Some Brain Traits Ease Music Learning

(p. C2) A study published in Cerebral Cortex in July [2015] shows that unusual activity in specific neural areas can predict how easily musicians learn their chops.
. . .
The data . . . point to a distinct starting advantage in some people–and where that advantage might reside in the brain. A retroactive examination of the first fMRI images predicted who would be the best learners.
Those with a hyperactive Heschl’s gyrus (part of the cerebral cortex that is associated with musical pitch) and with lots of reactivity in their right hippocampus (an area linked to auditory memory) turned out to be more likely to remember tunes they had heard before and, after some practice, play them well.
The “kicker,” said Dr. Zatorre, was finding that neural head start. “That gives you an advantage when you’re learning music, and it’s a completely different system from the parts of the brain that show learning has taken place. It speaks to the idea of 10,000 hours.” In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell called 10,000 hours of practice “the magic number of greatness.” Dr. Zatorre disagrees, saying, “Is it really fair to say that everyone’s brain is structured the same way, and that if you practice, you will accomplish the same thing?”

For the full commentary, see:
Susan Pinker. “Practice Makes Some Perfect, Others Maybe Not.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015): C2.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 26, 2015.)

The print version of the Cerebral Cortex article discussed above, is:
Herholz, Sibylle C., Emily B. J. Coffey, Christo Pantev, and Robert J. Zatorre. “Dissociation of Neural Networks for Predisposition and for Training-Related Plasticity in Auditory-Motor Learning.” Cerebral Cortex 26, no. 7 (July 1, 2016): 3125-34.

The Gladwell book mentioned above, is:
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2008.

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