New Study Shows How Musicians' Brain Waves Work
We are able to hear and process sounds thanks to cortical oscillations, which are "the rhythmic firing of neurons in the brain" as reporter for ABC Science Bianca Nogrady puts it. In order to hear a single person talk in a room full of people, you have to synchronize these cortical oscillations to the rhythm of speech.
In a new study, New York University researchers decided to test how similar this synchronization is when listening to music.
"I wanted to see if the musical rhythms actually relate to the rhythms in the brain," Mr Keith Doelling told Nogrady.
Mr Doelling and Professor David Poeppel in a study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science recorded the neuronal brain activity in 12 musicians and 27 non-musicians as they listened to three clips of classical music from Bach, Beethoven and Brahms multiple times.
While all of the subjects showed synchronized cortical oscillations with the tempo of each piece of music, the musicians' synchronization was more precise and exact, as they more accurately tracked slow beats.
"Maybe non-musicians are having a harder time grouping the notes, so if you hear a note that just once every two seconds you might not really make it into a melody, you might just see it as individual notes," Mr Doelling concluded.
While the musicians all came from different musical backgrounds and have studied or played a variety of genres, there was a clear correlation between the number of years of training and the ability to better synchronize. These individuals were also able to identify pitch distortions, while those with less synchronization accuracy were not.
The study will continue as the Mr. Doelling wants to determine whether the non-musicians can get up to speed with the musicians' synchronization by listening to a single piece over and over again.