New Delhi: People without any musical training might have a sense of rhythm that is on par with professional musicians, largely due to “dense neural connections in specific regions of the brain”, a new study has found, according to The Hindu.
With the study, conducted by scientists at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) in Manesar and Symbiosis International in Pune, scientists wanted to test if connectivity in the brain and certain brain structures is “either minimal or absent” in non-musicians and if progressively higher musical training influenced the “density or degree of connectivity” among certain brain regions.
Scientists have been curious to find if musical ability is inherent and, if so, to what extent. According to The Hindu, it is interesting to study if musical ability is influenced by training, and which regions of the brain are most activated while perceiving musical elements such as rhythm and pitch.
The report says that previous studies have shown that 15 months of musical training in early childhood leads to “long-term changes in the brain’s structure” and that this is divergent from typical brain development. Other studies have found that musical ability is also influenced by the brain’s neuroanatomy and even certain genes.
To test the connectivity in the brain and certain brain structures, Nandini Chatterjee Singh, the neuroscientist who leads the Language Literacy and Music Laboratory lab at NBRC, recruited 27 university graduates with varying degrees of musical training. They ranged from non-musicians to professionals.
They were given the ‘Profile of Music Perception’ skills test, a standardised computer-based test that has been used in research to test listeners’ abilities to discern changes in rhythm, pitch, accent and melody. The Hindu said that the participants’ scores were evaluated, and brain imaging data was collected.
“What we found was that non-musicians performed as well as trained musicians on rhythm-processing tasks because of the way the brain is connected,” Singh told The Hindu. “So there are hidden – or sleeping – musicians among us,” However, these findings were specific to rhythm. The researchers didn’t find any strong patterns in the perception of pitch, on the other hand.
According to Singh, rhythmic processing abilities were significantly influenced not by connections within the right and left hemispheres of the brain, but rather by “the strength of connections between the two hemispheres”.
“The density of connection in the right posterior cingulate cortex, a region that acted as hub of connectivity between the two halves of the brain was strongly linked to participants’ overall scores,” The Hindu reported.
The study has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Neuroscience. Apart from Singh, Archith Rajan, Apurva Shah and Madhura Ingalhalikar were also involved in the study.
Singh told The Hindu that their discovery – that perception of rhythm is stamped in the brain – underlined its significance to “language processing”, and that it opens up new lines of inquiry into autism, musical aptitude and the possible use of music therapy for physiological care and rehabilitation.