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Musicians play with brainwaves in tune

The Local · 30 Nov 2012, 06:58

Published: 30 Nov 2012 06:58 GMT+01:00

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"It is not quite like a wireless internet connection, because we do not think that information is being exchanged. But there is a synchronization of brainwaves between musicians playing together," Johanna Sänger told The Local.

Working with a team at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Sänger gathered 32 experienced guitarists and created 16 duet pairs to play a piece of music together. They covered the guitarists' heads with electrode caps to measure their brainwaves as they played and measured the results.

"It was a good choice to work with guitarists," said Sänger. "The physical movements they make to play are not so influential on the brainwaves we were measuring. Violinists or flautists would be much more difficult as the movement of the chin or the hard blowing they do would affect our readings."

She said the brainwaves of the paired guitarists synchronized as they played together - even though they were playing different pieces of the same duet.

"We found a statistical connection which was not tangible - but we think it is a functional synchronization. It might not be communication as we usually define it, but the brainwaves became synchronized - or mirrored."

There was also a surge of brainwave synchronization when the musicians had to actively coordinate what they were doing - such as when starting to play. The areas of the brain active in the synchronization are those generally considered to be responsible for not only music production but also social cognition.

"We assume that different people's brainwaves also synchronize when people mutually coordinate their actions in other ways, such as during sport or when they communicate with one another," said Sänger.

She said the next step would be to see how this synchronization was different as time went on - would the musicians' brainwaves become ever more similar the longer they played together? Or would this mirrored effect become less as the musicians learned to play the music together better, thus necessitating less coordination.

That is what she and the team are working on now - using a quartet of guitarists and looking at how the synchronization levels develop and possibly change as they proceed through rehearsals over the medium term.

Story continues below…

Although Sänger's work is currently pure research, she said it could eventually offer insight into psycho-physiological conditions such as autism.

The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

08:05 November 30, 2012 by CoolBlueIce
As a long time guitar player who has spent many hours "jamming" with other players, this does not come as a surprise. It's called "finding the grove".
09:26 November 30, 2012 by zeddriver
This "might" be interesting. But I wonder how much this cost the already heavily taxed folks of Germany?
11:15 November 30, 2012 by yllusion
@zeddriver Are you saying that funding research is a bad investment? These apparently simple studies can lead to important findings which help us understand how we function and even lead to treatment of diseases.
15:09 November 30, 2012 by BLAKE IT UP!
I think what @zeddriver means is that it's amazing that it took all that work to figure out, what we already pretty much knew anyways. It's like scientists finding out that we drink water because we are thirsty.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, it could lead to another level of research into brain synchronization.

My question would be:

How would the brain of a rapper connect with a metal guitarist, or a harmonica player with a didgeridoo?
22:43 November 30, 2012 by zeddriver

BLAKE IT UP! has got it.

There are far more serious things to be studied that would have a greater impact. When the government is having to borrow money to operate. I.E. deficit spending. That necessarily means one should be careful with the tax payers money. They should perhaps in austere times not worry about Vulcan style guitar player mind melding exercises. Just to then hand the research bill over to the next generation to pay back. This institute is funded 80% from tax payers monies.

BLAKE IT UP! asked

How would the brain of a rapper connect with a metal guitarist, or a harmonica player with a didgeridoo?

Probably fine. As long as they are doing bong hits and dropping acid.
12:21 December 1, 2012 by blackboot11
@ zeddriver:

interesting yes, and it prbably did not cost NEARLY as much as the new 'delayed again and almost bankrupt agan' Berliner Flughafen ...


Or the ridiculous 'New Castle reconstruction' that they have started in central Berlin.

The German taxpayers will be dealing with these 2 senseless debts for decades.... not to mention the bail-out billions....
13:44 December 1, 2012 by Englishted
They will not find anything in those brains the music now days is all the same ,you can't understand the words ,in fact it is all rubbish.

Hold on, I've just turned into my dad !.
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