A study from McGill University reveals the secret of musicians who have excellent time.
- When a person locks onto a beat, it's because their brain rhythms have become aligned with it.
- Listening and physically performing are brain functions not directly related to rhythm synchronization.
- The study tracked EEG brain activity during listening, playing along, and recreating rhythms.
Listening and tapping<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzYyNDIzNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MzU4NjIzOH0.vK-N6A-goMccmBsL5xOyrzmWoxsiOHDKV-J9YPfHj7Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="48cf6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1adaf404031fa0036848a1ba4193c1fd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="TR-808 rhythm composer" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
A beat machine that produces notes similar to those used by the researchers
Credit: Steve Harvey/Unsplash<p>Palmer and her colleagues worked with 29 adult musicians — 21 female and 6 males, aged 18 to 30 years old — each of whom was proficient with an instrument, having studied for a minimum of six years. With electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes affixed to their scalps, the participants listened to and tapped along with different versions of three basic rhythms as the scientists captured their brain activity.</p><p>Each rhythm was preceded by a four-beat count off. </p><ul><li><a href="https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/simple1-1.mp3" target="_blank">Rhythm 1:1</a> — repeatedly played a simple series of evenly spaced clicks.</li><li><a href="https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/moderate1-2.mp3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Rhythm 1:2</a> — repeatedly played a two-beat phrase with a higher-pitched sound for the first beat of each phrase and a lower-pitched sound for the second.</li><li><a href="https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/files/newsroom/complex3-2.mp3" target="_blank">Rhythm 3:2</a> — repeatedly played the most complex rhythm of the three, a series of triplets. In this case, the lower-pitched sound played the quarter notes while a higher-pitched sound played the triplet notes.</li></ul><p>(Tap or click each rhythm's name above to listen to its complete version with no beats or sounds omitted.)</p><p>The participants were assigned Listen, Synchronize, and Motor tasks. In the:</p><ul><li>Listen task — participants were played a dozen modified versions of the rhythms and asked to report any missing beats they noticed.</li><li>Synchronize task — individuals played along with a dozen versions of the rhythms, in some cases supplying sounds researchers had removed from the patterns.</li><li>Motor task — participants were asked to reproduce a dozen rhythm variations after hearing each one.</li></ul>
Beat markers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzYyNDQyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDA5NDU4OX0.GKl27Ed_kuwLg0r_eh_s6yUoes8RN_QS2fMHLBx0vBI/img.jpg?width=980" id="b927a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b73b2bdc7bb4f9b3c4499fab78b7c5f6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="chart with wave lines" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Credit: Chaikom/Shutterstock<p>The scientists were able to identify neural markers representing each musician's beat perception, revealing the degree of synchronicity between the researchers' rhythms and the brain's own rhythms. Surprisingly, this synchronicity turned out to be unrelated to brain activity associated with either listening or playing.</p><p>Said the study's first authors, PhD students Brian Mathias and Anna Zamm, "We were surprised that even highly trained musicians sometimes showed reduced ability to synchronize with complex rhythms, and that this was reflected in their EEGs."</p><p>While the musician participants were all reasonably competent at tapping along to the rhythms, the degree to which the markers aligned to the beats was what separated the good players from the best. "Most musicians are good synchronizers," say Mathias and Zamm. "Nonetheless, this signal was sensitive enough to distinguish the 'good' from the 'better' or 'super-synchronizers,' as we sometimes call them."</p><p>When Palmer is asked whether a person can develop the ability to become a super-synchronizer, she answers: "The range of musicians we sampled suggests that the answer would be 'yes.' And the fact that only 2-3% of the population are 'beat deaf' is also encouraging. Practice definitely improves your ability and improves the alignment of the brain rhythms with the musical rhythms. But whether everyone is going to be as good as a drummer is not clear."</p>
Google's Arts & Culture app just added a suite of prehistoric animals and NASA artifacts that are viewable for free with a smartphone.
- The exhibits are viewable on most smartphones through Google's free Arts & Culture app.
- In addition to prehistoric animals, the new exhibits include NASA artifacts and ancient artwork.
- The Arts & Culture app also lets you project onto your walls famous paintings on display at museums around the world.
Google Arts & Culture<p>Other animals on display include:</p><ul><li><a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/opabinia-a-500m-year-old-creature-with-five-eyes/jwEx938NwO9A5w?hl=en" target="_blank">Opabinia</a> — A 500-million-year-old arthropod with five eyes</li><li><a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/GAG_J9wcz31GXw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Skeleton of the blue whale</a> – The largest animal to ever exist on Earth</li><li><a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/LgGLuNutwk-OPQ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Spotted trunkfish</a> — A fish with an unusually strong carapace made from thick hexagonal scale plates called scutes</li><li><a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/HwHAh659CiUWEA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Aegirocassis</a> — A 480-million-year old marine animal, believed to be the oldest large filter feeder, which existed hundreds of millions of years before whales and sharks</li></ul>
Google Arts & Culture<p>Google's new AR exhibits also include a handful of NASA artifacts, like the <a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/jAGjIi6RFQBOFg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Apollo 11 command module</a> and Neil Armstrong's A-7L spacesuit, and also a statue of <a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/3QFU2nR_dVV9Lg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Lanzón</a>, the pre-Inca "smiling god".</p>
Google Arts & Culture<p>Not into NASA artifacts or strange fish? You can also use the Arts & Culture app to project onto your walls paintings like <a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/qwH7SFUucsTJjQ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Frida Kahlo's self portraits</a>, Gustav Klimt's "<a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/HQGxUutM_F6ZGg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">The Kiss</a>," Rembrandt's "Night Watch," and Johannes Vermeer's <a href="https://artsandculture.google.com/project/vermeer-paintings" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">complete works</a>.</p>
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Researchers observed "inter-brain coherence" (IBC) — a synchronisation in brain activity — between a musician and the audience.
In such states of creative divergent thinking, the body is aroused and the pupils become dilated.