When People Literally See Music

music scoreWhat would you do if all of a sudden you began to “see” notes, staffs, clefs and a musical score pop up in front of you during the course of your every day life? Believe it or not, more people than you think have these types of music-oriented hallucinations where they see music scores whiz by. It happens randomly and isn’t imagined, it just happens.

In a new study reported in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, Oliver Sachs describes these musical hallucinations, which apparently are brought on by a number of factors that have to do with decreased eyesight. Macular degeneration, Parkinson’s disease, partial blindness and even an intense fever can trigger the phenomena, but it’s totally random and isn’t necessarily tied to actually listening to music. It also just as likely to happen to people who can’t read a note as it is with musicians, and is more likely to happen with older people, although the phenomena is spread across demographic groups and ages.

What’s particularly interesting is the fact that some of the people in the study were musicians who actually tried to play the music they were seeing, yet were unable to. The notes came too fast and the score was too complex and “ornamented.” As a result, not only has that ground-breaking score not resulted, but not even a single new music composition has come of it yet.

Although the study didn’t attempt to find the place in the brain where the musical score is triggered, Sachs suspects that it’s in the back of the right hemisphere, a place that is normally responsible for recognizing faces.

One part that was interesting was the fact that some of the participants had corrective eye surgery during the course of the study. They found that their musical hallucinations receded as their eyesight improved. It’s just another interesting fact about music and the brain.

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