Friday, November 21, 2008

Music Reading and the Brain

Report: Janet Spring
Stewart, Lauren. (2005). A neurocognitive approach to music reading. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1060: 377 – 386.

In Stewart (2005), an overview of studies completed to date on the neurocognitive skills of reading music from a printed score is outlined. The skill of music reading is investigated and discussed through studies that have utilized the Stroop task; a task which uses colours and numbers that correspond to the notes on a keyboard. Participants of a Stroop task read music notes through reading mapping which is either horizontal or vertical, using the finger numbers of 1 – 5 or colour coded finger to number tasks.

It has been found that reading music from the printed score for pianists activates the superior parietal cortex. Another study demonstrates that the right superior parietal cortex is activated when music is read and played. It has also been found through fMRI studies that when reading music, and viewing the stimuli on a statistical parametric map, there was a “learning-related change in the left supramarginal gyrus” (p. 384). As the pianist practiced certain passages, a comparison of the brain activity before and after affected a response in this area of the brain.


I find this study interesting for it highlights how complicated and intricately wired the brain is to decode all of the musical stimuli that occur at once when a musician is reading, decoding and then playing. As a pianist is reading both the treble and bass notes, decoding rhythm, melody, chord progressions, dynamics, etc., it would be interesting to compare the resulting brain activity with that of an instrumentalist who is reading one musical line as well as rhythm, melody, dynamics, etc. I also found Stewart’s comment interesting that the supramarginal gyrus “did not distinguish between the musical notation and the nonmusical notation before training but was more active for musical notation than for nonmusical notation after training” (p. 385). Would this mean that the supramarginal gyrus is an area of the brain that is more specific to music decoding and learning?

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