The brains of trained professional musicians fire more symmetrically when listening to music than non-musicians.

This is the finding of researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland who discovered that the musicians’ brain activity displayed a much better balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Doctoral student Iballa Burunat and her team used an fMRI scanner to look at the brains of 18 musicians and another 18 without musical expertise. The musicians all played professionally and all had undertaken formal music education. Participants were played three different types of music while in the scanner: Argentinian tango, Stravinsky and prog rock.

They found that the two halves of the brain communicate better in professional musicians compared to non-musicians and this is supported by previous findings that the tissue connecting the two parts (the corpus callosum) is physically larger in musicians.

Keyboard players showed the most balanced brain activity across the hemispheres, but why was this?

Burunat told the New Scientist: “Keyboard players have a more mirrored use of both hands and fingers when playing. Although playing a string instrument also requires fine motor skills and hand coordination, it enforces a strict asynchrony between left-hand and right-hand finger movements.”

Understanding how the brain reacts to music has been the focus of numerous research projects over the years, uncovering revelations from foetuses being stimulated in the womb and even “singing” to the realisation that learning a musical instrument can actually change the structure of the brain itself.