It has long been known that the development of musical skills enhances memory and brain function. Learning to play a musical instrument is an excellent memory tool. According to researchers, music helps to strengthen memory as well as other areas of the brain, but still are not able to understand why.

“Piano practicing fine tunes the brain circuitries that temporally bind signals from our senses,” say researchers at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and Michigan State University in Lansing. The team studied the role of the ability of a piano player to sight-read a new piece of music, a very complex and important musical skill, and how it relates to working memory capacity. “They aren’t reading the notes their fingers are currently playing; they’re looking ahead to read the notes that are coming next,” according to Elizabeth J. Meinz of SIU and David Z. Hambrick of MSU. All musicians do this, they said.


Their study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Researchers asked pianists to sight read six pieces from a book of sight-reading tests with various levels of difficulty. The book was chosen for its rarity in the United States, so the pianists would not be familiar with its contents. Each pianist was asked about their piano-playing history, including how many hours per week they practice in each year they’d been playing, and took tasks that measured their working memory capacity. In the end they were judged on technical proficiency, musicality, and overall performance.

Practice time was important, as was working memory capacity. “Practice is absolutely important to performance,” says Meinz. “But our study does suggest that cognitive abilities, particularly working memory capacity, might limit the ultimate level of performance that could be attained.”

A similar study out the Max Plack Institute for Biological Cybernetics compared the brain’s ability to process information from different stimulus of senses for both musicians and non-musicians. Researchers mapped their brains with an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) in order to see which areas were most active while they listened to music.

In pianists, “the visualization of asynchronous music and hand movements triggers increased error signals in areas of the brain involving the cerebellum, premotor and associative. The study shows that our sensorimotor experience influences the way in which the brain temporally links signals from different senses during perception,” researchers said.

Due to the fact that our world is full of sensual stimuli, our brains are constantly linking impressions in a way that makes sense. The Planck Institute study shows how the brain integrates stimuli from several senses and how the circuits in the brain change as a result of learning. The window for the temporal integration of the stimuli in the pianists is clearly narrower than in non-musicians,” says HweeLing Lee of the Planck Institute.



About the author:

Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion . As a memory speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life.




Science Daily – Playing Music Alters the Processing of Multiple Sensory Stimuli in the Brain:

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