Guitarists' Brains Are Different Than Everybody Else's, Study Finds

While shredding, guitarists shift from "conscious to unconscious thought."

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Officially proving that there's no other kind of guy like a guitarist, a study conducted in Berlin, Germany has discovered that the brains of guitar players are basically wired differently than anyone else's.

The research scanned brains of 12 guitarists while playing, finding that their "neural networks could synchronize not only while playing the piece - but even slightly before playing," Guitar World reports.

Furthermore, while shredding, the axeman's brain temporarily deactivates the region that routinely shuts down while achieving big-picture goals, marking a switch from conscious to unconscious thought.

It was also proven that when non-experienced guitar players try to perform a solo, the conscious part of their brain stays on, implying that "real" guitarists are able to switch to a mode of thinking that is more creative and less-practical.

As the same source indicates, the study made it clear that guitarists are "spiritual, intuitive people."

The article further points at Pat Martino, a jazz guitarist from Philadelphia, who had 70 percent of his left temporal lobe removed in his mid-30s due to a hemorrhage. Upon coming out of the surgery, Pat wasn't able to play guitar.

However, within two years, he figured out how to play guitar again, making him a perfect example of cerebral plasticity for the scientific world. For the guitarists, he represented something else - "Playing guitar isn't a skill. It's a way of being, a way of life."

144 comments sorted by best / new / date

    iommi600
    Next time, please conduct a study on how playing the guitar affects your sense of humour, because god I'm tired of hearing "got arrested for fingering A minor" at every pub/concert/studio I go to.
    Sebo
    A guitarist with a Gibson, a bass player with a warwick and a drummer with a metronome in his hands get into a cab. Who is a professional musician ? The cab driver.
    xstatic44
    It doesn't get much verse than that.
    Sixxstarr
    these jokes are nothing but treble
    Jonagorn
    I'm going to go and score some drugs. Did you know there's a new type of 'drug line'? It's called a Heath Ledger line.
    theclassicrock
    I usually hear "snapped a G string while fingering A minor."
    GazzaCee
    I prefer: "what do you get if you drop a piano down a mine? e|-4- B|-4- G|-4- D|-6- A|-6- E|-4-"
    Pastafarian96
    Or "What do you get if you drop a piano on an army base? e|-4- B|-4- G|-5- D|-6- A|-6- E|-4-"
    ken_imp
    this on is from Dave Mustaine, I think: Two guys get lost in the middle of the jungle. Then suddenly, they star hearing heavy drums. DUM-DUM,DUM-DUM,DUM-DUM,DUM-DUM!!!!... and it stops: _uh-oh, bad news... _What? _Bass solo
    KerryKing01
    YAY! IM SPECAIL!
    Exwic
    This is something that all of UG can finally agree on.
    JelloCrust
    Nope. I'm so normal, that I create an increase in standard deviation range to any who are anywhere close to me, my words, or my works. Congratulations, you are all now average. . . now bow to me, for I am your reptilian overlord!
    Jonagorn
    Well, it doesn't take an idiot to know the difference between 'whole' and 'hole'.
    PoloSG68
    This is probably not just applicable to guitarists... Most likely I reckon similar results would come out from other musicians, possibly even artists and writers too.
    sideslick
    Yeah, but musicians are usually bound to a tempo. Other, non-performing artists can stop and think for as long as they need, with no ill-consequences. Musicians playing instruments don't have that luxury.
    Wppa
    Not if they're practicing. When they're practicing they have all the time they need.
    kratos379
    Really any action you do changes your brain. Practicing increases muscle memory which is basically just rewiring your brain so that you can do the same more easily and with better results the next time. Think of sports. The best athletes talk about getting in a zone. There's a stigma against talking to a pitcher when he's pitching a perfect game, because then you're bringing him to conscious thought and that will mess him up. It's the same thing as when the best guitarists switch to unconscious thought when playing a solo. I'm not sure how much this study actually brings to the table in terms of new information.
    Anemo
    As if guitarists needed another excuse to be pretentious bastards
    Sebo
    Oh, Really ? Neuronal activiation is different when you perform a task which learned over a long period of time, compared to a person that is unable to perform that task? You don't say
    battleaxe_12
    KerryKing01: Yes, we are all limited edition here bro.
    shredguitar7690
    Man, is this guy such a celebrity here that other people are commenting for him?
    Eissari
    UG seems to love parrots that say same thing over and over. After while it's supposed to be great humor.?
    spot1701
    "while shredding, the axeman's brain temporarily deactivates" Very true
    Blind In 1 Ear
    1- this isn't news. 2- it applies to all musicians, not just guitarists. nothing makes the guitar any more special to play than anything else. 3- this is really an article about jamming/improvising with others. really, it just happened to be done with guitarists. but these kind of studies have been done with other musicians and found basically the same thing. like i said, this isn't news.
    AuraFX
    Sorry any scientific study that describes people as 'spiritual' is probably just bollocks. There's actually been studies that suggested some guitarists are far more mathematically inclined and don't have a particularly 'artistic' side as the relationship between scales and modes is more of a fractal decision and not remotely intuitive. Perhaps...just perhaps...guitarists are all different and that studying the brain of someone who knows an instrument will show different results regardless to someone who doesn't know that instrument well. Given there's a vast difference in how everybody plays guitar and what sounds pleasing to different people, I'd say it's bullshit.
    ToXyN
    "It was also proven that when non-experienced guitar players try to perform a solo, the conscious part of their brain stays on" I'm a logical thinker.. This statement proves that the researchers aren't. Everyone who's learning something, has to consciously attempt to learn.. whether it's a musical instrument or.. driving.. After years of practicing and learning (there "real" guitarists) they can play without doing this.. So does everyone that drives a vehicle..
    crazysam23_Atax
    I also am a logical thinker, and while that statement seems obvious...it is true. Btw, the researchers didn't say most of what the article says. The writer(s) of the article basically took the research results and then said what they wanted to say.
    Bernas24
    how is this even big news? we've known for decades that the brain molds to whatever activity you practice on a regular basis, be it guitar, piano, cycling, drawing, etc.
    sdbrown89
    While this is an interesting article, this is the media once again overhyping and over-simplifying the results of one study on TWELVE pairs of people (talk about a tiny sample size!)... "Guitarists brains are different from everyone else's".. the study does not reach this conclusion at all.. this would be a cool thing since we are pretty much all guitarists (on UG I mean), but sorry, the study does not conclude this ridiculously over-simplified statement at all!
    ckysteve5
    HAHA!! I bet sdbrown89 can't even deactivate the conscious region of his brain while he solos!! What a f*cking chode!
    loungeact88
    Haha. I actually completely agree with sdbrown89's argument, but your insult had me laughing out loud at work. I guess you both win.
    ckysteve5
    Disregard him and his logical reasoning (aka bullsh*t). Everyone knows that real guitarists are able to switch to a mode of thinking that is more creative and less-practical. sdbrown89 is probably a tuba player lolololz!!
    sdbrown89
    simply pointing out the flaws of yet another ridiculous conclusion that retards like you will believe!
    l0ld4v3
    A bunch of peeps want to feel special and you're pissing on their ridiculous parade. I realize by this, however, that most peeps are not academically or scientifically curious and critical.
    ckysteve5
    Whoa, what's with all the fancy words college words, bro? You should try deactivating the conscious region of your brain for a while. Us sweet guitarists do it all the time when we're laying down tasty licks.
    travislausch
    Try the source material instead: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/1...
    sdbrown89
    I did, i read the entire article, and they do not reach this oversimplified conclusion at all
    sdbrown89
    Research on neural correlates of IAC is still in its beginnings. Hence, as is true for other innovative work, the results of this study are in need of replication, and should be interpreted cautiously. In the following, we focus on a select number of limitations and open issues. First, despite the shift from unison playing (Lindenberger et al., 2009) to playing in two voices, the similarities in the dynamics of motor performance and perceptual input between two players remain substantial, and are likely to contribute to similarities in oscillatory patterns. Note, however, that this overall similarity does not offer a sufficient explanation for the pervasively observed increase in synchronous oscillatory activity during time periods that impose high demands on musical coordination, given that these periods do not differ in perceptual and motor similarity from other segments of the musical score. To better control for similarities in motor performance, future studies may focus on listeners, individuals playing different instruments, or periods during which one musician is playing and the other is not. Second, our exploration of hyperbrain structures was limited by our measures and statistical procedures. In this sense, our analyses represent first steps into a field that still needs to develop a repertoire of appropriate methodological tools. The symmetric coherence measures used in this study prevented us from exploring directed functional connections between the two brains, and the network properties we observed are contingent upon the thresholding procedure. The application of thresholds has been recommended to confine the topology to substantial and interpretable connections (Rubinov and Sporns, 2010). However, any threshold is arbitrary and may distort network properties. In future work, it is preferable to use directed measures of connectivity and statistical procedures that ascertain the robustness of the results obtained without thresholding. Moreover, we acknowledge that future work on hyperbrain structures should make use of multipartite graphs to more adequately capture the partitioning of the hyperbrain network into within-brain and between-brain component matrices. Third, the relatively low spatial resolution of EEG and the absence of a source analysis greatly limit the ability to draw inferences about the functional role of specific brain areas on the basis of the present study. For instance, most references to specific brain areas in this article borrow heavily from related fMRI work (Lee et al., 2009; Schippers et al., 2010; Stephens et al., 2010). At the same time, the potential of EEG data to provide information about the source of neural activity, especially if complemented by other imaging modalities, is greater than commonly assumed (Michel and He, 2011; Michel and Murray, 2011). Future analyses of the present and related data sets should exploit this potential to a greater extent, and future studies on IAC should combine different imaging modality to optimize both spatial and temporal resolution (e.g., Michel and He, 2011). Finally, the present design, which focused on phase locking and phase coherence across repeated trials, should be complemented by designs that focus on associations between neural and behavioral synchrony in continuous streams of behavior, such as musical improvisation. In this context, it seems worthwhile to adopt the behavioral methodology developed to assess behavioral symmetry and symmetry breaking in dancing or dyadic conversation (Boker and Rotondo, 2002) to the musical domain, in combination with electrophysiological recordings. Also would the example of musical improvisation provide the opportunity to investigate an instance of IAC that incorporates spontaneous turn-taking, thereby coming closer to actual social interaction than our rather synthetic trial-based laboratory design of joint music production.
    binadra1234
    I bet I am that retarded guitarist whose brain doesn't switch to a mode of thinking that is more creative and less-practical.
    h1machiii
    Asa psychologist and a guitar player I am not surprised by this at all. I think many of the same results would appear for some practitioners of the other arts. I found the most interesting part was the difference in the neural activity for the experienced player and the non-experienced during a solo. That may help me personally when trying to solo, I'm going to try something that may help me shut down that one region of the brain.
    MegadethFan18
    Well this only applies to 2% of people here since most people don't shred and refer to it as "Mindless wank". Well now me know its "unconscious wank" I'm a 2%er.
    l0ld4v3
    Shredding is not that different from soloing, or even leading.
    ChucklesMginty
    Saxophonists, pianists and violinists etc. have all been playing fast for decades. We're the only ones with a silly name for it.
    mp8andrade
    Because we're the only ones with legions of musicians who just throw in a bunch of random notes from scales and think it's good. I'm not telling all shredders do it, but trust me when I say most do.
    MegadethFan18
    Shredding can be (and usually is) those things. In the context of a song the solo can be both the lead and shredding. E.g the solo in most Yngwie songs.
    kevinmeyerza
    "When playing guitar in duets" Your article twists the results a bit towards its own "vital" points. I suggest you read the article properly. The title is: Intra- and interbrain synchronization and network properties when playing guitar in duets. besides looking at the date... Front. Hum. Neurosci., 29 November 2012
    jaymz88
    Playing guitar isn't a skill. It's a way of being, a way of life. I agree with that!!
    HelpOrWhat
    In Norway, # is spelled "iss," and b is spelled "ess," except from vowels like E and A. So for example Eb is spelled "Ess." Also, Maj (Like in a BbMaj7 chord) is spelled like the english word "my," which makes this joke a little funny: K#Maj/Ab
    jaymz88
    I think that musicians Brains Are Different Than Everybody Else's. Not just guitar player
    imspazzen
    This applies to pretty much any skill, from programming a computer to flying a plane. A simple lesson in heuristics could tell you that.
    shawnkenneth
    Great, one more reason for elitists to erode normal folk. Now people will be talking about 'Real' guitarists and 'fake' guitarists. Sheesh. But I loved this article nevertheless. But I'm really curious to know whether other instrument players exhibit something similar.
    Sixxstarr
    i think by 'real' they mean people who play, write, and study guitar as an everyday thing in their life as opposed to someone who picks up an acoustic once a week and knows how to play a couple of open chords
    pb15994
    That kind of explains guitarists' inability to play sheet music...
    ggk
    As a guitarist I found it useless to learn read the partitures. For this I use the tablature. The only reason I use partitures is to extract info that can't be tabbed eg. time values, rests etc.
    crazysam23_Atax
    I find sheet music very useful as a guitarist. Why? Because I can play things in the fingering I want, where it's comfortable for me. You should be using your ear when learning songs anyway, so your fingers be following your ear. If you happen to play a middle C on a different fret than the original song (because it's more comfortable for you), what's the issue?
    l0ld4v3
    Is reading another language to you useless? Reading sheet music will develop your lazy brain.
    flameguitarcody
    just to chime in here reading sheet music isn't worthless but what most people totally don't grasp [traditional sheet music readers that is] is that in the long run those tabs you talk down on so much will make said person a better player stick with the guitar you will gain your musical ear. as well as timing, both the main benefits from sheet music what you don't get from it is a choreographed outlook on a particular melody that is may be done in a way you would never EVER do your self. This by itself means nothing but when you learn several pieces from different artists pretty soon you start obtaining all kinds of nice tools to add to the belt that you take from the other guitarists.thus opening more scales chords etc. to you that you may have never tried before
    Sixxstarr
    actually I'd say it's probably because it's more difficult...you can learn to read tablature in a day...learning to sight read sheet music isn't as simple...though i do think everyone should learn it because it allows you to transcribe pieces of music from say piano to guitar
    JamesPendragon
    I cant believe it... No wonder i feel like an outcast, no one but 4 people play guitar at my school. If id have known my brain was wired differently i wouldnt have pissed of 3 out of those 4.
    sPIDER LICE
    And my brains frontal lobe is massive. I love little pink gold fish And I have the ability to suck the dimples out of golf balls. Someone pressed on the soft spot on my head when I was baby.
    munkybusiness
    i used to think i was as and one with my guitar. then i had kids and realised id rather go to bed than play. now i cant even remember the most simple riffs and intro/solos like sanitarium by metallica. all gone forever until it's relearned. drowned out by the midnight howls of new born children. *sigh*
    mzmartinez92
    This is so funny because about a week ago i was jamming and getting really into the guitar playing for my friend and she made fun of me and said whenever i was getting into it i would keep a really straight face. IDK i just felt in the zone but this makes sense hahahah
    hatemple
    Then you sit there and wonder "am I using that part of my brain, or not?" then you have doubts and it's mildly uncomfortable. I KNOW it's not just me!