Sunday, June 6, 2010

Music Neuroscience Overview

In this article talking about upcoming talks and workshops at this year's Aldeburg Festival, Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct,  gives the best overview of the present state of music neuroscience I've come across. Here are a couple of paragraphs.

It’s still not known if AP (absolute pitch) is inherited (that is, genetic) or acquired. But it probably has more to do with language than music, being much more common among people whose first language is tonal, such as Chinese. In one study, half of the new students at a top music school in Beijing were found to have AP, compared to just one in ten for a comparable American school. And musicians with AP have an enlarged region of the brain associated with speech processing.

Neuroimaging has shown that practising an instrument purely in one’s head really works: the motor cortex signals associated with each finger get stronger without the pianist actually moving them, and eventually the finger movements trigger audible tones inside the head. Vladimir Horowitz is said to have practised this way to avoid “contaminating” his finger movements with the different action of pianos other than his own Steinway, while bon-vivant virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein did it just to avoid having to sit for long hours at a piano.

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