Neurophysiological and neuropsychological mechanisms of music processing and music therapy

Вольфганг Мастнак
D.Sc. in Pedagogical Science, D.Sc. in Philosophy, Dr. rer. med., Dr. rer. nat., Dr. Sportwiss, профессор, руководитель Научно-исследовательского центра искусствотерапии Пекинского университета, профессор Мюнхенской высшей школы музыки и театра


Music does not directly enter our mind but is rather the outcome of complex central-nervous processes. The Corti organ in the inner ear transforms the sound wave into electrochemical patterns, and while the mechanical and physiological processes are today quite well understood, from the perspective of information theory there are still open key questions. After multifaceted acoustic processing in the brainstem, the auditory cortex generates auditory perception from neural sound information, a process that rises afresh information theoretical issues. While former theories suggested a one-way mode of the ascending auditory pathway, newer research has revealed multiple influences from higher music-processing brain areas on subcortical sound processing, which makes auditory processes and aesthetic music experience extremely individual.

Recent neuroscientific research has brought new insights into complex and dynamic processes underlying the perception of music. These include phenomena such as (i) the recognition of elementary melodic and harmonic patterns in the right inferior frontal lobe, (ii) rhythmic timing on the basis of distinct interaction between the premotor-cortex, the striatum and the cerebellum, (iii) multimodal sensory integration in the insular cortex, (iv) higher music processing and integration with music-based self-processing in the medial prefrontal cortex and the lower part of the parietal lobe, (v) attempts to readjust unpleasant music experiences in the anterior cingulate gyrus, or (v) the pleasure of music associated with the limbic system in general and the nucleus accumbens in particular.

Such findings importantly impact on theories of musicology, music theory, music aesthetics, music education and music therapy. Moreover, they call for meta-theoretical considerations. By way of illustration, functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRI) has brought important insights into central-nervous music processing. However, these results show correlations between distinct music behaviour and elevated oxygen consumption in distinct brain areas, but they cannot explain the inner nature of related music-mind-phenomena. Such questions require novel interdisciplinary approaches, e.g. involving quantum mind research.

For some years there are attempts in Russia to promote academic and culturally sensitive music therapy. The author of this congress-contribution is highly interested in this area and is looking forward to ongoing international research, which also should improve mutual cultural understanding and the awareness of the urgent necessity of global peace.