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Scientific analysis of music

by Eva Amsen

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 scientific analysis 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.

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