Musicians make the Music what it is...

15 July 2008
Posted by Chris Smith.

A paper in PLoS One this week shows that musicians are worth their weight in gold.

Louis Armstrong, jazz trumpeterSussex University researcher Stefan Koelsch and his colleagues measured the brainwave activity and skin conductances of 20 non-musical volunteers as they listened to short renditions of famous piano sonatas played either by an experienced pianist, or by a computer.  Crucially the computerised versions of the music were arranged so that the keystroke velocities and the tempos were the same.

The results showed that the subjects' brains responded to the music both when played by the computer or by the human, and the brain activity was greatest when there were unusual and unexpected chord changes.  But most striking was that the peaks in brain activity were greatest when the music was performed by a human compared with the computerised version.

"It was interesting to us that the emotional reactions to the unexpected chords were stronger when played with musical expression," says Koelsch. "This shows us how musicians can enhance the emotional response to particular chords due to their performance."  So presumably those who are viewed as very gifted players know exactly how to press our neurological buttons in just the right way...

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