©Arlene R. Taylor PhD

Testing modalities such as PET Scans and MRI/fMRI have shown the general distribution of selected functions within a given brain. Brain scans are expensive and utilized primarily for research and for diagnosis of injury/disease. This makes it somewhat difficult to generalize about the location of musical capacities within any given brain. There appears to be a wide variation among individuals, especially since each brain is as unique as the person’s thumbprint. The precise location of a function within a cerebral division may depend on one’s innate giftedness, the age of the individual when the study of music was initiated, and other factors, such as:

  • The type of stage props related to music that were available in the environment
  • Type of training and/or education (e.g., formal, informal), experience and level of competence
  • Whether an individual composes or arranges music or simply prefers to listen to it
  • Whether one is proficient in sight-reading or playing by ear
  • Whether one plays an instrument that involves primarily hands and feet (e.g., organ, piano, drums, marimba, vibes, harp) or lips, fingers, and lungs (e.g. clarinet, trumpet, flute, trombone)

Your perception of music, as well as the way in which you approach its study, performance, and appreciation is impacted by nature and nurture, along with your thoughts, choices, experiences, beliefs, maturity, and acquired wisdom. Nature refers to your innate giftedness. Nurture refers to the environmental actions, expectations, and socialization that have shaped nature. Musical perception is not relegated to the hearing, only.

In a 2001 study, researchers from the University of Washington found that people who were hearing impaired had brain activity in the auditory cortex, suggesting their brains rewire themselves to process sound vibrations. According to Dean Shibata, these individuals enjoyed music and were able to sense melody and rhythm, often holding a balloon in their fingers to amplify the vibrations. “It's not clear what they can perceive, but it's clear that they enjoy it,” Shibata explained.