UNM study reveals musicians’ brains are different

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Mozart, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix — their musical minds may have set them apart in more ways than one. A recently published study out of the University of New Mexico reveals musicians’ brains are different.

Musicians make it look easy, but an original song takes serious brain power.

“I created a sequence of commands, I temporally organized them. All of this we can think of as highercognitive-motorr functioning,” said musician and UNM Associate Professor of Music Theory David Bashwiner.

He recently teamed up with UNM Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Rex Jung, to study how music shapes the brain.

“To see how music arises in young folks’ brains, where it might be located, and we have the tools to start to peek into the human brain and see how that develops over time,” explained Jung.

Jung was already looking at creativity at large but received a grant with Bashwiner, to focus on music.

“A very structured interview and protocol to look at their musical capabilities and their musical practice through their everyday life,” said Jung.

The survey included simple questions like, how often do you play? Do you write your own music? Ever improvise?

The results are making waves.

“We do see that the brain is different in people who practice creativity more frequently than others,” said Bashwiner.

“Very specific structures of the brain were changed in a way that seemed to serve their musical capabilities,” Jung said.

In fact, these professors say areas of the brain associated with creativity had more surface area — equating to more brain power.

“This is important because you might be able to identity these regions early on in individuals — cultivate musical creativity in individuals over time,” said Jung.

And more practice means a more musical brain.

“Ours isn’t a causal study, but it suggests that it could be actually a cause of having your brain grow in this way,” Bashwiner said.

Yet, researchers still aren’t sure which came first.

The professors say, their results suggest you don’t have to be a creative person to be creative. You just have to practice. They say the study also supports the idea practicing music can help with other skills, like reading and math.

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