Making music together syncs brains

When musicians play together, we always try to be “in sync,” unless, of course, we are playing Steve Reich’s  Piano Phase or Violin Phase.  And then we find how difficult it is, when two musicians are playing the same music, to be purposefully “out of sync” or out of phase.   So are we hardwired to want to play “in sync?”  What is happening in our brains when we are performing together?   First, a necessary “sidebar” to talk about brainwaves.

©iStockphoto.com/ Stefan Schulze

©iStockphoto.com/ Stefan Schulze

100 billion used to be the figure that was always given for the number of brain cells, or neurons, in the human brain. But we seem to have lost about 14 billion. Although you still see the higher figure, more recent research shows that there are actually 86 billion neurons in our brain, which is still an inconceivable number. (You may not want to know that researchers determined this figure by making soup out of brains that had been donated to science. Check out the story here.)

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Four-hand music and peripersonal space

 

8liezn23A former student from France recently spent a weekend with us while she was in the States on vacation. We had a lot of years to catch up on, enjoyed good food and wine, and found some time to play four-hand music.  Four-hand music is fun to play, but it can be notoriously awkward because not only are two pianists sharing the same piano, they are often sharing the same segment of the keyboard. It occurred to me that, in spite of the awkwardness, the sharing of space has worked well with everyone with whom I’ve ever played – with one glaring exception. Continue reading

What you see is what you hear: mirror neurons and music, part VI

Robert Schumann wrote in a review of a Franz Liszt concert in Dresden in 1840: “It is unlikely that any other artist, excepting only Paganini, has the power to lift, carry and deposit an Liszt_at_the_Pianoaudience in such high degree. . . In a matter of seconds we have been exposed to tenderness, daring, fragrance and madness. The instrument glows and sparkles under the hands of its master. . .It simply has to be heard – and seen. If Liszt were to play behind the scenes a considerable portion of poetry would be lost.” (Schumann on Music, trans. and ed. by Henry Pleasants) Continue reading

Listening as practice: mirror neurons and music, part V

I still remember Sue’s performance of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata on her senior recital.  I knew from hearing her earlier in a masterclass that her concept of the sonata was epic – distant machine gun fire in the opening repeated chords, various musical depictions of war in the first movement, death in the second, and angels in heaven in the third.

Beethoven Sonata, Op. 53

Beethoven Sonata, Op. 53

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Setting the stage for auditory mirror neurons: the auditory-motor loop

Ohad (Udi) Bar-David, cellist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, says that when he first began playing with Arab musician Simon Shaheen, it was difficult to play the microtones that are prevalent in Arab music. “But,” he says, “when you start hearing it, your fingers just take you there.”

Your fingers “just take you there” because of the strong auditory-motor connection in the brain.
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Suggestions needed

I need some input and who better to ask than my readers!!  I am in the process of interviewing and writing about musicians who, after suffering a brain injury, stroke, movement disorder, Suggestions boxphysical or emotional trauma, protracted length of time when they have been unable to practice, etc. etc., have made a recovery and returned to performing – and also musicians who have had a successful career in spite of a loss of one of their senses.  Leon Fleisher is a good example of someone who had a movement disorder in his right hand (focal dystonia), but eventually made a successful return to performing with both hands; Evelyn Glennie is profoundly hearing impaired, yet has had an astonishing career as a solo percussionist.  Continue reading