Can we see music

musical research Music in brain research


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Imaging methods can show what happens in the brain when listening to music. The pictures give an idea of ​​how many brain areas are involved in making music. And there are abnormalities in the brains of classical or jazz pianists.

Status: March 1st, 2021

When making music or listening to music, endorphins are released. These are the body's own happiness hormones that are also produced by eating and exercising, during sex and through drugs. To see what happens when listening to music, a look into the brain, so to speak, has only been made possible by imaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

When a person listens to music, the structures are first processed in the brain stem. At this level the music has not yet entered consciousness. This only happens when the stimuli reach the hearing center, the so-called auditory cortex. Only then are instruments or voices differentiated.

The brain processes every music differently

Our brain reveals what music we are listening to.

What music we listen to reveals the pattern of our brain activity. In August 2013, a research team led by study leader Vinoo Alluri from the University of Iyväskylä in Finland investigated whether and how the pattern of activity also differs between different musical genres. For their study, they played several different pieces of music to test subjects, including excerpts from a Vivaldi concert, a jazz piece by Miles Davis, blues, an Argentine tango and a piece by the Beatles. While the participants listened to the music, the researchers recorded their brain activity using the fMRI. As expected, there were some areas that were activated by all types of music: areas in the auditory cortex, the emotion-processing limbic system, and the motor cortex. But there were also differences: Particularly complex pieces of music triggered a higher level of activity in the right temporal lobe. And something else became clear: in songs with lyrics, for example pop songs, the activity shifted from the left to the right hemisphere.

There is more gray matter in musician's brains.

With the help of cross-sectional images of the human brain, it was shown that the connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the so-called corpus callosum, is much stronger in musicians' brains. And there is more gray matter in regions that are responsible for motor skills, auditory and spatial-visual perception.

"It's strange, but from a neuroscientific point of view, everything suggests that the most useless performance humans are capable of - and that is undoubtedly carefree, unintentional singing - has the greatest beneficial effect on children's brain development."

Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther, Head of the Central Office for Neurobiological Prevention Research at the University of Göttingen and Mannheim / Heidelberg

Music leaves some people cold

Not everyone can enjoy music.

While music lovers rave about their most beautiful concerts, the other leaves completely cold. Neuroscientists around Josep Marco-Pallarés from the University of Barcelona found out in March 2014 that some people are completely immune to the effects of music. The researchers speak of anhedonia - the inability to feel joy. In tests, the participants recognized whether the music was happy or sad, but they did not allow themselves to be infected by the feelings. The researchers assume that their reward system in the brain works differently. Because the test persons were quite capable of joy, for example when they could win money in a game. Only music didn't work for them.

Making music requires maximum concentration: hearing, seeing and moving take place at the same time.

There is not the a music center in the brain. Music activates the most varied of brain regions at the same time. Because making music demands a complicated interplay of very different skills: the sense of hearing, the sense of sight, the sense of touch, the fine motor skills. Recent studies have shown that even the Broca area, one of the two language centers, is involved in the processing of music. And that in turn has an impact on our cognitive and emotional development.

Music professionals have different brains than laypeople

Music and brains: professional musicians have more gray matter in their brains.

Researchers at the University of Jena, in collaboration with Gottfried Schlaug from Harvard Medical School in Boston, discovered that the brains of professional musicians are noticeably different from those of non-musicians. Areas that are responsible for hearing, spatial vision and the implementation of movement were significantly enlarged in musicians. Probably because musicians not only have to think ahead in their playing and perform the appropriate movements to the music, but at the same time should also check whether they have played correctly.

  • Evolution and Music - Why People Make Music: IQ, January 15, 2029, 6:05 p.m., Bavaria 2
  • Different brains of musicians: nano, 09/20/2018, 5:45 p.m., ARD-alpha
  • The brains of jazz and classical pianists tick differently: IQ - Science and Research, January 19, 2018, 6:05 p.m., Bavaria 2
  • Music makes you smart: December 3, 2016 at 3:40 am in "Geist und Brain", ARD alpha
  • Music in the head - what does music do to our brain? December 6, 2014 at 10.30 am in "Xenius", BR TV