Christian Long

Bobby McFerrin: Hacks Your Brain With Music

In TED Talks on May 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Extra credit reflection by ABBIE P.

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

Bobby McFerrin:  Hacks Your Brain With Music

The very first thing I thought of when watching this video was Robert Gupta’s talk about his lesson with Nathaniel Ayers. If music can soothe an untreated schizophrenic man on the verge of having a fit, then there must be many other remarkable things that it can do. It’s not just something to dance to, and that’s one of the things I’ve talked about it almost every one of my responses- music is more than people think it is. Music has changed not only my life, but the lives of so many others as well.

Music has the ability to change people. Although I do not understand the scientific aspect of it, I do understand the emotional side, on a very personal level. Getting so many people to sing- and to know the pitch fairly well without thinking, is only a small step into the possibilities of what music could actually do. Though I could never understand how much Nathaniel Ayers went through with his schizophrenia, I can sort of relate on the basis that I do have a mental disorder, and I choose music over medication any day. I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which according to my doctor, can also cause severe states of depression and/or anxiety. I may also have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), but because of my ADHD, it’s challenging for a doctor to diagnose with BPD or Bi-Polar Disorder, because the symptoms can be so similar.

I started singing when I was seven years old, in a group called the Texas Girls’ Choir. Auditions are one of the scariest things in the world to me, mostly because of my fear of rejection. Of course, no one wants to be turned away, or told that they’re not good enough, but I’ve always had a tendency to overreact in these situations without even realizing it. After making it in to the choir, music became my love. When it came to school, I was a terrible student, always got my colour changed for disrupting class because I couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes. If you got your colour changed too many times, you couldn’t go to recess with the other kids- which meant I had to sit alone in a classroom and do my homework while everyone else was outside playing. I was alone. Although most of these things seem silly now, I can imagine how it would feel now. It’s like being the only kid who doesn’t get invited to the big party. “Nobody likes you, Everyone left you, They’re all out without you having fun.” (“Nobody Likes You” by Greenday).

I find McFerrin’s demonstration so interesting because it wasn’t just a few people that it effected- it was an entire room of people (from what I could tell, there may have been a few who didn’t participate).

If it’s possible to get a room of people to do this, where do the possibilities end, exactly? It could be that music is a better treatment for some disorders than the medications prescribed. I know on a personal level that medications fix the problem, but typically create another one. Without vyvanse, I am quite literally a spazz, I can’t focus on anything, and I talk way too much. I’m like an overflowing sink of personality. Whereas, when I’m on it, I pay attention, I keep to myself for the most part, I don’t eat, and I’m very easily frustrated. When I’m “focusing,” it seems as if I have no personality at all, and if I do, it comes in the form of aggression, which typically isn’t a good thing.

Not to be a whiney teenager, but I do honestly believe that listening to music during school should be allowed in certain cases. Of course I’m not expecting them to allow us all to drown our teachers out with the latest hits on the radio, but when I “forget” to take my meds, the only way I can focus is by listening to specific types of music. Most people say that it would distract me from my work, but with all due respect, I think I know my work habits a little bit better than the people around me. I’d probably be a little more productive with the medication instead, but it’s a little ridiculous when I want to slap someone for disturbing me.

Music triggers something in the brain, and though I’m not sure what exactly it is, I find it fascinating. Of course, effects vary from person to person and genre to genre, but maybe that’s the challenge. It triggers something in everyone’s mind…we just don’t know what it is yet.

  1. Amazing reflection. I am a teacher in Argentina. I heard of your project through TED’s facebook group. I congratulate you for your article and reflection and your teacher for the project you are carrying on. Always think big!
    Love from the South,

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