Musicians and the brain: Insights from neuroscience

Musicians and the brain: Insights from neuroscience

There have been large advances in the understanding of brain changes in musicians compared to non-musicians. Musical performance is one area neuroscience research is extending our knowledge of neural plasticity of the brain.

Musicians and the brain: Insights from neuroscience

There are distinct differences in the brains of musicians versus non-musicians due to the large and complex nature of the integration of multimodal sensory input, motor information, and auditory monitoring during a musical performance. Musicians demonstrate plastic adaptations in the brain’s neuronal networks and its overall structure. The pronounced differences in brain plasticity between musicians and non-musicians is believed to be due to two factors:

1. early musical training, starting at around age 6 is at the same time the central nervous system is at its highest adaptive ability;

2. musical activities are lined to positive emotions which are known to enhance plastic adaptations.

Musicians and neuroscienceMusical performance requires a highly integrated and developed auditory-motor system. It also requires a high level of sensorimotor feedback and adaptation. Many years of musical instrument practice enhance the integration and linkages of these systems, and the associated cortical regions of the brain develop with them. FMRI has shown that the regions of the brain responsible for motor activation in pianists shows far greater increases in activity in response to auditory stimulus than non-musicians.

Comparisons of brain anatomy in musicians and non-musicians show enlargement of hand areas in the motor cortex and increases in grey matter density in musicians compared to non-musicians. Professional pianists and violinists tend to have larger front portion of the corpus callosum than non-musicians.

When instrumental music training begins at an early age, the brain is able to make plastic adaptations of the central nervous system by enlarging brain structures involved in these musical skills.

 

Altenmüler, E. (2008). Neurology of musical performance. Clinical Medicine, 8(4), 410-414.

Musicians and the brain: Insights from neuroscience

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