Whilst we have found creatures in the animal kingdom than exhibit human like behavior from tool use to waging war, we have never found an animal that makes music and dances to it. Why is this and what part does it play in making us human?
One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was interested in creating a cerebellum training program that was quicker, more effective than Dore. Myomancy was my notebook of interesting technology and relevant science. Over the years I’ve examined many different approaches to the treatment of dyslexia and ADHD. Some were simply nonsense, others had promise but were lacking the scientific, technological or business resources to make them viable. Some lacked the ethical honesty necessary when selling products to parents desperately worried about their children.
Slowly overtime I refined my ideas about how cerebellum training should work and how a independent company without much in the way financial resources could develop and sell such a product in an ethical manner. One main stumbling block has been the cost and availability of the technology necessary to track a user’s limb movements and balance. So I’ve been watching the progress of the Wii and latterly the Wii Fit with interest. The technology needed for cerebellum training was finally cheaply and readily available. What’s more many people already own it.
Originally I intended to make an announcement after slowly develop a proof of concept over the next few months but with the collapse of Dore and the shadow that will cast over the cerebellum training field, I’ve decided to move my plans forward. So I’m pleased to announced the creation of WyyMi, a project to create a free, open-source, open-science cerebellum training program.
What is WyyMi?
WyyMi is a project to develop a cerebellum training program to help people with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and similar educational problems.
To develop a system that cost nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) to use; to do it using open-source software; and to make freely available as much scientific evidence on its effectiveness as possible.
How Will It Work?
The idea is to use cheap and easily available computer hardware that can monitor and assess gross motor movements and balance. At the moment the Wii Remote and Wii Fit Balance Board seem the best candidates but they need to be adapted to work on PCs and Macs because the Wii console itself is difficult to develop for.
Using this hardware and software on the website, users will be perform a series of exercises. The amount of time spent training and the accuracy of the user’s movement will be logged on the server so that the user can track their progress and so the server can inform the user which exercises to do next. This data will also be aggregated, made anonymous and published so that it can be analyzed by any interested 3rd party. Ideally, symptom specific measures (e.g. spelling tests) will also be included so that the training programs effectiveness in treating educational problems can be measured.
Other than a broad statement of goals and the planned route for achieving them, there is nothing else on site at the moment. Progress is likely to slow, not least because I am working on another project at the moment as well maintaining my existing portfolio of web sites. If you wish to help in anyway, please see the announcement for ways you can contribute, not matter what your skills are.
Myomancy will be continuing to report on anything and everything I think is relevant to dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Obviously as I am planning to create my own training program, that might create a conflict of interest when discussing other people’s approach. I will try and be as unbiased as possible and make my conflict of interest clear.
Do you think that Guitar Hero is just about bad 80’s pop and heavy metal? Think again. Alex Wroten, a music student, has converted it into a genuine musical instatement for serious music.
One thing that struck me about [Guitar Hero] is that it has a stigma from those people who think it is ruining the potential musical literacy of children by giving them instant success versus practicing on a real instrument. This led me to want to turn the controller into a viable instrument.
I wrote Guitar Hero Instrument in MaxMSP on my Macbook to turn the XBOX Guitar Hero controller (only tested with GHII’s X-plorer controller!) into a playable instrument. This software has a lot of features, including harmonic tweaking, overdrive, delay, scale selection, and scale temperament (from 3 to 25-note equal temperament). It processes the controller input into pitches based on which button is pressed first and subsequent slurring; this gives the controller a range of 25 pitches (these pitches depend on base frequency, harmonic tweaking, and scale selection). The Guitar Hero controller’s tilt function is not mapped to any software feature at this time.
And here is a video of an original piece of music being performed with it.
More detail on Alex Wroten’s site.
Apologies for another quick post but work-related project combined with the death a family member is leaving very little time for the in-depth examination I want to do.
Run to the Beat is an interesting example of music and its role in psychology. Its a half-marthon where music is part of the run. Taking the idea of running whilst listening to an iPod to its logical conclusion, Run To The Beat plan to have live music playing along the course but carefully chosen to fit the needs of the runners at that point.
1. During sub-maximal running, music can narrow attention and, as a consequence, divert your mind from sensations of fatigue. This lowers your perception of effort and is a technique known as dissociation. This phenomenon can promote more positive mood through encouraging you to avoid thoughts that relate to the physical symptoms of fatigue. Also, music increases positive aspects of mood such as vigour and happiness but reduces negative aspects such as tension and depression.
2. Music alters emotional and physiological arousal and can therefore be applied as a type of stimulant or sedative prior to competition to ease your nerves and curb your anxiety. In such instances, the music is used before running to help you achieve the right mindset. Some athletes use very upbeat music to psych-up while others use slow-tempo music to psych-down. Music is considered by some athletes as a “legal drug” with the added advantage of no unwanted side effects!
3. Numerous studies have shown that the synchronisation of music with repetitive exercise results in increased levels of work output. This applies to activities such as rowing, cycling and cross-country skiing as well as running. Musical tempo can regulate movement and reduce the energy expenditure or “oxygen uptake” required during running. Recent research shows that during moderate intensity exercise synchronous music can help to reduce energy expenditure by 6%.
4. The rhythmical qualities of music emulate the pattern of some physical skills. Therefore, music can enhance the acquisition of motor skills and create a better learning environment. Essentially, the performance of running drills can be improved by the presence of background music while, during a long run, music can enhance your technique and make you a more efficient athlete.
An interesting example of how technology is changing music, except this one is aim at small children. Imprint Talk
Japanese magazine for the first graders, “Shougaku Ichinensei“, covers popular Mangas and some educational stuff. Every issue, there is a special supplement to the magazine, but the latest issue’s supplement was way too cool “Finger Piano”.
The original article has video of a child trying it but more impressive is this video of an adult using it to play When The Saints Go Marching In.
The quality of sound the device makes is poor but this is a toy given away on the cover of a magazine. For $10 or so it would be possible to manufacture a device with better sound and include an LCD display that teaches the user how to play a tune.
Such a device would help dyslexic children and other children with sound sensitivities who can be overwhelmed by typical classroom teaching. Even one-on-one teaching can be futile because of the demands it places in the child. To play a piano the child has to listen to what the teacher is saying, find the right notes on the keyboard, press them in time and in the right order, and listen to the sound of the notes they have just played. All this is needs to happen at the same time. A difficult task for someone with an underdeveloped cerebellum.
A device that allowed the child to learn one their own, at the own pace, and gives feedback or score as to how well they are doing would make learning music so much easier.
I was so smitten by the idea of Guitar Hero on the DS I’ve set up a web site all about it: Guitar Hero: On Tour
Linking education to the iPhone may seem like a huge leap but in two to three years it will be obvious.
Really I’m not talking about the iPhone, its about the iTouch (which is the iPhone without the phone bit) and what I’m really focusing on is the technology that drives it: the multi-touch screen; high quality graphics and sound; WiFi allowing it internet access anywhere. All this in a unit half the size of a DVD box. It may be expensive and only available from Apple but over the next few months, similar but cheaper products will be appearing. In two years time it will be bigger, better and everywhere.
This technology is not the only factor at play. Basic skills such as short-term memory and rhythm are showing themselves to have unexpected and significant impact on general levels of success. (See Intelligent Insights and Tick Tock Talk for more). Now couple this with the popularity of Dr Kawashima braining games on the Nintendo DS and the potential for a small, handheld education device is amazing. The One Laptop Per Child is setting the standard for creating robust, affordable devices that are suitable for children. Next may be the One iPhone Per Child or as it should be called, the iLearn.
This may seem unlikely and there are certainly a number of problems to overcome. Not least is that brain training hasn’t been conclusively be shown to work other than in limited areas. We need proof that learning how to playing a memory or rhythm game actually helps in the classroom. RoboMemo and Interactive Metronome have pointed the way with ADHD but more work is need. There also needs to be an open standard that has a long-life so schools can buy from multiple different suppliers knowing they will work together and that they are not going to be redundant in a couple of years.
The potential for an iPhone type device is amazing. The iGuitar and the iAno show just how much is possible on these devices. Being WiFi ready, an iLearn can download new content and enable group learning games. The teacher can easily have a master control unit that overrides or turns off the iLearn when required. All this could be done on a laptop now but laptops are fragile and, for a five to ten year-old, they are bulky. A small unit, the size of a paperback book would make it a usable size but manageable for small hands.
What the iPhone represents is a new class of handheld devices that allow real interaction with their users. Tiny keyboards and unreadable screens are a thing of the past. What we are finding out about the brain gives us unprecedented insight into how we learn and what intelligence really is. Some day soon, these two forces will combine in the iLearn.
Do you have an iPhone? Would you like to learn to play guitar? Then PocketGuitar is for you! Its an iPhone homebrew application (meaning you need to hack your iPhone to make it run) that uses the iPhone multitouch screen as fret board so that you can practice your chords whilst away from your guitar.
Another wonderful way technology can help to train your brain.
The Corpus Callosum is a large structure in the brain that connects the two hemispheres. Its roll is to pass information from the left hemisphere to the right and vice versa. This is a vital as the two hemispheres perform different tasks and need to communicate efficiently. The Corpus Callosum has been linked by scientists to dyslexia and ADHD for a long time. They theorize that the problems in these conditions may be caused by insufficient information passing between the two halves of the brain.
Plenty of research has been done on the size of the Corpus Callosum in dyslexics and in children with ADHD and the results have generally found a correlation. Its seems that the anterior region of the Corpus Callosum was significantly smaller in the dyslexic children. However the results are not clear cut with at least one study has found no difference in dyslexic versus non-dyslexic children and another study on adult, male dyslexics found areas of the Corpus Callosum were larger that normal.
These variation in results may have several causes. How the study defines dyslexia when selecting there sample population may make an impact. The sophistication of the equipment used is important. Some of these studies date back to the early 1990’s when fMRI technology was still new so the ability to accurately measure the Corpus Callosum may of been poorer. Our knowledge of the brains structure has also improved and later studies have tended to focus on specific areas of the Corpus Callosum, partially areas linked to the processing of sounds. However, with a lot of maybes and provisos it does look like the Corpus Callosum in dyslexic and ADHD children is subtly different.
Being able to efficiently pass information from one half of the brain to the other is vital. Much like a road between to busy cities. The better the road, the more information, wealth and trade will flow between the cities. So in dyslexic and ADHD children this road may be poor and restricting vital traffic. But there is hope that this roadway can be improved.
Its has been found that the Corpus Callosum was larger in professional musicians than in non-musicians. Playing instruments involves a lot of cross hemisphere processing to keep both hand’s movements in time with each other. This suggest that by regular practice the Corpus Callosum can be strengthen. The Dore Program, Interactive Metronome and primitive reflex based treatments such as INPP all involve cross-lateral movements designed to train this area of the brain. Other activities may also help. Such as computer games like Wii Drums and some aspects of Wii Fit may also help.
If you would like to try out your Corpus Callosum, have a look at this test on Mind Hacks. You will need a friend to help you but otherwise it is an extremely simple demonstration of what the Corpus Callosum does.
Dyslexia and corpus callosum morphology
Magnetic resonance imaging of the corpus callosum in developmental dyslexia
Corpus callosum morphology, as measured with MRI, in dyslexic men
Developmental Dyslexia: Re-Evaluation of the Corpus callosum in Male Adults
Less developed corpus callosum in dyslexic subjects—a structural MRI study
Increased corpus callosum size in musicians
Doing the post on the Wii Drums remindered me of a book I wanted to write about. Its 4-Way Coordination: A Method Book for the Development of Complete Independence on the Drum Set . I forget how I found it but it immediately got my attention as a way of learning cross-lateral and limb-independent movements. Drummers need to be able to use each of their four limbs independently from each other and this takes a lot of time to learn. Education problems such as dyslexia and ADHD are linked to a poorly developed cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls the limbs, and retained primitive reflexes which restrict limb movements. Training regimes such as the Dore Programme teach children (and adults like myself) how to use their bodies. If this book has a good training method for limb independence that doesn’t focus on drumming it could be and effective resource of parents.
Here is what one of its reviews says:
You don’t need a drumset to work it — all you need are hands and feet to
get better. the “score” is set out in various patterns of LH,RH, LF, RF
(left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot). So if you can’t get
enough of drumming, take this on the road with you for vacations, work
trips, whatever and work on breaking the mold. The floor, your knees
and any flat surface in front of you will do for practice.
This is one of the few drum books you can literally practice from
anywhere at anytime with nothing but the book and you.
I’ve ordered a copy and will be reviewing it soon.