Lopsided brain is good for music

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The Independent Online
The secret of being a good musician is having a lopsided brain, according to researchers who believe they have located the nerve centre for perfect pitch.

A study of 30 musicians and 30 non-musicians has shown that a well endowed left-side of the brain appears to be a requirement for people to hit the right notes at the right time.

The research, published in the journal Science, is the first attempt to find the seat of musical ability in the brains of living people and demonstrates the importance of the brain's left hemisphere for professional musicians.

Scientists from the Heinrich-Heine University at Dusseldorf, in Germany, used brain scanners to measure differences in the right and left hemispheres of the 60 volunteers.

They found that the musicians had a clearly ``lateralised'' left side of the brain, with the internal structure clearly more developed than in non-musicians.

When they looked at the 11 musicians out of the 30 who had perfect pitch, all displayed even more extreme left-sideness than their professional colleagues lacking perfect pitch, Dr Schlaug said.

The part of the brain that was extremely well developed and enlarged on the left side in the perfect pitch musicians was the planum temporale, which scientists have known to be involved in the processing of sound.

Dr Schlaug said it is not altogether clear whether people with perfect pitch, or indeed good musicians, are born not made. ``I think you have to have a certain predisposition to that. But, on the other hand, to have early exposure to music as a young child is necessary in order to develop perfect pitch.''

Past studies on the brains of dead musicians, and research on musicians such as Ravel, who suffered a stroke which affected his ability to appreciate and compose music, indicated that the right-side of the brain was probably more important than the left.

Dr Schlaug's research makes the case for believing that good musicianship involves further development of the left side of the brain, which is the centre for the understanding of speech.

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