Piano Tuners And The Plastic Brain

Tuning a piano by ear requires a great deal of skill. Piano tuners need to remember and compare complex sound patterns which vary across the piano keyboard. This led researchers from UCL and Newcastle University to target the brains of piano tuners for a study investigating changes in brain structure associated with brain use. (We’ve written before about a similar study on the brain structure of London cabbies.)

The study found that the piano tuners’ brains showed marked differences in white and gray matter in the hippocampus when compared to non-piano tuners. What’s more, the degree of difference corresponded to how long the tuners had been at their profession.

“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,” says Dr Sukhbinder Kumar from Newcastle University, joint first author.

Study lead Dr Tim Griffiths (Newcastle University,) added: “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.”


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