Saturday, November 27, 2010

Enhancing Music Performance Through Brain Rhythm Training

Source: Teacher Training Resource Bank: From the University of London seminar series: ‘Collaborative Frameworks for Neuroscience and Education’.

Retrieved from:

Summary: In 2002 and 2004, researchers Egner and Gruzellier looked at the effects of training Royal College of Music piano students to respond to bio-feedback. Bio-feedback was generated by placing sensors on the head that amplified the electrical activity within the brain. These sensors were then connected to a computer that amplified these brain currents and displayed chosen frequencies (between alpha, beta, theta and delta) on a screen. Then the students were able to monitor their own brain waves in real time by watching them go on the screens infront of them. As we recall from class at the beginning of semester, alpha waves are associated with relaxing with the eyes closed, beta rhythms with alertness, theta waves have been associated by neurologists and experimental psychologists with creativity, improved memory, anxiety reduction, self confidence and a sense of well-being, and delta waves with sleep. The students were trained to associate certain sounds with brain rhythms and they learned how to elevate the theta rhythms over the alpha rhythms. This led to the students being able to ‘call up’ theta brain wave rhythms at will. Before and after the training program, the students each gave piano performances under deliberately stressful conditions involving being recorded on video and played back to a panel of expert judges. According to the researchers, in terms of interpretation, musicality, emotional conviction and stylistic accuracy, the students who had learned to control their theta rhythms through neuro-feedback had “markedly improved performances by at least two class grades.” In the control group, researchers gave alternative support programs including Alexander Technique, physical fitness training, mental skills training and yoga, but only those who had the neuro-feedback recorded significant improvement in these areas. Similar studies have suggested that the improvements are long term. In addition, when brain wave training was tied together with meditation, the student subjects also showed enhancement in both positive mood and in neurological links with the sensory areas of the brain. Research is also currently using neuro-feedback to support drug addicts to produce feelings of well-being, even bliss, through consciously elevating their own theta rhythms

Reflection: Here is the answer to all music students’ problems! This was a really fascinating study to read about. It is exciting to see all the new possibilities that are being discovered while studying the brain and how it works through the advancement of technology. I don’t know how many times I have been told by my own private music teacher to “let it go; it’s all about changing your state of mind” in any given piece. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done but if there is more research done on how we can use this type of neuro-feedback to enhance our practice sessions and performances, I can only begin to imagine the implications this would have for musicians, both as performers and teachers. These findings also may have an influence on the way children are taught at school. If it is known that theta waves are associated “with creativity, improved memory, anxiety reduction, self confidence and a sense of well-being”, then of course it makes sense to design a curriculum that would maximize creative activity.


Lucas Marchand said...

Wow! This seems like a really useful tool for musicians. As you might remember I'm doing my paper on gamma waves. It would be interesting to know if these sensors are capable of detecting gamma waves as well. Gamma waves are generally a fair bit higher and more difficult to measure but they are associated with higher cognitive function and meditation. A neuro-feedback machine that could measure gamma might be another great way to help manage stress.

Michael Kolk said...

This reminds me of Prof. Bartel's cat story, in which they were taught to produce certain brain waves and were less affected by toxic chemicals. It seems that this technique has a lot of potential applications. The connection with meditation is interesting - I suppose it is a natural method of brain wave entrainment. My limited experience with meditation has produced positive results in my performing, although it's tough to stick to it regularly. Seems like it might be easier to "cheat" using this method of EEG and biofeedback. Where do I sign up??