The Brain of Musicians. A Model for Functional and Structural Adaptation

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Jun;930:281-99.


Musicians form an ideal subject pool in which one can investigate possible cerebral adaptations to unique requirements of skilled performance as well as cerebral correlates of unique musical abilities such as absolute pitch and others. There are several reasons for this. First, the commencement of musical training usually occurs when the brain and its components may still be able to adapt. Second, musicians undergo long-term motor training and continued practice of complicated bimanual motor activity. Third, imaging studies from our group as well as other groups have shown that motor learning and the acquisition of skills can lead to changes in the representation of motor maps and possibly also to microstructural changes. Whether the unique musical abilities and structural differences that musicians' brains show are due to learning, perhaps during critical periods of brain development and maturation, or whether they reflect innate abilities and capacities that might be fostered by early exposure to music is largely unknown. We will report studies that indicate that certain regions in the brain (corpus callosum, motor cortex, cerebellum) may show some form of adaptation to extraordinary challenges and requirements of performance. These challenges may eventually lead to functional and structural cerebral changes to accommodate the requirements for musical performance. Furthermore, we will also show the neural correlates of one unique musical ability, absolute pitch. This ability may be linked to one structure in the human brain (planum temporale), which is preferentially activated in musicians who have absolute pitch during tone tasks. This structure may undergo some form of functional plasticity that is possible only during a critical period of brain development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Music*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*