Brain morphology change in professional piano players.


It is well established in the academic literature that the repetitive practice of any procedure can with time induce changes in the brain, known as neuroplasticity. In the past I have covered neuroplasticity changes on this site in professional dancers and sports players. Just like going to the gym to exercise the regular use of any set of muscles can cause changes, the same is true for the brain.

Over the last decade research has been carried out into neuroplasticity in keyboard and piano players. The intensity of practice for fine motor skills in professional musicians is an ideal example of learning-induced neuroplastic change in the brain. The extensive practice on a day-to-day basis of any musical instrument requires a considerable use of attention, memory and executive functions (planning, etc).

A recent study published in the journal NeuroImage has investigated these morphological changes in piano players. The study has found significant differences in the brains between professional piano players and non-musicians. The results of the study found that expert pianists had a greater grey-matter volume in the bilateral putamen, right thalamus, lingual gyri and left superior temporal gyri. Decreases in grey-matter volumes compared to non-musicians were observed in the right supramarginal, right superior temporal and right postcentral gyri in expert pianists who have played the piano since childhood.

This study reveals a complex pattern of neuroplasticity in the brain that aids in expertise by not only increasing grey-matter volume but decreasing in some regions. Sustained musical training was found to display a reduction in grey-matter in areas that are involved in sensorimotor control, auditory processing and musical score reading.

Unlike the intuitive idea that training on one task for years can increase grey-matter volume in the area associated with the task this shows that neuroplasticity is more complex then at first thought, a decrease in grey-matter volume may reflect the increase in efficacy of the relevant neurological region.

The extensive literature on neuroplasticity demonstrates that you too can change your brain with practice at anything. With time a patience the brain as the greatest adaptive tool we have can change to enable any of us to become an expert at whatever task we choose to pursue.

Source article: Vasquero et al, (2016).

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Daniel Edgcumbe

I am studying towards my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at a leading London university

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