REFERENCE - Reference: Could Mozart have composed "A Little Night Music" in his sleep?

Posted by USM on Monday, February 16, 2009 @ 18:03:06 CST
3 A study done at the University of Florence's Sleep Lab found that 28 percent of musical dreams reported by musicians contain compositions unfamiliar to the dreamers. Frequency of musical dreams was related to the age at which musicians started practicing but not to current practice habits.

Music in dreams is rarely reported in scientific literature, while the presence of musical themes in dreams of famous musicians is anecdotally reported. We did a systematic investigation to evaluate whether the occurrence of musical dreams could be related to musical competence and practice, and to explore specific features of dreamt pieces. Thirty-five professional musicians and thirty non-musicians filled out a questionnaire about the characteristics of their musical activity and a structured dream log on the awakening for 30 consecutive days. Musicians dream of music more than twice with respect to non-musicians; musical dreams frequency is related to the age of commencement of musical instruction, but not to the daily load of musical activity. Nearly half of the recalled music was non-standard, suggesting that original music can be created in dreams.

Popular music has always been obsessed with dreams. Dreams and songs go together like Wisconsin and cheese. Who could ever forget "I Had a Dream" (Paul Revere and the Raiders, 1967)? Or Ricky Nelson's "Dream Lover"? Not to mention "Dream Weaver" (Reo Speedwagon), "These Dreams" (Heart) and most unforgettable of all, "California Dreamin'" (Mamas and the Papas). And we can't leave out the Mama Cass rendition of "Dream a Little Dream of Me."

Since dreams turn up in music all the time, it's only fair that music should sometimes entertain the sleeping brain by intruding into dreams. Curiously, though, dream scientists have not studied musical dreaming very much, and the available evidence suggests that music is not as popular in sleep as dreams are in song titles. There are stories about musical dreaming by professional composers, and even hints that original tunes can emerge from the chaotic clutter of sleeptime cognition. But among non-musicians, dreams seem to relatively music-free.

"Research done by surveys on dream content found the recall of musical themes quite rare in the general population," write Valeria Uga and colleagues in a paper to be published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Perhaps, though, dream scientists have underestimated the extent of musical dreaming while focusing on other themes. Uga and her collaborators, at the University of Florence in Italy, decided therefore to test specifically for music in dreams. Their study compared one group of professional musicians with another consisting of people having no formal training, and no experience playing an instrument, or singing either in a choral ensemble or solo (not counting in the shower).

Each morning, all the people in both groups filled out a form with information about the preceding night's dreaming. Participants also recorded how much they listened to music each day (or, for the professionals, how much they practiced or performed). After a month, Uga and her colleagues analyzed the data and found some statistically significant results (which was music to their ears).

For one thing, musicians did seem to dream about music more often than non-musicians did. While both groups reported similar amounts of dreaming, the professionals recalled more than twice as much dreaming with music content. The musicians' amount of musical dreaming did not depend on how much they practiced each day or even how long they had been professional performers, but it did depend on how old they were when first exposed to musical training. The younger the age that music instruction began, the more musical dreaming they recalled.

In total, the 35 musicians in the study reported 244 musical dreams during the month, of which more than half (135) were accurate renditions of familiar musical pieces. Another 41 (17 percent) were familiar tunes with unusual variations, and 68 (28 percent) of the dream music was unfamiliar to the dreamers.

"The occurrence of unknown musical pieces shows that new musical productions could be created in dreams," the Italian scientists write.

For non-musicians, time spent listening to music during the day did not influence the amount of musical dreaming at night. Still, 18 percent of their dreams contained music, substantially more than other studies have found for music or for other common activities like reading or typing. Uga and her co-workers believe that musical skill may be an intrinsic human aptitude, much like language, rather than a skill learned only with significant mental effort, such as reading or calculating.

"Musical aptitude . . . seems to be a natural endowment of the human brain," the scientists point out. Thus musical skill could develop simply by exposure to the specific music of a given culture, in much the way language skills do. After all, the brain can deal with the complex sounds of language during dreams, so maybe music shares similar status as an inherent human ability.

"Musical training could enable musicians fully to develop the human musical aptitude: thus, the propensity to dream of music could increase," the scientists comment.

Of course, the level of musical dreaming reported in this study might be inflated. By asking people specifically to report on music in their dreams, the study itself could be causing people to dream more about music than they usually would. Uga and colleagues address this issue, suggesting that it's just as likely that other studies underestimate musical dreaming by NOT asking about it. Since dream recall is so tricky, it's reasonable to suspect that a little prodding will improve memory of dream events that might otherwise be forgotten. But as usual, more research will be needed to verify that contention.

Meanwhile, the notion that music is as ingrained in the brain as language still makes a lot of sense, and explains a lot of things, from the prevalence of music in all human cultures to the economic success of iPods. Perhaps music really is, like language, a defining human quality. If so, maybe Mama Cass was on to something, and everybody does want to make their own kind of music and sing their own special song, even if only in their dreams.

excerpt from the Why Files by Tom Siegfried

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