60-Second Mind

Musicians Think Differently from the Rest of Us

New research shows that musicians simultaneously use both sides of their brain more often than nonmusicians

 [Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

At the top of The New Yorker magazine’s entertainment listings is this warning:  “Musicians live complicated lives…; it’s advisable to call ahead to confirm engagements.”

Well an article in press at the journal Brain and Cognition confirms that musicians have more going on in their brains than the rest of us: they use both hemispheres, more frequently. (Whether this leads to their so-called “complicated lives,” is yet to be confirmed.)

The researchers discovered this dual-activity when they measured the creativity of 20 piano, percussion, wind and string players. The musicians were asked to invent new functions for common household objects. On average, they came up with 14 more uses than nonmusicians could.  

In a second experiment musicians dreamed up new uses for everyday items while the prefrontal lobes in their brains got scanned.  And musicians had more activity in both sides of their frontal lobes than nonmusicians did.

Researchers think these findings fit with musical talent—for example, pianists use each hand simultaneously to play different melodies and rhythms. And they read notes, a left-hemisphere task, and immediately turn them into music, a right-hemisphere job.

When it comes to creativity, harmonious hemispheres make beautiful music together.

—Christie Nicholson


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