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How Drummers' Brains Are Unique

How Drummers' Brains Are Unique

Wednesday, 18 December, 2019 - 09:00
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California. ( Getty )

While most individuals can perform easy motor tasks with two hands at a similar level, only very few individuals can perform complex fine motor tasks with both hands equally well – like drummers.

Despite the unusual abilities of drummers, until now, no studies have focused on the drummer's brain. But, recently, a group of researchers from Bergmannsheil University Clinic and the biopsychology research unit at Ruhr-Universität, both in Bochum, Germany, set out to investigate drumming-associated brain changes.

The study, published in the journal Brain and Behavior, found there were differences in the structure of the corpus callosum between the drummers and non-drummers.

To investigate, the scientists recruited 20 professional drummers who had an average of 17 years of drumming experience and practiced for an average of 10.5 hours each week. They also recruited 24 control subjects who did not play any musical instruments. They also used MRI scanning technology to measure various aspects of their brains' structure and function.

In general, former studies have examined changes in cortical gray matter, which includes regions responsible for perception, memory, speech, decision making, and much more.

In the latest study, however, the authors focused on white matter, the information superhighway of the brain.

When a right-handed person carries out a task with their right hand, the left-hand side of the brain, or the contralateral hemisphere, typically regulates it. When someone carries out a task with their left hand, both sides of the brain tend to share the load. The corpus callosum, a thick tract of white matter that connects the two hemispheres, plays an essential role in this hemispheric asymmetry.

The scientists found that a drummer's corpus callosum has higher rates of diffusion than the controls, particularly the front, or anterior section. The discovery requires a different explanation since a higher diffusion rate in the corpus callosum is not considered a good sign. It usually implies loss of or damage to white matter, as seen in people with multiple sclerosis.

In a report published Monday by the Medical News Today website, the study's lead author said: "Because these participants were all young and healthy, the discovery requires a different explanation. The anterior corpus callosum in drummers contains fewer fibers, but that these fibers are thicker than in non-drummers. This is important because thicker fibers transfer impulses more quickly."

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