©Arlene R. Taylor PhD

altEach cerebral mode manages functions that have application to musical activities, although specific functions may be developed and/or located somewhat differently in individual brains. You can develop and utilize functions from all four cerebral modes by choice, although the way in which you approach music and the amount of energy you expend will differ based on your brain’s innate energy advantage or brain lead.

Researchers at the Dartmouth's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience studied the brains of musicians as they listened to original music. The research subjects had studied music for at least 12 years. The functional MRI tracked which parts of the brain were active as the subjects listened to music and tried to pick out specific tones and detect notes played by a flute-like instrument (as separate from a clarinet).

A portion of the brain known as the rostromedial prefrontal cortex of the cerebrum appears to be involved in one’s ability to remember music and recall a melody. This part of the brain can even identify a wrong note in the midst of a familiar tune. Interestingly enough, the researchers reported that the brains of each of the subjects tracked the sounds in a slightly different way each time the music was played. This may be the reason the same music, at different times or in differing situations, may trigger different emotions. (Refer to Brain References: Music and the Brain for additional information.)

Following are examples of potential functional contributions of each cerebral division to music.

altPrioritizing Division

altEnvisioning Division


This division is sometimes referred to as the mathematical division, although both frontal modes are involved with math (e.g., the left frontal division with algebra, arithmetic, statistics, and part of calculus; the right frontal division with geometry, trigonometry, and parts of calculus).

Individuals with an energy advantage in this division may prefer mathematical music (e.g., counterpoint, music of the classical masters).

Functions of this division help one to:

  • Set goals and make decisions about music
  • Understand the structure and function of music
  • Analyze musical forms and structures


This division is musically artistic and innovative, enjoys the big picture in music and is willing to adapt to changes in musical liturgy, innovate, and embrace new musical forms.

Individuals with an energy advantage in this division may enjoy music that departs from traditional rules (e.g., dissonance, irregular rhythms).

Functions of this division help one to:

  • Compose, improvise, modulate, arrange, and rearrange
  • Enjoy forms of music that do not necessarily follow the raditional rules of music
  • Risk trying things that may be new and experimental


altMaintaining Division

altHarmonizing Division


This division is both developed and called upon during the formal study of music, assisting individuals to understand the building blocks of music (e.g., the form of music including chord structure and time signatures).

Individuals with an energy advantage in this division may prefer music that is traditional and familiar.

Functions of this division help one to:

  • Be sensitive to rhythm as in counting, or marching, especially while playing an instrument
  • Develop practice routines
  • Exhibit prestidigitation
  • Develop “labels” for musical functions
  • Pay attention to details in sequence (e.g., sight-reading of music, recall of lyrics)
  • Follow the rules in music
  • Meet practice and/or performance schedules


This division is thought to be the home ofnative musical ability, so-called.

Individuals with an energy advantage in this division may prefer relational, emotional, and spiritual music such as gospel songs, romantic music, and music that tells a story (e.g., country and western, blues); may enjoy rhythm, liking to tap a foot or finger to rhythmic music.

Functions of this division help one to:

  • Play music by ear
  • Be expressive in musical interpretations
  • Be sensitive to pitch and timbre
  • Recall melody lines easily, but not necessarily the titles or words of songs
  • Enjoy listening to music (especially music without words)
  • Follow rhythm (e.g., exercising, dancing) or mimic correographed patterns when performing with a group)


Growing up, you may have heard that if something wasn’t difficult to accomplish it probably wasn’t worth doing. That belief is not holding up under the scrutiny of current brain-function information. In fact, the opposite may be true. There is a huge difference between having learned to do something well and doing it energy efficiently. It is the difference between the perception that you’re working energy-efficiently versus working very hard to accomplish a given task. This means that some musical activities will require a great deal of energy to accomplish. Others may be accomplished with minimum expenditures of energy. Understanding the key characteristics of each division in relation to music may help to reduce tension and misunderstanding as well as enhance relationships both personal and professional.

Following are examples of potential musical contributions of each cerebral division.

altPrioritizing Division

altEnvisioning Division


  • Sets goals for studying and analyzing music
  • Breaks goals down into manageable steps
  • Prioritizes activities needed to achieve goals
  • Does first things first when studying music
  • Utilizes willpower to achieve musical goals
  • Abstracts meaning from music
  • Analyzes music for theory, compositional components, purpose, message, and functionality
  • Assigns labels for music and musical signs
  • Directs the Maintaining division to store and recall musical signs
  • Tends to gravitate toward powerful, majestic, mathematical music (e.g., music of the classical masters, anthems)
  • Wants to be in charge of lessons, selection of music, schedules, and performance
  • Tends to plays music with control, precision, power, command, and authority


  • Interested in the big picture musically
  • Envisions musical change and pursues it
  • Helps to compose, modulate, improvise, innovate
  • Seeks for variety to avoid boredom
  • Risks breaking musical rules (e.g., dissonance, rhythm, harmonization)
  • Contributes musical spontaneity and surprise
  • Tends toward unusual/dramatic musical performance
  • May actually perform music better than might be expected based on previous practice sessions
  • May skip sequential details in exchange for concentrating on the overall performance
  • Dislikes routines (e.g., practicing), yet can lose all track of time if interested in the project
  • Gravitates to new, innovative, unusual music
  • May gesture when listening to music
  • Tends to play music with creative abandon and/or awe and can getcarried away (e.g., lose all sense of time and place)


altMaintaining Division

altEnvisioning Division


  • Learns the building blocks of music (e.g., chord structure, time/key signatures, notes, rests, ornamentation, scales, arpeggios)
  • Recalls musical labels
  • Identifies and names sounds
  • Reads words and musical notations, and translates them into something that has meaning
  • Follows the rules of music (e.g., writing, transposing, composing, harmonizing)
  • Memorizes music precisely and by rote
  • Pays attention to details (e.g., counting, key signatures, accidentals, metronome guidelines)
  • May learn to sight-read easily (e.g., recognizes and interprets signs for sounds and silence)
  • Conforms to lesson and practice schedules
  • May need written music in order to play (as compared with playing by ear)
  • Often prefers familiar, traditional music
  • Tends to pay attention to musical details, notations, or directions
  • Tends to play music with precise time and rhythm and with restraint


  • Likes to discuss the music with others and peform with friends and colleagues
  • Wants to please (e.g., teacher, audience, family, friends) and is very sensitive to criticism (as well as to encouragement and affirmation)
  • Perceives musical quality (e.g., rhythm, melody)
  • May becomes discouraged easily when the music doesn’t sound right or when makes mistakes
  • Sensitive to the body language of others (e.g., the teacher, other musicians, the audience)
  • Is sensitive to emotions and feelings triggered by the music
  • Understands symbols in relation to musical expression (e.g., patriotic songs, love songs)
  • May play by ear easily
  • Tends to gravitate toward music that has a melody line and harmonious sounds
  • Often prefers music that tells a story (country and western, blues, gospel) or that is rhythmical (marches, waltzes, swing)
  • May move body to the music (e.g., dance, sway)
  • Tends to play music with sensitivity, emotion, and feeling


Sound and Energy

altSound requires the expenditure of energy. Energy only comes out of a musical instrument when energy goes into it. When you listen to a violin being played, you are hearing energy in the violinist’s muscles transformed into sound. Only about 1% of the energy put into an instrument comes out as sound.

Acoustic power is measured in watts and every instrument has a maximum power output. For example, a violin, flute or clarinet puts out about 1/20 of a watt at its loudest; a tuba puts out 1/5 of a watt; a trumpet, 1/3 of a watt; and a typical piano, almost ½ of a watt. Other instruments put out more such as the trombone at 6 watts, cymbals at 10 watts, and a bass drum at 25 watts.

Based on your brain’s innate energy advantage you may find specific musical activities easier or more challenging to master, and more energy-efficient or energy-intensive. While the undamaged brain can probably learn to do most musical activities at some level, it is prudent to capitalize on those aspects that are energy-efficient for your brain.

It is also important to recognize that it generally requires the development of skills in a given musical activity for one’s potential abilities to be realized and demonstrated. Individuals with a similar brain lead may still have varying potential abilities within those functions. This may be due to Genetics or Epigenetics. Some individuals possess and express an especial giftedness that is sometimes referred to as virtuosity.