New Brunswick

'This is Your Brain on Music': Neurologist to give demonstration at Fredericton festival

The music starts playing and toes start tapping, hips swaying. We all know how music affects our bodies, but tonight in Fredericton, neurologist Dr. Wendy Stewart will explain the impact of music on our brains.

Dr. Wendy Stewart wants participants in Shivering Songs event to realize 'power of music'

Dr. Wendy Stewart is a pediatric neurologist, an associate professor at Dalhousie University's faculty of medicine, and a professed ''80s chick' when it comes to music. (Kennebecasis Valley Oasis Youth Centre)

The music starts playing and toes start tapping, hips swaying. We all know how music affects our bodies, but tonight in Fredericton, neurologist Dr. Wendy Stewart will explain the impact of music on our brains.

Stewart, who is an associate professor at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick in Saint John and director of the Medical Humanities-HEALS program, is taking part in a unique interactive show at the Shivering Songs Festival, called This is Your Brain on Music.

Starting at 7 p.m., she and musicians Jim Bryson and Joyfultalk will bring people to the stage at the Fredericton Public Library and use some devices to demonstrate which parts of the brain are activated by doing different music tasks.

"Now we can actually see what happens to the brain when people are playing music, singing music … or even thinking about playing it," said Stewart.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers can do a baseline scan, then another scan that involves some element of music and compare them to see which parts of the brain "light up."

"For example, if you play a minor chord, that's usually associated with sad, more emotive-type tunes, and then a major chord tends to be part of a happier tune, and so you actually engage different parts of the brain depending on the emotions that are evoked," said Stewart.

Beats, rhythms and lyrics, tempo, metre and melody are also important factors, she said.

Teen years influential period

But different music can affect people in different ways, depending on their experiences.

"We're very influenced by the music we listen to in our teens and early 20s, which is when our reward systems are very active, and so that gets really embedded in our brain," explained Stewart, a professed "80s chick."

It's very much a whole brain workout and very good for your brain in terms of keeping it healthy.- Wendy Stewart, neurologist

She said she hopes the event will give participants a better understanding of "the power of music."

"It's very much a whole brain workout and very good for your brain in terms of keeping it healthy — and also keeping your body healthy as well."

It can reduce stress and lift spirits, said Stewart, who has played the accordion since she was a girl.

"I can attest to that because when [I've] had a challenging day in medicine, maybe some difficult cases, and I get involved in my music that evening, then it totally changes the way [I] feel," she said.

"It's really been, in many ways, my sanity throughout the challenges of training through medicine."

Recent research has also shown music helps children in their social interactions, said Stewart, who hopes to see music become a more integral part of children's lives.

With files from Information Morning Saint John and Information Morning Fredericton

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