Neuronal Changes in Auditory Cortex due to Musical Training

In this project we examine potential changes of the brain caused by musical training. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of indications that the structure of the human brain can adapt to specific demands. For example, as compared to a control group, taxi drivers in London were shown to possess more grey matter in the part of the brain that is responsible for spatial navigation (Maguire et al., 2004, Nature). Musicians have already been discovered as especially interesting “objects” of study because they train intensively (Münte, Altenmüller & Jäncke, 2002, Nature Reviews Neuroscience). Easily identifiable specific brain regions such as the auditory cortex and also motor regions provide optimal conditions for the examination of brain plasticity.

Hieronymus Bosch (around 1450 – 1516)
Das Feld hat Augen, der Wald hat Ohren [The field has eyes, the forest has ears]

Foto: Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Fotograf: Jörg P. Anders, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 DE


We are particularly interested in the differences between two groups:

  • On the one hand, music school attendees who want to study music at a university and are therefore taking part in a preparatory course involving intensive aural training. We are examining beginners with a focus on sound engineering, composition, conducting, as well as instrumentalists.
  • On the other hand, music school attendees who take music lessons as a hobby and are not aiming for a university degree.

There are already some indications that the brain structure of professional musicians differs from that of amateur musicians and non-musicians (Gaser & Schlaug, 2003). To date, the development of these differences, particularly in auditory cortex, are not yet sufficiently studied. In order to shed more light on this issue, we examine prospective professional musicians in a magnetic resonance imager (MRI) during their intensive preparation course for a university course and focus on the structural changes in the auditory cortex. We also scan music school attendees who are not taking part in this course in order to filter and represent differences in their brain structure.


Gaser, C., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 9240–9245.

Maguire, E. A., Gadian, D. G., Johnsrude, I. S., Good, C. D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S. J., & Frith, C. D. (2000). Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97, 4398–4403.

Münte, T. F., Altenmüller, E., & Jäncke, L. (2002). The musician's brain as a model of neuroplasticity. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3, 473–478.

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