Practice, practice, practice

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: April 17th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice.

Yes, it’s an old joke. But it turns out there may be some science behind it. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas and Northwestern University suggests that practice, training and expertise are what hones a musician’s ear… not genetic predisposition.

To test the theory, music cognition researchers asked highly trained classical musicians who played either the flute or the violin to listen to two familiar Bach pieces. One featured the violin while the other highlighted the flute.

As they listened, an M-R-I scanned and recorded their brain activity. Scientists thought the difference between the musicians would be minimal because they all had extensive experience with classical music.

They were wrong. When the musicians listened to the selection that featured their particular instrument, they engaged many more areas of the brain, including areas related to motor control, sense of self and the suppression of unwanted movements.

This suggests that musicians can detect subtle differences in sound when listening to their instrument of expertise.

The findings, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, may have an impact on the way music is taught and performed. Right now, the appreciation of classical music is largely a passive activity because audience members are encouraged to sit quietly and listen. But perhaps making appreciation more active would create a better understanding of the sounds. That could be music to everyone’s ears!