May 25, 2019

Piano on the Brain

Tomoko asserts, “You need a brain to play.” Playing the piano is a complex system of processes that weave cognitive, emotional and kinesthetic aspects. This entry focuses on that complex organ: the brain.

The brain may be called “control Center” because it processes the senses and largely directs the body’s movement, certainly its conscious efforts.

First one has to sight-read the composition, which normally consists of two sets of music lines, each in a different clef. That step uses the visual cortex and the occipital lobe, which processes visual data.

Over time, the pianist does not have to look at the keyboard to know where the keys are located, but they still need special skill. That entails the brain’s parietal lobe to process touch, the cerebellum to coordinate the hands, and the right hemisphere to control the creative side.

Usually both hands – and the ten fingers -- are needed to play the notes, and the rhythms played by each hand may differ significantly. In terms of the brain’s work, the primary motor cortex, the prefrontal cortex (which plans and decides action), and the cerebellum (which coordinates muscle).

The ears are needed to adjust one’s playing, so the auditory cortex process the sounds and the temporal lobe is the key to understanding those sounds and pitches.

The pianist has to keep time, synchronizing all the senses’ input and motor activity. The prefrontal cortex focuses on cognition and the cerebellum coordinates kinesthetics.

One could say that pianists are master multitaskers. That title certainly applies to Tomoko.

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