Christian Long

Bobby McFerrin: Hacks Your Brain With Music

In TED Talks on April 17, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Reflection by SYLVIA A.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Bobby McFerrin: Hacks Your Brain With Music

As I sit here twiddling my fingers around my laptop I just can’t stop smiling. What a cute and quirky video. It alone made me go on iTunes and buy “Don’t worry, be happy” just to listen to it on repeat.

Bobby McFerrin looks like such a fun and carefree person but also thoughtful at the same time, which is unusual when it comes to most Ted speakers I’ve seen. He’s goofy, yet you know he could keep up in his suggested “job in neuroscience”. He’s composed, but not stiff.

He’s a 60 year old man hopping around a stage, singing nonetheless!

His has such an acute awareness for music. This could be due to the fact he is a classically trained and extremely respected vocalist in the music world. He also has a total of 10 Grammys stacked up at home, so they must count for something. All of this extensive knowledge of musicality makes it easy for him to show us this simple discovery with such ease. I really enjoy the contrast of his very intellectual side filled with musical expertise and his playful side that looks so natural on stage, making everyone one laugh. His goofy side is also apparent in the video of his chart topping hit “Don’t worry, be happy”.  I also enjoyed Bobby’s vocal improv during his session. It made it that much more enjoyable because even afterwards that tune was stuck in my head.

But now onto his experiment.

How is it possible for humans to interact on that level without any previous connection? It seemed almost like a magic trick when he was somehow able to make every single person in that crowd sing the same note, with no preparation, or hesitation for that matter. Some people are good singers while others are tone deaf, but still we all would have sung the same notes. As Bobby states, it doesn’t matter where you go. Anywhere in the world you’d get the same end product.

Well, first of all what exactly is the pentatonic scale? It’s a scale having five tones to an octave, as one having intervals that correspond to the five black keys of a piano octave.

Definition suggests that the basis of the pentatonic scale is found on a piano, but humans have been around much longer than instruments have. I believe the reason instruments were invented was to be able to create the same noises we were able to create ourselves with our own voices. So if this is true, it must mean the pentatonic scale must have originated in us. In such a diversified world where we are always trying to differentiate ourselves from the next person, it’s hard to believe that deep down in our core we have the same basic sense of sound.

This is concept becomes much more than just a silly video experiment the more I think about it.

Life is perceptive. Every person sees things in a different way based on their past experiences, beliefs, etc. So why is it that just the location of Bobby’s body can produce the exact same sound from every single person? It must be something hardwired in our brains since the beginning of our human existence. This pentatonic scale has not changed or evolved over the thousands of years humans have inhabited the earth.

Why? As we evolve things around us evolve but this is the one thing that has remained constant.

If that’s not the answer it could be something else. When we hear a sound we try to make our frequency as close to that sound as possible. So when a mass of people come together and they all try to sing the same note, all the sounds converge to form one distinct noise. As this first foundation note is established we can then move up and down this scale as one large group.

Bobby really uses all of these ideas to his advantage in this little vocal experiment shared by TED. It produced lots of smiles and laughs, but also spurred a new interest in musical theory and how our minds work together,for me. Thanks Bobby!


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