Neurons in the brain fire in sync to music. Musical training may enhance this ability, and perhaps some other skills.
While listening to music you might find yourself tapping your foot or bobbing your head to the beat. What you might not have expected is that as you listen to your favorite tune, the rhythms in your brain also follow along.
Brain rhythms arise when large groups of neurons fire together. Previous studies have shown that listening to someone talk can elicit such activity. Now research reveals that brain rhythms also synchronize with musical sequences. And musical training can enhance this ability. The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Keith B. Doelling and David Poeppel, Cortical entrainment to music and its modulation by expertise].
Magnetoencelphalography, or MEG, is a technique that measures the tiny magnetic fields generated by brain activity. Researchers used MEG to compare the brains of musicians and nonmusicians while the subjects tried to detect small changes in pitch during short clips of classical piano music by composers like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. The trained musicians, not surprisingly, tracked the pitch changes better.
When it came to tempo, musicians and nonmusicians alike synched their brains to the music—when the music had more than one note per second. But when faced with slower tempos, only the brains of musicians synched up.
Because speech and music share similar brain networks, it’s possible that musical training thus could also improve linguistic abilities. So pick up your instrument of choice and play away—you might not feel it, but your brain waves will dance along to your favorite song.
Executive Producer: Eliene Augenbraun
Producer: Benjamin Meyers
Writer and Narrator: Diana Kwon
Audio Engineer and Editor: Steve Mirsky
Stock Footage and Images: VideoBlocks, ©iStock.com, Polina Shuvaeva/©iStock.com
Brainwave Data (Adapted From): Keith Doelling, N.Y.U., Department of Psychology