Scientists scan Sting’s brain to find out how it organizes music

Scientists have scanned the brain of famous musician Sting to garner an understanding of commonalities in brains of gifted individuals including musicians, scientists, politicians.

Right off the bat, this would seem rather odd considering that each of the musicians, scientists, politicians will have disparate thought processes and ways of thinking and looking at things; however, scientists believe that might not be the case and deeper look inside their brains could reveal more.

For the study scientists at McGill University conducted functional and structural scans using the brain imaging unit of university’s Montreal Neurological Institute. Scientists at McGill then teamed up with a leading brain-scan expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara, to use two novel techniques to analyze the scans. The techniques, known as multivoxel pattern analysis and representational dissimilarity analysis, showed which songs Sting found similar to one another and which ones are dissimilar – based not on tests or questionnaires, but on activations of brain regions.

“At the heart of these methods is the ability to test if patterns of brain activity are more alike for two similar styles of music compared to different styles. This approach has never before been considered in brain imaging experiments of music,” notes Scott Grafton of University of California.

Research based on Sting’s brain scan showed that there are several connections between pieces of music. Researchers pointed out Piazzolla’s “Libertango” and the Beatles’ “Girl” and said that these two are the most similar. Both are in minor keys and include similar melodic motifs, the paper reveals. Another example: Sting’s own “Moon over Bourbon Street” and Booker T. and the MG’s “Green Onions,” both of which are in the key of F minor, have the same tempo (132 beats per minute) and a swing rhythm.

Scientists say that their method an be used to a range of things including how athletes organize their thoughts about body movements; how writers organize their thoughts about characters; and how painters think about color, form and space; among other things.

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