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The Magic of Music 8 Musical Phenomena Explained

The Magic of Music: 8 Musical Phenomena Explained [Infographic]

Have you ever thought about how awesome music is? The joy of performing and listening to music forms a universal language that connects us across cultures and across time.

And yet despite how universal the experience of music is, there’s still a lot we don’t know about its effects on our bodies and minds. In fact, the famed anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once said that music is “the supreme mystery of human knowledge.”

Mysterious though it may be, scientists have discovered some interesting theories for the most common musical phenomena that we all experience. For example, why do songs get stuck in your head? What’s the effect of music on memory?

Check out the infographic below to discover 8 musical phenomena, and continue reading to find out more!

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1. Why do songs get stuck in my head?

Whether it’s a commercial jingle or an overplayed radio hit, you’ve likely experienced having songs stuck in your head. Scientists refer to this phenomenon as an earworm, and they don’t know all that much about it.

For one, it’s difficult to study: a song popping into your head can happen at random times. Moreover, it often happens when your mind is zoned out and focused on a repetitive task.

As you can imagine, these are not conditions that are easy to replicate in the laboratory!

What we do know: several scientific studies have shown that one of the biggest contributing factors to experiencing an earworm is listening to a song over and over in a short amount of time. Other studies suggest that the shape of your brain plays a part.

Ok, but how do you get that song OUT of your head? Other music may serve as a useful distraction, but one of the best cures may be to give in and listen to the song again.


2. Why does my voice sound different on recordings?

You’ve lost your phone (again), so you borrow a friend’s to call your own. It’s ringing… did you leave it on silent? You let it ring through to your voicemail, when all of a sudden — whose voice is that?

Scientists believe this phenomenon is because of the mechanics of your ear. When you speak, you hear your voice in addition to vibrations from your vocal cords passing through your throat and mouth into your inner ears. These vibrations are typically low frequency, which is what you’re used to hearing. When you record your voice, you only hear the air-conducted sound — which is why you might think you sound higher-pitched.

Test it yourself: As you’re speaking out loud, curl both hands behind your outer ears and pull them forward. This will allow more air-conducted speech sounds into the ear, changing the volume and timbre. For the opposite effect, try plugging your ears to hear only the bone-conducted sounds.


3. I’m bad at singing — am I “tone deaf”?

Not everyone has the courage to sing in public. Some even fear that if they so much as open their mouth, everyone in the room will cover their ears and glass will shatter!

But there’s a difference between being truly pitch-challenged and having an untrained singing voice. The inability to follow a tune or to differentiate between pitches is called amusia, and researchers say it occurs in about one out of every 20 people.

While brain scans have revealed some differences between people with amusia and people without, it’s hard to say which came first. It’s possible amusia is wired into the brain at birth, but it’s just as likely that a lack of musical training is to blame.

Are you really tone deaf? Learn more and take the tone deaf test.


4. Why are some people so bad at keeping rhythm?

Similar to the inability to hold a tune, some people find keeping rhythm a challenge. But before you try to excuse yourself from the dance floor citing auditory arrhythmia, keep in mind that the actual scientific condition of being “beat deaf” is even rarer than amusia.

In one study, researchers found only two people to be truly rhythmically challenged, out of a group of hundreds.

These “beat deaf” individuals had no trouble tapping out a beat in silence, but they couldn’t synchornize their movements with sounds. Scientists think this is due to an abnormality in brain connectivity and internal biological rhythms.

Bad at rhythm? Here are some great tips to improve from Easy Ear Training.


5. Why do I get chills when listening to music?

Ever felt chills while listening to a specific song? You’re not alone! Scientists call this musical frisson.

It’s little surprise to scientists that the experience involves dopamine release, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical. What did come as a surprise in this scientific study was that the emotional climax of a song was not actually the part responsible for musical frisson; it seems the anticipation of emotional release during the tension-building moments matters just as much as the eventual resolution in giving us that tingling feeling.

What song gives you the chills? Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” is one of our favorites. More songs here.


6. Why do certain artists and songs bring back memories?

There are many experiences that prove the connection between music and memory. Listening to music can make you think of a time or place, and it can make you feel nostalgic for a past relationship. Similarly, music has been shown to deeply affect those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite significant research into the subject, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the connection. It’s challenging to study, since music blends emotional experiences with text and meaning — and these are stored differently in the brain. Emotional experiences are encoded as an episodic memory, and text and meaning is encoded as semantic memory. This is why sometimes you remember the title or lyrics of a song, but not the tune, and other times you remember the tune, but the words never make it past the tip of your tongue!

Music can also help you learn other subjects faster! Check out the research (and our playlist) here.


7. Does music really help you exercise?

Many people rely so much on music when exercising that when their phone or iPod runs out of battery, they are completely thrown off and can’t even complete their workout. And many professional athletes rely on a particular playlist to pump them up.

A recent scientific study on workout music reveals several explanations for this phenomenon. First, music serves as an important distraction from physical pain and fatigue.

Second, music can trigger your “rhythm response” — your body can’t help but move to the beat! This keeps your movement consistent and helps you use energy more efficiently.

What’s the BEST workout music, though? Check out this playlist from Fitness Magazine.


8. Why do I love listening to sad songs?

In addition to energizing us, music can lead to deeply personal emotional catharsis.

Psychologists pinpoint the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin as one reason we keep coming back to sad songs in particular. These hormones, involved in social bonding and nurturing, are also part of romantic attachment. Emotional identification with sad songs is an important part of our ability to empathize and bond with others.

What are the best sad songs to listen to? In a Rolling Stone readers’ poll, Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” topped the list.


So there you have it — 8 musical phenomena that connect many of us. Whether you’re enjoying 400-year-old classical music, learning how to sing or play music, or jamming to the rap album that dropped last week, we all get an equal chance to participate in the many mysteries of music.

 

magic-of-music-david-heinenPost Author: David H.
David H. writes freelance psychology articles out of Milwaukee, WI, and has a passion for presenting a psychological perspective on any number of different topics. A veteran instrumentalist and a Tenor 2, David enjoys car singing and playing improv jazz in his free time.

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6 Famous Guitarists Who Hit The Big Time (Despite The Obstacles)

What I’ve Learned From 7 Famous Guitarists Who Almost Gave Up

6 Famous Guitarists Who Hit The Big Time (Despite The Obstacles)

“Making it” as a musician isn’t always easy — but it’s also not impossible! In this guest post, Ged Richardson from Zinginstruments shares what he’s learned from seven famous guitarists who overcame the odds… 

 

Tired of getting knocked back? Feeling like your time as a world-famous guitarist will never come? Downright depressed about trying to make it in the music industry?

Yup. I know the feeling. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

But here’s the thing: what you’re feeling is completely normal.

In fact, some of the best, most talented musicians experienced the very same feeling as you.

Don’t believe me? Here are seven examples of how persistence and dogged determinism helped make the world’s greatest guitarists and musicians.

1. Elvis Presley

If I told you the King, yes no other than Elvis Presley, was given his marching orders before his career took off, you’d think I was kidding right? No, I’m serious!

Elvis was told by the concert hall manager in the Grand Ole Opry (a famous venue in Nashville) in no uncertain terms “You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.”

Looking back, that concert hall manager couldn’t have been more wrong. Someone needs to eat several King-size portions of humble pie.

2. Noel Gallagher

Before songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher shot to fame in the 1990s with his band Oasis, he endured a lifetime’s worth of setbacks. He battled through family strife, expulsion from school, and dead-end jobs — but he persevered with his music, writing three of his most popular songs (including “Live Forever”) in what he referred to as the ‘The Hit Hut’ (which was in fact a storehouse at the company he was working for at the time!).

Did success come quickly thereafter? Not at all. He auditioned as a singer for the popular indie band Inspiral Carpets and was promptly rejected. Instead, they gave him a job on the tour crew for two years. Tour crew! Now look where he is — filling arenas around the globe. Some achievement, I would say.

3. Django Reinhardt

In 1920s France, a bright new star was stunning audiences in the Parisian music halls with his virtuoso guitar playing. He was called Django Reinhardt.

At the tender age of 18, Django got his first major gig with English band leader Jack Hylton, quite an accomplishment for an uneducated Romani Gypsy. But tragedy struck soon after. A fire broke out in his caravan and he was badly injured. He injured his left hand, paralyzing all but two fingers on his fretting hand.

For many this would be the end of their playing career. But not for Django, who worked out a way to play the guitar using his two working fingers. He went on to create a whole new genre of his own with Stéphane Grappelli, known as ‘Gypsy Jazz,’ and the rest is history, as they say.

4. Paul McCartney

Songwriter and bassist Paul McCartney is the picture of charisma and confidence on stage when you see that old footage of the Beatles. But looks can be deceiving.

Sir Paul was prone to bouts of stage fright, often rendering him useless in front of screaming fans. Interviewed by the NME in 2009, he said: “So I remember being on the steps of Wembley Town Hall, literally getting ill with nerves, and thinking, ‘I’ve got to give this business up, this is no good.’” If he can play through the nerves, so can you.

5. Pat Martino

This jazz musician is one of the most revered and famous guitarists in the industry. Was it all a ride in the park for him? Far from it. Pat Martino was already established as a heavyweight guitar player, but at the age of 36 he suffered a brain aneurysm that put him out of action. And that’s putting it mildly. Surgery resulted in amnesia and loss of his ability to play guitar. Quite a setback for a guitarist.

With dogged determination he managed to relearn the instrument, while battling what he called ‘near-suicidal’ levels of sorrow. In 2004, Martino was named Guitar Player of the Year in Downbeat Magazine’s Readers’ Poll. Some turn-around, don’t you think?

6. Bob Dylan

In the late 1960s, folk-singing troubadour Bob Dylan was pretty untouchable — influencing the Beatles, among others. Or so he thought. When he toured the UK in 1966 playing a new electric sound, it quickly became apparent that his audience hated the new sound! Bob and his band were jeered and heckled throughout the shows, culminating in one resentful fan shouting ‘Judas.’

Did he succumb to the pressure and go back to playing folk guitar? Heck no. He powered through, ignored the naysayers and invented a new form of electric folk-based pop. We wouldn’t have classics such as “Like a Rolling Stone” if he’d given up.

7. Seasick Steve

The American blues guitarist Seasick Steve didn’t have it easy on his route to stardom either. Leaving home at the age of 13 to avoid abuse at the hands of his stepfather, he lived as a hobo for many years, catching rides by hopping on freight trains as he sought work as a farm laborer.

His rise to stardom didn’t come quickly or easily, but he persisted and eventually established himself as one of today’s best blues guitarists. He attributes much of his unlikely success to his cheap and weather-beaten guitar, “The Trance Wonder.” But I think it was more a case of a spoonful of talent and a whole lot of hard work, persistence, and determination.

Conclusion

So there you have it — seven cases of success against all odds. It’s both humbling and motivating to learn that these famous guitarists were knocked back in some way, but crucially overcame their obstacles to come up on top.

The lesson here? Frustration and adversity can help you — if you use it to fire you up. Never give up. If you want it badly enough, you can make it happen!

Classical guitarist Andres Segovia famously said: “The day I stop playing guitar will be the day after my death.” Now there’s perseverance!

 

Ged Richardson is an avid guitarist and blogger who writes about how to improve your guitar playing at Zinginstruments

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music theory games and exercises

The Practice Decathlon: 10 Music Theory Games & Exercises to Try

music theory games and exercises

Are you in a practice rut? Mix things up with these ear training exercises and music theory games for kids and beyond, compiled by music teacher Alicia B...

 

It’s no secret that professional athletes have to train rigorously to reach the top of the medal podium. The path of music is similar, and you’d be surprised how your training is no different! Learning to play an instrument takes dedicated practice, mental stamina, and an organized plan for success. But don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be just scales and etudes over and over.

Music games can be effective for all ages, and are worth incorporating in your practice time — especially if you feel like you’re in a rut! So adults, it’s time to bring out your inner kid. And parents, it’s time to grab the kids and have some fun as a family!

Here’s a set of music theory games and ear training exercises that you can play all summer long.

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Mastering The Staff

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

One of the first building blocks of music is learning the musical staff (or staves). You may recall the first mnemonic device in order to learn your lines of the treble clef, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” For this music theory exercise, let’s take this idea one step further with a memory game.

To begin, make a set of flashcards with a certain line or space (e.g. “first line” or “second space”) on the front, and the correct answer (e.g., “E” or “A,” respectively) on the back. Start a timer and see how many correct answers you can get in 30 seconds.

Making these cards without drawing an actual staff allows you to visualize it in your head, which jump-starts your recall abilities. Of course, you also have the option of using the staff. These note name flashcards are commonly available for purchase or you can search for printable versions.

Musictheory.net has a great online version of this game where you can set the range of notes, including all your ledger lines above and below the staff.

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Get Into The Rhythm

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

We can all clap along to a beat, but how well can you tap it? This series of exercises focuses on separating your instrument from your rhythm reading, so all you’re required to do is tap your finger!

One way to practice is to take any line from the method book you use. Try to see if you can tap the correct rhythm along with a slow metronome. Can you get it right in one try?

There are a few apps that create this as a game where you tap along to a randomly generated notated rhythm. Some apps, like Rhythm Tap, also allow you to adjust the note values (so if you haven’t seen a triplet or sixteenth note just yet, don’t stress, you don’t have to include it).

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The Hot Potato Staff Game

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

This is one of the music theory games I use with my own students! Parents, you can easily play it with your kids.

Gather players in a circle and start with your “potato” (in my case, it’s a stuffed frog named Mr. Hoppers). The game begins with you tossing the potato and immediately posing a question (e.g.,“What’s the letter name of the third line in treble clef?” or “Third line treble clef!” for short); the child who catches the potato responds and tosses it back.

This is a great game for students of all levels because it asks you to imagine the staff in your head, bridging a recall gap from just memorizing ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine.’

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Become Your Ear’s Personal Trainer

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s a common misconception that you either have a good musical ear or you don’t; with the right ear training exercises, you can definitely improve!

For this exercise, all you need is a keyboard and some Post-It Notes. Number your keys one through eight and close your eyes. With your left hand on key 1, randomly play a different numbered key with the right hand. Try to figure out what interval you heard. Open your eyes and check if you were right.

There are also a few apps for interval training; here’s one I like from Musictheory.net.

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Mission Transposition

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

If you’ve learned a little bit about your key signatures, a fun way to revisit old material while improving your key signature knowledge is transposition! This music theory exercise is simple: take a song you know well (and have memorized) and start it on a different note. If it sounds funny, correct each note as you go along, and you’ll notice you’re actually following the key change that occurred.

A great way to start is with “Twinkle, Twinkle” in the key of C major, then moving it to G major (don’t forget your F sharp!), then F major (B flat city).

You can also give a twist to a “happy” song in C major by moving it three steps down to the more “sad” A minor.

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Music Marathon

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s surprising how often new students have actually never heard the different genres of music their instrument can offer. We often hear about binge-watching movies, but have you ever listened to an entire symphony? Sat through an opera or musical? What about a full album start to finish?

To be a gold-medal musician, you need to be a gold-medal music appreciator. Take the plunge and dedicate a block of time to listening without distraction. Take notes of what interested you or how it made you feel. These are the doors you open to yourself as you walk down the figurative music hallway. You may find a new genre and re-inspire yourself to pick up your instrument and start practicing!

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Pitch Detective

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 2+

Similar to identifying intervals, recognizing pitches is a vital part of ear training. For this exercise, pick a major or minor key, and have another person play the root note (first note of the scale), and any other note in the scale. It’s your challenge to name not only the interval that was played, but the name of the note. This game gets particularly difficult when the flats and sharps increase. The more you play this game, the stronger your ear will become.

Once you master finding the pitch, ask a partner to play four notes in the scale (starting with the root), and see if you can write the notes down on staff paper.

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Rhythm Jumpers

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

These next two music theory games are for kids again. This one takes elements from “Mother, May I?” to create a slow-moving race while jumping to correct rhythms. To play, the “mother” thinks of a note (or rhythm pattern) and asks each player to jump the rhythm (e.g. a single whole note would be one jump and holding four counts, while a half note/quarter/quarter pattern would be a jump lasting two counts followed by two more jumps). Whoever gets to the finish line (first) wins!

Kids love to utilize their whole bodies to learn. It’s a great break from sitting, and by the end, everyone will have learned note duration in a fun, physical way!

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Tempo Light

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

All you need for this game is a finish line. Have the child(ren) line up and get ready to listen. To start, choose four tempos to shout out, all of which mean different speeds (similar to red light, green light). For example, shouting out “andante” means everyone goes at a walking pace, but “allegro” means go fast! See if they match the tempos correctly. If they don’t, it’s back to the starting line. Use your “red light” by shouting, “fermata!” and see how they freeze in their tracks.

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Performance Time

Age group: All ages
Players needed: 1

Last but not least, performing for others is a great way to get out of a practice rut — for all ages. Think of it as similar to the gymnastics’ floor routine: impressive, creative, stylistic, and acts as the culmination of other events.

For kids, a more casual performance, even if it’s for friends or family in the living room, can take the edge off of more formal performances. And for adults, you may not have the same recital opportunities as kids, so you’ll have to make your own. It may be nerve-wracking, but performing in front of others and overcoming stage fright is an important part of learning.

Remember, to become a “gold medal” musician, you have to play to win!

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More Music Theory Games for Kids & Beyond

AliciaBPost Author: Alicia B.
Alicia B. teaches piano, violin, music theory, and more in Miami, FL. She has 15+ years training in violin technique, and almost 10 years of classical piano experience. Learn more about Alicia here!

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road trip songs by state maps

3 Maps to Help You Pick the BEST Road Trip Songs [2016 update]

road trip songs by state maps

Bad news: It’s August, and summer is halfway over. Good news: There’s still plenty of time for a summer road trip!

And of course, no road trip is complete without a playlist. The best road trip playlist includes songs to sing along with, songs to keep you energized, and songs that will appeal to everyone in the car (no easy feat!).

So let’s get to work. Grab a map, and mark the states you’ll be driving in. Then, check out our maps below: just for kicks, the first map lists the official (and some unofficial) state songs for all 50 US states. In case you don’t want to be blasting those songs, you have two more maps to choose from. The second map offers road trip songs based on famous musicians from each state; the third map features OUR new picks for state songs.

If you want to go the extra mile (pun intended), upload all three road trip playlists and hit Shuffle. You may even discover some new favorite songs!

Don’t agree with our picks? Think we should replace one song with another? Sound off in the comments — we want to hear your thoughts!

State Songs Across the US

What’s your state’s official song? If you want to start with some patriotic spirit, add these tunes to your playlist. (Note: some states have multiple state songs, both official and unofficial.) 

Take-Lessons-US-Map-v1

50 Famous Musicians From Each US State

Next up, we handpicked a famous musician with ties to each state, and a well-known song from that artist. This one’s a mixed bag: depending on your route, you may be blasting a country crooner or boy band pop!

famous musicians from US states

State Songs for 2016 (Our New Picks!)

We all know about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So in our final map of road trip songs, we’re taking some creative liberties. If WE were choosing the official state songs across the US, here’s what we would recommend. And again, you’ll get a nice mix of genres and styles with this playlist!

US State Songs for 2016 road trip

 

What’s On YOUR Road Trip Mix?

Whether your wanderlust takes you to the golden beaches of the West Coast, the rolling plains of the Midwest, or even back in time to the battlefields of the South or colonial settlements of the Northeast, nothing says good times like scenic drives with your favorite people.

And from country to hip-hop and jazz to rock, there’s something in these road trip playlists for every type of music-lover.

Now, it’s your turn. Do you agree with our road trip songs? What famous musicians did we miss for your state? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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