Musicians Have Brains With Stronger Connections Than Non-musicians

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Brain Network Artist Concept

The brains of musicians have stronger structural and functional connections compared to those of non-musicians, regardless of innate pitch ability, according to new research from JNeurosci.

Years of musical training shape the brain in dramatic ways. A minority of musicians — with Mozart and Michael Jackson in their ranks — also possess absolute pitch, the ability to identify a tone without a reference. But, it remains unclear how this ability impacts the brain.

Musicians Have More Connected Brains

Subnetworks with increased connectivity in absolute pitch (AP) musicians compared to non-musicians. Credit: Leipold et al., JNeurosci 2021

In the biggest sample to date, Leipold et al. compared the brains of professional musicians, some with absolute pitch and some without, to non-musicians. To the team’s surprise, there were no strong differences between the brains of musicians with and without absolute pitch ability; instead absolute pitch may shape the brain in more subtle ways.

Compared to non-musicians, both types of musicians had stronger functional connectivity — the synchronized activity of brain regions — in the auditory regions of both brain hemispheres. Musicians also had stronger white matter connections between auditory regions and lobes involved in various types of high-level processing. Musicians that began their training at a younger age had stronger structural connections than musicians with a later start.

These results demonstrate how experience shapes the brain, especially early in life, and how enhanced musical skills are represented in our brain.

Reference: “Musical Expertise Shapes Functional and Structural Brains Networks Independent of Absolute Pitch Ability” 25 January 2021, Journal of Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1985-20.2020





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