What is music

So, one of the things we do

is we’ll just play them
this sound sequence.

[rapid dripping]

And then we ask them to rate
on a scale from one to five…

how much it sounded
exactly like environmental sound

or exactly like music.

[rapid dripping]

[Margulis] The first time
it sounds pretty straightforwardly

like environmental sound to them.

It’s like three or four repetitions in
and everyone starts laughing.

-The mean rating

just gets higher and higher.

[narrator] Music starts as sound,

but something happens in the brain
and it transforms.

Repetition is one thing
that can flick the switch.

[Margulis] The sound signal’s
exactly the same,

yet the experience feels really different.

[narrator] But this is just the start
of the mystery of music.

It can help people relearn how to speak.

[both] ♪ How are you? ♪

[narrator] It can help patients
with movement disorders,

like Parkinson’s disease,

move more fluidly.

I just naturally respond to the music.

[narrator] Music behaves like
a powerful drug on the rest of us, too.

[Margulis] Similar areas activated

that are activated
during highly pleasurable experiences

pertaining to food or sex
or illicit drugs.

[narrator] And it has a deep connection
to our feelings.


[Margulis] Music itself, seems
to be a cultural universal.

We don’t know
about any known human culture

that doesn’t have something
that we think about as music.

[narrator] And we’ve found
musical instruments

as old as human cave paintings.

Nearly every person
is born with a taste for music.

But, as far as we know, other primates
don’t really share our sense of beat.

They just don’t seem
to get rhythm the same way we do.

[narrator] So, what is music?

Why is it so universal among humans?

How does sound become something more?

[upbeat music]

[narrator] A world without music
is hard to imagine.

[woman] As we live our lives,

there’s always music around us.

[radio] It’s very important to us…

[woman] Whether it’s something playing
out of someone’s car stereo on the street,

the coffee house you’re going to,

the mall, the radio…

it’s always around us.

It’s strange when it doesn’t exist at all.

[narrator] Jennifer Lee is a music
producer and DJ  known as TOKiMONSTA,

and she’s one
of extraordinarily few hearing people

who’s ever experienced
a world without music.

I couldn’t tell that there was a melody.

It just sounded like… white noise

or like loud, metallic noise.
It was sharp.

If you can’t understand music,
it just becomes noise.

[narrator] To understand
why this experience is so rare,

let’s go back to before Jen lost music.

[gentle electronic music]

This one
of the most simple songs I’ve ever made.

[narrator] But hearing a simple song
isn’t simple at all.

Listening to music,
and especially making music

draws on all kinds of different faculties.

[narrator] Before we hear it,

all music is just air.

[Patel] Sound starts as air vibrations,

which then move our eardrums

and then little bones
and then finally fluid in the cochlea,

and that triggers hair cells to fire.

It’s really wonderfully complicated.

[narrator] And a repeating sound

creates one of the most basic aspects
of music: rhythm.

I had it looping,
and then it created an energy or a vibe.

I was like, “This sounds deep.”

Many parts of our auditory system
are very ancient

and are shared
with a lot of other animals.

[narrator] Our reptilian brain,
the brain stem and cerebellum,

help us create
the rhythmic patterns necessary to walk.

That’s widespread.

But what’s incredibly rare,

is our ability to feel a beat…

tempo, beats per minute.

[Jen] It is the most simple,
most basic rhythm in our life.

It is how our heart beats.

Higher BPM songs that are faster

tends to make us move faster,

raises our heartbeat.

Like, it goes back
to the core of who we are.

[narrator] Try tapping along.

[Patel] We predict the timing
of the metronome clicks, right,

where taps are like very close in time
to the metronome.

You can’t do that
by waiting for the click.

You’d be reacting. You’d be late.

[narrator] Rhesus monkeys
just can’t do it.

With lots of training,
monkeys always seem to still react

rather than predict.

[narrator] Feeling a beat requires strong
connections between parts of the brain,

which are very rare in the animal world.

In fact, scientists weren’t sure

that any other animals
could move to a beat like we do…

until 2009.

I was just amazed when I saw this video

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of a cockatoo
seeming to move to the beat of music.

[pulsating music]

[narrator] Put on the Backstreet Boys
and… bam!

[pulsating beat]

[audience hums along]

[narrator] So Patel put together
an experiment.

Could Snowball match
the song played at different tempos?

[Patel] And the bottom line was he did.

And this provided
the first experimental evidence

that another animal
could move to the beat of music.

[narrator] And now Snowball isn’t alone.

[“Boogie Wonderland” playing]

[narrator] Ronin, a sea lion
in California,

is the first non-human mammal

confirmed to really groove
to Earth, Wind & Fire.

Bonobos, our close evolutionary cousins,

can tell if there is a beat.

Though the jury’s out
if they can synchronize to it.

But the ability to tap out a beat
is only one part of music.

[rapidly increasing beat]

[narrator] If a sound repeats fast enough,
we hear it as pitch.

Sure, many other animals
seem to perceive pitch.

In terms of individual tones,

they probably perceive them like we do.

[narrator] Many species’ brains,
including ours,

have neurons that fire at the exact
frequency of the sound coming in.

If you place electrodes
on these three spots on your head

and listen to this…

[rich-toned beat]

the electrical signal from
those electrodes would sound like this.

[duller, tinnier beat]

[narrator] Playing multiple pitches
at the same time

unlocks another feature of music: harmony.

All these kinds of cultures
tend to recognize

that this relationship is special.

[ethereal, quivering notes]

If you ask men and women
to sing in unison,

what typically happens is
they actually sing an octave apart.

[narrator] Octaves are pitches with double
or half the frequency of another.

That kind of sense of equivalence

is very widespread in human culture.

[narrator] And that special relationship

might explain why the opening of this song

is so memorable.

♪ Somewhere over the rainbow… ♪

[narrator] The first two notes
are an octave.

[Judy Garland] ♪ Somewhere… ♪

♪ Somewhere… ♪

[narrator] Intervals like this one
are crucial.

Every culture divides
the space between octaves into scales.

Most of us remember melody
by the relative pitch,

the space in between notes,

like this melody starting on C.

[Anderson .Paak] ♪ My new fire ♪

♪ You ought to come to light me… ♪

[narrator] Starting on an F,
it still sounds like the same melody.

[higher] ♪ My new fire ♪

♪ You ought to come to light me… ♪

[narrator] It’s just not like this
for birds.

[Patel] You can train them to recognize
melody A from melody B. No problem.

Transpose those melodies,
move them up or down in pitch,

they have no idea what those things are.

They have to relearn them
as if they’re brand new melodies.

They don’t recognize them anymore.

[narrator] Then there’s timbre,

the quality of sound
that distinguishes pitch

-if played on a bassoon…
-[deep, warm note]

-baritone sax…
-[lighter note]

or a bowl.

[ringing note]

[narrator] Most people perceive timbre
like they perceive color.

It’s a thing you can name.

[voices harmonize]

[narrator] Lots of animals can process
one or more of these components.

Some types of crabs and fireflies
synchronize with each other,

but only at one tempo.

Some birds, like Snowball,
can feel a beat,

but have no understanding
of relative pitch.

Rhesus monkeys
can understand octave equivalence,

but can’t feel a beat.

Combined with our capacity
for language and memory,

only humans
put the entire puzzle together.

♪ And for realla, baby… ♪

[Jen] Give it up
for Anderson .Paak, you guys.

[narrator] How musicians assemble
these pieces

triggers another aspect of music

that’s, as far as we know, uniquely human:

its deep connection to our feelings.

Take the song “Frère Jacques.”

[“Frère Jacques” playing]

[narrator] It’s in the major scale,
which, in Western music,

is associated with happy feelings.

Other cultures have their own ways
of expressing those mood differences

that don’t map on easily
to our major and minor system.

[narrator] Listen to this Balinese scale.

[gentle chiming]

For a Balinese person,
they will really think that is quite sad.

[narrator] Major meaning happy
and minor meaning sad is not universal.

For a Western ear,
it might sound pretty happy,

but Balinese will associate
that with ceremonial rites

and particularly cremations.

[narrator] But meaning accumulating
based on the scale system of your culture,

that is universal.

And that meaning is built over centuries.

[poignant string music]

[narrator] Monteverdi wrote his
“Lamento della Ninfa” in the 1600s…

with a bass line
simply descending the minor scale.

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In the hundreds of years since,

composer after composer
has used the exact same baseline

to express lament.

♪ Hit the road, Jack ♪

♪ And don’t you come back
no more, no more, no more, no more… ♪

[narrator] And with each repetition,
its meaning grows.

♪ …down in New Orleans… ♪

So that whenever you hear it…

it just gets a little more powerful.

♪ …you know how I feel… ♪

[narrator] There’s something familiar
about it, but something surprising, too.

♪ …the love there that’s sleeping… ♪

[narrator] We hear these melodies so often

that the effect
becomes immediate and unconscious.

Music connects so many abilities
that it’s very hard to lose.

Only an estimated 1.5% of people are born
having trouble differentiating pitches.

Far fewer have trouble feeling a beat.

And losing music perception altogether…

that’s basically unheard of.

In 2015, Jen noticed
her body was behaving strangely.

I had this weird symptom
where I couldn’t feel my foot,

as in it just didn’t exist.
It felt like I had a ghost foot.

Ten years prior, there was one neurologist
that thought I could have Moyamoya.

[narrator] Moyamoya
means “a puff of smoke.”

It’s a very rare condition where
blood flow to the brain is constricted.

Here is the carotid artery…
a little darker.

You see it coming up?
You see how it almost disappears here?

It’s almost clotted off completely,

and the artery that branched here is gone.

She’s not getting enough blood flow
to her brain.

They didn’t know if I would
die the next month

or ten years from that point, so…

I was diagnosed in December of 2015,

and in January of 2016,

I had two brain surgeries
a week apart from each other.

[narrator] Two days
after the first surgery,

Jen noticed something was wrong.

[Jen] When I woke up,
I couldn’t talk anymore.

I also lost my comprehension of speech,

so I couldn’t talk, but also suddenly
couldn’t understand anyone else talking.

Imagine being in a foreign country

and not understanding
a word that was being said to you.

I watched Portlandia a bunch
when I was in recovery.

Through that show,
I realized I didn’t understand music,

because I couldn’t understand
the intro song.

See, cognitively,
I knew that it was a song,

and I knew it was the”Washed Out” song,
a song that I liked.

But it didn’t register the same way.

I didn’t recognize it as music.

[narrator] To cure Jen’s Moyamoya disease,

Doctor Steinberg took an artery
from each side of Jen’s scalp

and placed it
on top of each side of Jen’s brain.

That piece of artery
that is laying on top of your brain

grows down these roots,

and, essentially, now my brain
is fed from the top… down

instead of from the bottom up.

[narrator] And these roots
would’ve been growing all over the brain.

[Steinberg] So, the lower processing
was intact.

The sounds were getting in,
both for music and for language.

[narrator] But the higher levels
of processing

to understand music, to speak,

that require the cortex, were gone.

[Steinberg] Putting together the
higher-level circuits was not possible.

It was very, very disturbing…

and upsetting to her.

[narrator] But far more common
than losing music

is using it to help recover
something else that’s been lost.

-What is it?

Good try. This isn’t a phone.

This what you tell time with.

[narrator] Former U.S. congresswoman
Gabby Giffords had to relearn how to speak

after a gunshot
tore through the left side of her head.

-With a…

That’s it! Nice!

[narrator] Areas critical for speech
are right here…

but even if they’re damaged,

it’s possible to retrain
the other side of the brain,

where more of musical processing happens,
to take over.

[therapist] All right. Let’s warm up
with another little song. Okay?

[Patel] Some of these same patients who
can’t get two or three words into a phrase

can sometimes sing songs fluently.

You wouldn’t know
there was something wrong with them.

[both] ♪ You make me happy
When skies are gray… ♪

People are taught
to sing words while tapping

and then gradually
kind of piggyback on that ability.

[narrator] And music connects to movement.

We actually register a beat
in our brain’s motor system.

That’s likely why it can help
people with movement disorders.

[woman] There’s something about
hearing the music

that enables me to move in a way
that I wouldn’t be able to on my own.

[narrator] These effects make music
seem almost like a superpower.

That’s led to some exuberant reporting
about music.

[news anchor 1] Can listening to classical
music make children smarter?

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[news anchor 2] Why are hospitals
handing out

a million Mozart recordings a month?

Why not a little Mozart
to add a point or two to the IQ?

[narrator] It doesn’t really work
like that.

[Margulis] One of those myths out there
about music perception

is that there’s
something magic about Mozart.

[narrator] But there is something magic
about music’s power over our mood.

It doesn’t have to be Mozart.

It’s been well-documented
that music of any kind

can help get anyone,

including athletes
at the very top of their field,

in the right frame of mind to perform.

And longer-term active participation
in music can have incredible benefits.

Kids who learn to make music early
have advantages learning language.

Our ability to remember music is also
a fabulously effective teaching tool.

[class sings]

[narrator] And our love of synchronizing
with music and each other

confers social benefits.

[Patel] There’s a lot of interest in how
music influences social cognition.

[Margulis] When you make music together
with people or listen to music in a group,

then it feels like you have
some kind of understanding

and that you’re really together
in some powerful way.

And there’s experimental evidence
that people treat each other better.

[narrator] These benefits
and music’s universality among humans

raise even bigger questions.

[Patel] Humans groups faced
all kinds of challenges during evolution,

and anything that would help promote
cooperation in the group

could potentially promote survival.

[narrator] Darwin had an evolutionary
explanation for music, too.

Oh, this one. I love this one. Yeah.

“Musical notes and rhythm
were first acquired

for the sake of charming
the opposite sex.”

[narrator] Like a peacock,
that beautiful tail

isn’t necessarily
helping the bird survive.

But it might have signaled
something like that at first.


But often when that’s the case,

you can see
some kind of progression of an ability

as you get closer
on the evolutionary tree to humans,

that maybe there’ll be
more musical ability.

But that really doesn’t seem to be
the case in some clear way.

[narrator] In the animal world,
musicality is all over the map.

We’re only just starting to find out

if our love
for rhythm, repetition, and harmony

evolved gradually
through the other primates.

And the search has connected researchers
from an incredibly broad array of fields.

They mostly consider their search
for answers to be in its infancy.

Jen didn’t have to live too long
without music.

Within a few weeks, her brain healed.

What we think, in a simplistic way,

is that the circuits
are temporarily inhibited…

and that it takes the brain
some readjusting or some learning.

Once I was back at home,
I could understand music again.

Like, I could hear it,
but I couldn’t make music.

I still knew how to make music,

but I didn’t know how to use my ears
to navigate making a song.

I decided I would wait.

Then a couple of weeks later,
I went back in,

overwhelmed with emotion,
and made this song that was amazing.

And it wasn’t
that the song was just amazing.

I was able to mix it
and make it sound good, too.

I never worked on a song
for so long in my life.

But within three months, she was
back performing at a very high level

and entertaining and producing.

I wanted to live every moment

like it was the last day
I’d be able to make music again.

[fast, pulsating beat]

[narrator] It’s easy to forget
that all of us

have a superpower in having musicality.

We can use it to learn, feel,
remember, and connect.

[Margulis] Just looking at the power
that music does have, the universality,

means that regardless
of its evolutionary history,

we can learn something really important
about what it means to be human.

It still brings back all the joy I have

in being able
to share it with people today.

[narrator] And the trick
to making any sound music:

play it again and listen closer.

[Patel] The fact that music
gives us such intense pleasure

may be telling us something.

Evolution wants us to do this.

Lightning In A Bottle!
I had brain surgery two years ago.

I’m fucking here with you right now.

Let’s all be glad to be alive.

♪ I wish I could be better ♪

♪ I wish I could do better ♪

♪ I hope this stays for better ♪

♪ I’ll be longing for peace anew ♪


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