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The Mozart Effect studies: Philip Glass is predictable they say

I had just done a Mozart Effect presentation in a psychology class this week and started to appreciate the importance of musical education. The Mozart Effect (ME) is the said effect of increased performance on ‘spatial-temporal’ tasks, e.g. doing jigzaw puzzles, keying several irregular wooden blocks into a regular, 6-faced cube, paper folding questions on the IQ test and mental 3-D rotation tasks, after listening to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos, K448.

Some of these ME studies do meet tight scientific standards, especially those involving electroencephalogram studies, PET and MRI scans on the brain, which does somehow explain the ‘brain activation hypothesis’ as suggested firstly by Rauscher et al. in 1995.

One study, on the other hand, asked participants to listen to Philip Glass. Researchers stated they chose Glass because his music is repetitive and predictable, which, according to Glass himself, cannot be more wrong an idea.

I would say that minimalist composers like him are people who try to make his music as predictable as it could sound like and as unpredictable as it actually sounds. If that is difficult to understand, listen to Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, and here is what I did every time I mimicked his style when I wrote music: I write a melody, or two notes, or some music, copy and paste some 10 times. For each replica, I change something. I add or delete a note, change dynamics, change two quavers into a triplet so that one note is 1/6 longer in duration, etc. Every time the melody repeats itself, something, subtle perhaps, is altered and this is what a listener should seek for. Participants reflected that Glass’ music was ‘amelodius’ and not good enough that they could enjoy it. They need music education.

There are other papers that pointed out that ME worked only on musicians and not others. Others suggested it was musical instrument training at play. I somehow guess it is not the motor training on the hands and feet or how to use the bow quickly or do coloratura that leads to the ME. Instead, it is through playing Mozart’s music that you understand how to appreciate it – rather than describing his music as ‘good-sounding’, ‘pleasant’ and ‘classical’, you know the phrases ‘syncopated’, ‘well-balanced but not so bounded into a frame’ and various others to tell why you enjoy it.

People suggested that Schoenberg’s and Mozart’s music are different in how our brains process them – nothing surprising – and the differences are exploited in a paper. But I would say that Berstein’s 5th Harvard lecture may lead to a different conclusion.


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