Scientific analysis of music

There’s a lull between interviews (which is entirely my fault) but as an intermezzo, here are a few pieces I came across this week about the science of music, and an excuse to make you listen to one of my favourite silly orchestral pieces.

A researcher at Ben-Gurion University in Israel identified the necessity of hand clapping songs for young children.

“We found that children in the first, second and third grades who sing these songs demonstrate skills absent in children who don’t take part in similar activities,” explains Dr. Idit Sulkin a member of BGU’s Music Science Lab in the Department of the Arts. “We also found that children who spontaneously perform hand-clapping songs in the yard during recess have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors.”

She also invited some university students to play hand-clapping games as part of her research, and noticed that they initially took it as a bit of a joke, but “…once they start clapping, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood.”

If you’re not ready to start hand clapping games to improve your mood, there is a less awkward alternative: Pop music. Michael Nestor, who I interviewed last summer, wrote up a neuroscientific defense of pop music on his blog, using published research papers to show that “boring old pop music” (his phrase) is more pleasuring to the brain than dissonant alternative music.

I’m going to use than whenever someone makes fun of my iPod playlist again (I confess to owning Supertramp) but it doesn’t explain why I prefer Shostakovich over Mozart. Although, even Shostakovich had his whimsical pop-music moments:

This might sound familiar. It’s an arrangement for the song “Tea for Two”. Shostakovich wrote it in under 45 minutes on a bet… I wonder if he played lots of hand-clapping games as a child.

LIVE from the Gairdner Lectures: Peto talk

Every year Toronto is host to the Gairdner Awards
Many of the award winners are past or future Nobel prize winners (in Medicine).
The last two days of the program consist of free public lectures by past winners. The speakers and talks are in such high regard that my supervisor even cancels our regular Friday labmeeting to allow us to attend the Gairdners. Really, that’s saying something. This year’s theme is Cancer. Unfortunately, the Gairdners hit Toronto at the same time as a nasty cold virus, and I only just recovered enough to allow myself into a full lecture hall in time for the last talk, by Dr. Richard Peto of the Clinical Trial Service Unit & Epidemiological Studies Unit at the University of Oxford. He won the Gairdner Award in 1992.
A live-blogged summary of his talk on cancer mortality in relation to smoking is below. They’re notes, so the grammar is…non-existent.