Musicians have bigger brains

Musicians have bigger brains. Music and neuroscience.

Musicians have bigger brains

Did you know the brain region responsible for muscle coordination, the motor cortex, looks like a hand in musicians?

Did you also know that the motor cortex in musicians is bigger than in non-musicians?


Musical training shapes the structure of the brain’s hand region

The part which represents the hand in the motor cortex of musicians resembles the shape of a hand and takes up more space in the motor cortex region than in non-musicians. The research tells us that musical training shapes the structures of the brain.

This is very interesting research on music and the brain and is leading researchers to understand more how about how musical training is shaping the brain. However, there is still much we don’t know about the brain and the part musical training has in brain development.

Music, musicians and language research in the brain

Music and language have been a large research area. This is because they are forms of auditory processing, although there are differences. These are differences are:

  • music is slower than speech
  • pitch has stability

The big difference between music and language is that language is important for human survival, music is not (obviously an argument here in favour of music, but that’s for another time). However, this leads to the next point. Music is believed to be an evolutionary adaptation or an inherited trait, due to the fact it uses the same auditory processors and regions as language.

This is the major debate which spurred research into music and language processing in the brain—the shared auditory processing and its relation ot the evolutionary perspective. Research thus far has demonstrated that music and language processing emanates from similar regions of the brain. The major question is how much or to what degree does music and language rely on the same parts of the brain? The evidence for this is mixed.

The major questions surrounding this are:

  • Whether the brain is modular and processes music and language in separate modules or regions, or
  • Whether the processing of music and language is connected across regions of the brain.

Anatomy of the Brain for musicians

Important to this research is understanding where the regions of the brain are located. The brain is divided into lobe regions for clarity and these brain regions are believed to have specific functions:

Temporal Lobe

Central area for auditory processing (music and language).

Frontal Lobe

Fine motor skills.

Occipital Lobe

Visual representations and sight.

Parietal Lobe

Touch perception and body orientation.

Cerebellum

Balance and coordination.

Regions of the brain

Left and right brain hemispheres for musicians

Left and right hemispheres of the brain are also believed to be homologous, that is, they match each other. Furthermore, brain hemispheres are believed to perform different functions and tasks. For example, the left hemisphere of the brain has a dominant role for language processing while the right has a dominant role for music processing. However, this is not hard science and it is believed that certain functions require several areas of the brain.

Brain activation in musicians

Recent fMRI research in musicians shows a lateralisation (left and right hemisphere locations) for music and language processing. However, lateralisation is not an all or nothing result. Researchers have found that there is activation in both hemispheres for the brain for music and language processing. This suggests that music and language processing is integrated rather than modular, again supporting the evolutionary basis of music and language as important to survival.

Broca region of the brain

The broca region of the brain, which is responsible for speech production, has recently been found to play a role in the perception and processing of musical structure. This region responds in a similar fashion to the syntax of music and speech (Koelsch et al, 2002).

At present, we do know that music and language share some of the processing regions and paths in the brain and that musicians brains are different to non-musicians in a number of ways.

—Musicians and the brain—

© iteachpiano 2021

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