Brain scans of jazz musicians show language and music similarities

ANI| Last Updated: Feb 24, 2014, 19:29 PM IST
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Washington: A new study has found that the brains of jazz musicians engrossed in spontaneous, improvisational musical conversation showed robust activation of brain areas traditionally associated with spoken language and syntax, which are used to interpret the structure of phrases and sentences.

But this musical conversation shut down brain areas linked to semantics- those that process the meaning of spoken language, the study found.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track the brain activity of jazz musicians in the act of "trading fours," a process in which musicians participate in spontaneous back and forth instrumental exchanges, usually four bars in duration.

The musicians introduce new melodies in response to each other's musical ideas, elaborating and modifying them over the course of a performance.

The results of the study suggested that the brain regions that process syntax aren't limited to spoken language, according to Charles Limb, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Rather, he said, the brain uses the syntactic areas to process communication in general, whether through language or through music.

"We've shown in this study that there is a fundamental difference between how meaning is processed by the brain for music and language. Specifically, it's syntactic and not semantic processing that is key to this type of musical communication. Meanwhile, conventional notions of semantics may not apply to musical processing by the brain," the researcher said.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.