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Piano Tuning Changes Grey Matter Structure

Update Date: Aug 29, 2012 09:18 AM EDT
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If you are a Piano tuner, we have good news for you.

A new study claims that tuning a piano could change the structure of the memory and navigation areas of the brain.

The study funded by the Wellcome Trust claims that Piano tuning, which involves interaction between two sounds produced simultaneously and where the tuner needs to adjust one key in accordance to the other, changes the structure in certain parts of the brain.

The researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL and Newcastle University, for this study, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in order to examine how the brain structures of 19 participants who were professional piano tuners was different from other 19 participants from the control group.

"Piano tuning is a unique profession and this motivated us to investigate physical changes in the brain of tuners that may develop over several years of repeated acoustic practice. We already know that musical training can correlate with structural changes, but our group of professionals offered a rare opportunity to examine the ability of brain to adapt over time to a very specialised form of listening," Sundeep Teki from UCL, joint first author of the study, was quoted as saying by Medical Xpress.

The study revealed very specific changes in both the grey matter (the nerve cells where information processing takes place) and the white matter (the connections between cells) within the hippocampus of the brain of Piano tuners.

These changes could also be correlated with the duration for which the tuners have been performing the task and not with their age or musical expertise. According to the report, indeed, musical expertise or having a perfect pitch is not required as the basic skill for piano tuners.

"Perhaps surprisingly, the changes related to tuning experience that we found were not in the auditory part of the brain. In fact, they actually occurred in the hippocampus, a part of the brain traditionally associated with memory and navigation," adds Dr Sukhbinder Kumar from Newcastle University, joint first author.

Previous studies by researchers at Wellcome Trust have demonstrated similar changes related to navigational expertise in the brain in a study of taxi drivers.

"There has been little work on the role of the hippocampus in auditory analysis. Our study is consistent with a form of navigation in pitch space as opposed to the more accepted role in spatial navigation," Professor Tim Griffiths from Newcastle University, the lead author of the study said.

The study was published in the 'Journal of Neuroscience.'

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