Musically gifted brain
Just as short-term learning increases the number of neurons that respond to sound, prolonged learning enhances the response of nerve cells and even causes physical changes in the brain. The reactions of the brain of professional musicians are significantly different from the reactions of non-musicians, and some areas of their brain are overdeveloped.
In 1998, Christo Pantev of the University of Münster in Germany showed that when musicians listen to the piano, the area of the auditory zones reacting to music is 25% more than non-musicians. Children’s studies also confirm the suggestion that early musical experience facilitates “musical” brain development. In 2004, Antoine Shahin, Larry E. Roberts and Laurel J. Trainor from McMaster University in Ontario recorded the reactions of 4-5-year-old children to the sounds of pianos, violins and pure tones. The children, in whose houses music was constantly heard, revealed a higher activity of the auditory areas of the brain than those who were three years older, but did not listen to music.
In 2002, Peter Schneider from the University of Heidelberg in Germany reported that the volume of the auditory cortex of musicians is 30% higher than that of people not related to music. In addition, they have a large area of the brain involved in controlling the movement of the fingers, which is necessary for playing various instruments. In 1995, Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz (Germany) reported that the area of brain zones receiving sensory moves from the index, middle, ring fingers and little finger of his left hand was considerably larger than that of non-musicians (these fingers and make quick and complex movements while playing the instrument). On the other hand, the scientists did not reveal any increase in the area of the cortical zones receiving inputs from the right hand, in which the musician holds the bow and whose fingers do not make any special movements. And finally, in 2001, it was revealed that the trumpeter brain generates responses of increased amplitude only to the sounds of the trumpet, but not the violin or the piano.
Ode to joy or sorrow?
Researchers study not only the processing by the brain of the “acoustic” component of music, but also the processes by which it affects people emotionally. In one of these works, it was shown that physical reactions to music (in the form of goosebumps, tears, laughter, etc.) occur in 80% of adults. According to a survey conducted in 1995 by Jaak Panksepp of the University of Bowling Green, 70% of several hundred respondents said that they enjoy music, “because it creates emotions and feelings.”
Until recently, the mechanisms of such reactions remained a mystery to scientists. However, a study of a patient suffering from bilateral damage to the temporal lobes, affecting the auditory cortex, prompted an answer to the question that tormented us. The patient has preserved normal intelligence and general memory, there are no difficulties with language and speech. But she will not recognize the music (be it old or previously well-known works or new ones just listened to). The girl is not able to distinguish between two melodies, no matter how different they are. Nevertheless, she has normal emotional reactions to the music of different genres, and her ability to identify emotions with the mood of a piece of music is absolutely adequate. We assumed that the temporal lobes of the brain are necessary for understanding the melody, but not for the occurrence of an appropriate emotional reaction, in the development of which both the subcortical structures and the frontal lobes of the cortex are involved.