battery to the brain" was one of the aphorisms Tomatis used to sum up its power to "charge" the cortex. He attempted to explain how this might be possible, using the science of his day, and was largely speculative. In the model I propose, the neurostimulation of therapeutic music resets the reticular activating system, which is why people often sleep in the first stages of listening, then emerge reenergized. But another reason music can lift the spirits, as Daniel Levitin and Vinod Menon have demonstrated, is that it turns on the reward centers of the brain, which increases the production of dopamine, which
in turn increases feelings of pleasure and motivation. As Levitin writes, "The rewarding and reinforcing aspects of listening to music seem ... to be mediated by increasing dopamine levels Current neuropsycho logical theories associate positive mood and affect with increased dopamine levels, one of the reasons that many of the newer antidepressants act on the dopaminergic system. Music is clearly a means for improving peoples moods."

I hypothesize that another reason sound stimulation lifts spirits in people with brain problems is that they so often have desynchronized neuronal firing throughout poorly connected areas (as we saw in autism, for instance). As I see it, the desynchronized brain is a noisy brain, firing random signals, always wasting energy; it is an overactive brain that gets little done, exhausting its owner. Music resynchronizes the brain by entrainment and gets neurons firing together, so that the brain is much more efficient.

Alfred Tomatis, who was also devoted to yoga, believed that good listening, speaking, and being energized all have an intimate relationship to upright posture. When people feel energized, they generally assume a more upright posture: they puff up their chests, allowing themselves to breathe more deeply. We see this move to verticality in animals, too; dogs, when they are excited, perk up, looking more erect. They also may perk up their ears, in a posture of active listening.

Music s generally stimulating effects on posture are visible in Down syndrome children, who are born with low muscle tonus and are diagnosed as "floppy babies." Low tonus contributes to poor posture, as well as speech difficulties, even a tendency to drool. By training the brain circuits for their hypotonic middle ear muscles, using passive listening, Paul has helped many Down children not only improve their listening but also develop better muscle tonus throughout their bodies, thus improving their posture and hence their breathing, which allows them to pass more oxygen to the brain. Their drooling improves or stops, and their speech gets better. All these effects lead them to become more focused, alert, and visibly uplifted.

Kim Barthel, an expert on treating fetal alcohol syndrome (a childhood disorder typified by brain damage and mental retardation, caused when a mother abuses alcohol while pregnant), uses recorded modified music, partially inspired by Tomatis, called Therapeutic Listening. It has helped these children improve their energy, level of arousal, language processing, memory, attention, and auditory sensitivities.

In one remarkable case, using the stimulant effects of music, Tomatis helped a boy whose left hemisphere had been entirely removed, by the famous neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, to stop life-threatening epileptic seizures. After the operation, the boy was barely able to speak and was paralyzed on the right side of his body. When the boy was thirteen, he was brought to see Tomatis. Despite years of speech therapy, the boy spoke very slowly with great difficulty, and his attention span was so short, it impaired his school performance. Tomatis hooked the boy up to the Electronic Ear and stimulated his sole hemisphere with sound. "A few weeks after the music," Tomatis wrote, "activity on the right side of his body had become efficient and was permanently established. His speech regained its qualities of timbre and rhythm. The child now expressed himself normally, with a well-modulated voice, which strongly contrasted with the dull and lifeless voice he had at the beginning of the treatment. Our patient had become calm, open, and cheerful."

Sound therapy, Tomatis believed, had awakened the remaining hemisphere.

Sound can sometimes help people with severe traumatic brain injury, who are chronically fatigued, reenergize and regain lost mental abilities. A twenty-nine-year-old woman I'll call "Mirabelle" was driving down a mountain near Denver. As she circled under an overpass, an eighteen-wheeler tractor-trailer, descending at high speed, lost its brakes, flew off the bridge, and landed on her car, leaving her with a serious TBI. She was disabled and lost her job, and after trying all conventional approaches and medications, she still suffered from cognitive deficits and hypersensitivities. She could no longer read and had a terrible memory, headaches, depression, and, above all, unrelenting fatigue. Says Mirabelle, "I was told by my neurologist that the first three months of my recuperation would be the crucial part of it, and there would be no significant healing after that." Four years passed with no progress. By chance she heard Ron Minson give a lecture. He had realized that brain-injured patients, like children with developmental disorders, have energy, sleep, attention, sensory, and cognitive problems. In her first month using iLs, Mirabelle slept most of the time she listened to the music, but within a month she became reenergized and her cognitive skills returned. She was able to go to university, retrain in the sciences, and get into a very competitive program in speech and language pathology.