October 11, 2006

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Bucknell music professor Lois Svard presented research on the brain orientation of pianists at the annual Society of Neuroscience conference. The meeting was held in Atlanta, Ga., on Oct. 14-18.
 
Svard's research is designed to determine whether pianists think more with the left or the right side of their brains. Both sides of the brain contribute to creativity, but in most people the left hemisphere focuses on language and analysis, while the right deals with visual images and imagination. Professionals in some fields, such as astronomy, have been shown to be more right brain-oriented, while biochemists, for example, tend to left-brain dominance.

Svard's research is the first exploration of whether musicians show a tendency toward left- or right-brain dominance. Neural networks for music are distributed throughout the brain; research has shown the left side to be more associated with rhythm, for example, while the right side processes melody.

Curiosity about brain

Teaching piano and a Capstone course on the Creative Process at Bucknell triggered Svard's curiosity about the how the brain works.

"I'd been so aware from my years of teaching piano that students learn music in very different ways," she said. "Concepts that are easy for some people aren't for others. It just seemed that the left brain/right brain difference might account for some of that."

Svard used tests developed by Bruce Morton, a neuroscientist from the University of Hawaii, to determine whether a person is left- or right-brain oriented. Of 71 professional and student pianists who took the two tests, 65 percent were right-brain oriented. Earlier research by Morton found that high school students tend to be evenly divided between left- and right-brain orientation and college freshmen lean slightly toward left-brain orientation.

Application to teaching

For Svard, who is right-brain oriented, the most exciting part of the research is the application to teaching and performing.

"Here we have two different kinds of thinking," she said. "What does that actually mean in terms of teaching and what does it mean in terms of my own and my students' performance? How can I put all of these ideas together?"

Abstracts of presentations from Neuroscience 2006 are available at www.sfn.org.

Posted Oct. 11, 2006
Modified Oct. 25, 2006

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