A little more than three years ago, I wrote a blog post on string theory and natural rhythm. I read a few articles and theorized that there is much we don’t know about the natural rhythms of life and of our brain and how the whole thing is linked together. I always thought it was one of the smartest things I have ever written.
Over the past few months, I have collected two more articles (both from Wired.com) on the brain and music. In the first, Human Brain is Wired for Harmony, writer Elizabeth Norton discusses recent scientific conclusions that have helped take the first steps in learning why our brain does not like dissonant noises but prefers smoother consonant sounds.
In a musical chord, for example, several notes combine to produce a sound wave containing all of the individual frequencies of each tone. Specifically, the wave contains the base, or “fundamental,” frequency for each note plus multiples of that frequency known as harmonics. Upon reaching the ear, these frequencies are carried by the auditory nerve to the brain. If the chord is harmonic, or “consonant,” the notes are spaced neatly enough so that the individual fibers of the auditory nerve carry specific frequencies to the brain. By perceiving both the parts and the harmonious whole, the brain responds to what scientists call harmonicity.
In a dissonant chord, however, some of the notes and their harmonics are so close together that two notes will stimulate the same set of auditory nerve fibers. This clash gives the sound a rough quality known as beating, in which the almost-equal frequencies interfere to create a warbling sound. Most researchers thought that phenomenon accounted for the unpleasantness of a dissonance.
In another article, writer David Dobbs of Wired.com discusses the music he uses as inspiration to write to. In the article, he links to another post on the Public Library of Science website where several other prominent authors list their own musical muses. Both are fascinating articles that list a lot of classical pieces, such as Bach. While most writers choose the instrumental route (Miles Davis was a common pick), very few seemed to go towards the modern rock or indie route. And there was no heavy metal or dissonant music at all.
Perhaps that says something about what type of music best fits and is able to stimulate the writing part of the brain.
Personally, it depends. If I am writing in the middle of the day, I might try something faster to get a rhythm going – to include death metal, preferably something with unintelligible lyrics. But if I am writing at night and I want the brain to calm down and get into a deep analytical thought process, I will lean towards the aforementioned Miles Davis or perhaps Buckethead’s Colma, Electric Tears, or Electric Sea albums.