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What happens in our brain when we play a musical instrument such as piano?

In 2006 I've finished the 7 year long piano class in "[Jaronimo Kacinsko Muzikos Mokykla][1]". Although I did not become a professional musician I still find playing the piano really satisfying. There was one question ever since which still bothers me: what exactly happens to the brain on music. This blog post is just some notes from what I found out using various resources.

So to begin with here is our wonderful organ - The Brain :

brain

Which part of the brain deals with music?

When we listen to music our brain activity is seriously increased. Many parts of the brain fire up and scientist can see this kind of activity through various analytical apparatus such as fMRI. Auditory cortex of the brain deals first with the sound. Then follows the analysis of the whole musical piece: our brain analyses tone, pitch, tempo, rhythm, melody and so on. These occur in many different parts of the brain. Roughly speaking there are around 20-30 different parts of the brain involved when we have the musical experience. And it is important to note that it is different amongst individuals.

Here is a fMRI picture while listening to piano:

fmri

Figure1. Axial slice renderings of mean activations (red/yellow scale bar) and deactivations (blue/green scale bar) associated with improvisation during Scale and Jazz paradigms. From: Limb CJ, Braun AR (2008) Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679

With fMRI you can actually distinguish the brain of the musical person and non musical because constantly playing and practicing music enlarges various areas of the brain - the corpus callosum, also parts of the auditory cortex, part of the cerebellum, part of the frontal lobe cortex - there are sometimes striking changes which can occur within a YEAR or with a single year of musical training. So we can basically alter our brains by playing music.

To be continued...

Vito


References:

  1. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, April 2013, Vol. 17, No. 4
  2. Henry Gray (1825–1861), Anatomy of the Human Body, 1918, Fig.720.
  3. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15362954
  4. The Journal of Neuroscience, 10 January 2007, 27(2): 308-314; doi:
    10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4822-06.2007
  5. Limb CJ, Braun AR (2008) Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical
    Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation. PLoS ONE 3(2):
    e1679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679
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