Piano tuning changes brain structure

29 August 2012, 16:43 | Updated: 29 August 2012, 16:55

You don't need tuning forks or perfect pitch to tune a piano - in fact, listening to minute differences between notes can improve your brain structure, according to a new study

Listening to two notes being played at the same time changes the grey and white matter in the brain, according to new research from University College London and Newcastle University.

Piano tuning involves listening to the sound of two notes being played simultaneously. Playing the two notes at the same time creates a wobbling sound, known as a beat – the tuners detect the minute changes in frequency of this beat and adjust the notes so they sound in tune.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL and Newcastle University have discovered such intense listening changes the structure of piano tuners’ brains, after testing 19 professional piano tuners and 19 controls. This includes the grey matter, where information processing takes place, and the white matter, where the nerve connections are made.

One of the authors, Sundeep Teki from UCL, said: "We already know that musical training can correlate with structural changes, but our group of professionals offered a rare opportunity to examine the ability of brain to adapt over time to a very specialised form of listening."

Surprisingly, these changes might not have much to do with musical expertise. They occurred in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory and navigation, rather than in the auditory part.