You probably knew this already, but now it has been proved: Musicians are different from you and me. Mounting evidence suggests that playing an instrument will literally change your brain to the point, even, of altering your motor system macroanatomically in some cases. In a forthcoming paper in NeuroImage Marc Bangert and his colleagues demonstrate that musicians also use their brains in a different manner. They imaged a group of musicians and a group of non-musicians using fMRI while either listening passively to a piano sequence or arbitrarily pressing the keys on a soundless piano keyboard. They then looked for differences in brain activity between the two groups in accomplishing these two tasks.
The passive listening task yielded more activation in the professional pianist group in premotor and motor cortex, in BA 10, in left inferior and superior temporal gyrus, and in left Broca’s area. The key-pressing task yielded extraordinary activity in the pianists in the medial frontal and precentral gyri, in dorsolateral PFC, in Broca’s area, and parts of the limbic system.
Bangert & Co afterwards performed a conjunction analysis, singling out the areas active more so in the pianist group in both tasks. According to the abstract of the papers
This network is comprised of dorsolateral and inferior frontal cortex (including Broca’s area), the superior temporal gyrus (Wernicke’s area), the supramarginal gyrus, and supplementary motor and premotor areas.
It is hardly surprising that professional pianists recruit a network of brain processes different from that of novices when playing. But that they also listen to music in a different manner – at least using a different neurocognitive system in their brains – is very interesting news. Could it be that their phenomenal experience is also different?
Bangert, M. et al. (in press): Shared networks for auditory and motor processing in professional pianists: Evidence from fMRI conjunction. NeuroImage, to appear.