Psychology Magazine

Pianists’ Brains Are Different from Everyone Else...

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds

Because I'm a pianist who started lessons at age 6 and now usually give two concerts a year, I'm always fascinated by articles like this one from a music site (pointed out to me by my artistic daughter-in-law, who does improvisation theater), that points to several interesting studies on brain changes that are caused by high level music training, most pronounced if training is begun before age 7. Because the hands of pianists must negotiate 88 keys with ten fingers, sometimes playing 10 notes at once, the normal asymmetry of hand motor area of the brain associated with being right or left handed is reduced. (Usually the brain's central sulcus that contains the hand motor area is deeper on the dominant side.) Watson summarizes a number of other differences in hand and motor coordination. Also, high level music training enhances ability to integrate sensory information from hearing, touch, and sight. Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, leading to less reliance on working memory and more extensive connectivity within the brain. Finally, when experienced pianists play and improvise, they literally switch off the part of the brain associated with providing stereotypical responses, ensuring that they play with their own unique voice and not the voices of others.


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