We all knew musicians were "different"

In 1995 some studies were conducted on professional musicians to see how their brains might be different from the rest of us. Since the age of phrenology, scientists have thought that certain areas of brain anatomy held talents. Although there is not a specific section for musical ability, the brains of musicians are quite unique.

When neurologists stimulate the cortex, they notice that certain regions control the sensory input to specific areas of the body. The illustration at the right shows how the surface of the body is represented in corresponding regions of the cortex. Not all areas have the same sensitivity. The larger proportions show how many neurons are devoted to each part of the anatomy. This is sometimes called a "cortex map".

When the same regions were examined for musicians, it was discovered that these regions were markedly changed to suit their specific needs. Guitar players had enlarged regions corresponding to the hand involved in making chords, but not in the hand that strums the strings. Pianists had both hands enlarged on the cortex map and also certain regions of the anterior corpus collosum, which connects the two hemispheres and coordinates hand movements. Exceptional pianists also had marked spacing between each finger's cortex map.

Other differences were noticed in regions of the brain responsible for processing rhythm and pitch. But these differences were very specific. For example, a pianist could tell if a piano string was ever so slightly out of tune, yet would not notice the same fault in a violin, guitar or even a sine-wave tone generator. Each musician had used the brain's plasticity to their specific needs.

"These findings indicate that, after years of musical training, neuronal popula- tions in the auditory cortex might be shaped such that they automatically detect subtle changes in auditory stimulus sequences with simple or higher-order regularities. The para- meters that are needed for the acquisition of these skills are unknown, but probably involve initial attentive processing of the stimuli." -- Elbert 1995

It's all about brain real estate

Neuro-scientists have learned that every skill has a corresponding plasticity that has been exploited. But there is a limit to our talents imposed by the physical size and number of neurons in our cranium. Often a valuable talent comes with a price. Development of one region of the brain means that limits are imposed on other potential sites. We often notice these idiosyncracies in talented celebrities who may lack common sense or suffer from personality problems.

An extreme example of plasticity gone wild is the so-called idiot savant who may be able to tell you the square root of a ten digit number or memorize a phone book but cannot tie his own shoes.

Neuro-Enhancement: the next big thing!

Imagine that you want to learn how to count cards -- an activity useful in poker and blackjack but considered "cheating" by many casinos. Or perhaps you would like to hone your golf skills, improve your artistic abilities or learn to be more relaxed. These are all skills with corresponding potentials for neuro plasticity.

The utilization of multiple neural pathways and stimulation of the neural fields has been practiced for decades -- even without a complete understanding of how or why these techniques work. The Montessori Schools have been achieving great results since the turn of the last century. Now, with a greater understanding of neuro fields and the benefits of multi-path stimulation, it is possible to target specific regions for enhancement. It is already a thriving business. Just google the words "neuro enhancement" and you will find 250,000 results. There's also a plethora of information on youtube. Like this:

Remember, your brain configuration determines your personality. You will become what you do.

For more about that, see part 2 - Who You Are.


[1] Ferris Jebr, "Cortical Call Out: The Brain's Electric Field Creates a Feedback Loop That Synchronizes Neural Activity", Scientific American, July 2010

[2] Neuroplasticity in old age: Sustained fivefold induction of hippocampal neurogenesis by long-term environmental enrichment, Gerd Kempermann MD, Daniela Gast, Fred H. Gage PhD, Annals of Neurology Volume 52, Issue 2, pages 135–143, August 2002.

[3] Gomez-Pinilla, Fernando, Zhe Ying, Roland R. Roy, Raffaella Molteni, and V. Reggie Edgerton. Voluntary Exercise Induces a BDNF-Mediated Mechanism That Promotes Neuroplasticity. J. Neurophysiol. 88: 2187-2195, 2002.

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Gary should have it to (possibly) include in his new serie "Your brain is not a computer"! Anyhow, this article made my list extremely happy, we love the little Guy and his smile!

Hugs ! Malou