Jazz Shapes the Brain

Jazz Shapes the Brain

Making music changes the brain plasticity

As does classical music and rock/pop music. We are talking about the complex capacity of producing music, doing it yourself. As one of the most specialized skills that the human organism is able to acquire, it can have big influence on the so-called brain plasticity (a characteristic of the brain structure which can change as a result of experience). Numerous scientists already investigated the musical cognitive skills of musicians versus non-musicians, by looking at the brain structure and function and their results did indeed show differences in the auditory and motor systems.

But science always treated musicians as a unified group. Now, the neuroscientists Vuust et al. wanted to know if different genres of music shape the musicians’ brains in different ways. So they did a survey with 11 non-musicians, 7 classical musicians, 10 jazz musicians and 14 rock musicians. The main task for all the participants was to watch a silent movie. Thereby, more or less passively, they heard the auditory stimuli (the Alberti Bass – a simple base line used in all three genres). Within the repetitive stimuli the third note was always slightly changed regarding pitch, timbre, location of sound source, intensity and rhythm. During the experiment, the musical discrimination skills were measured by EEG – significant reactions of the brain whilst hearing a certain sound feature implied a high sensibility towards it.

Different music, different brain parts

The results confirm Vuust’s assumptions: different kinds of music training are able to challenge different brain functions and influence them for the long run. Here are some findings.

The rock musicians were the less sensible participants except from the non-musicians. This might come from the fact that they start quite late to practice their instruments and that they place more emphasis on style than on perfection. Classical musicians were most specialized in timbre processing. The use of “color” being one of their main means of expression. The jazz musicians were leading in pitch, location, intensity and rhythm processing. Jazz music is the most complex music genre regarding harmony and rhythm patterns. In addition to this, musicians have to communicate on a high level while improvising.

In the end, there is only one winner in shaping the brain the best: Jazz.

Vuust, P., Brattico, E., Seppänen, M., Näätänen, R., & Tervaniemi, M. (2012). The sound of music: Differentiating musicians using a fast, musical multi-feature mismatch negativity paradigm Neuropsychologia DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.02.028

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