For at least 25 years, neuroscientists have been studying music and the process of making music as a window to learning more about human brain function in general. Musicians make great subjects for two reasons: 1) long-term practice of an instrument actually causes both structural and functional changes in the brain, and 2) learning a musical instrument is a very complex skill in terms of multisensory (audio, visual, kinesthetic) and sensorimotor processing. In fact, many neuroscientists say that making music is one of the most complex processes, if not the most complex process, that exists for humans.
The brain basis of almost every aspect of music has been studied, from basic elements of pitch, rhythm, and melody, to more complex issues such as sight reading, emotion, memory, and performance anxiety. In the past few years, neuroimaging techniques have allowed researchers to explore questions that, at one time, were subjects only for speculation. For example, what parts of your brain light up when you are listening to jazz, or when you are listening to Bach?
This is a fascinating time to be a musician. The field of neuroscience and music is exploding and the passion professional performers and amateurs have for making music is an important part of that explosion of knowledge. As musicians, we need to make use of this wealth of information to inform our own teaching, study and performance.
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