What Happens in Your Brain When You Learn a Song

The human neocortex learns and recognizes new songs with amazing efficiency. See how it works

The neocortex is the part of the human brain that processes the world around us. It controls language and motor function. It helps us recognize our friends’ faces or our favorite songs. And it’s where our brain stores all of the information we learn.  

When you listen to a song, the sounds enters your ears and neurons fire in your neocortex. If you hear that song a second time, fewer neurons will fire. This is because your brain forms new synapses when it recognizes the song as a pattern instead of as distinct notes. That’s how you learn a melody—and how you’re able to tell the difference between two similar songs.

Jeff Hawkins, founder of Numenta , a company that studies the neocortex, refers to this process as “learning through re-wiring”. Hawkins explains that neuroscientists used to think learning was based on how effectively existing synapses fired. Now, they understand the process differently. New synapses replace existing synapses, forming new patterns of firing neurons.

This realization gives scientists a better understanding of how the neocortex works, and Hawkins thinks it could lead to significant advances in intelligent machines that learn like humans.

Read more: What Intelligent Machines Need to Learn From the Neocortex


IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text