August 07, 2003
Neurofeedback Training Improves Musical Performance Skills

Use neurofeedback to become a better musician.

Researchers from Imperial College London and Charing Cross Hospital have discovered a way to help musicians improve their musical performances by an average of up to 17 per cent, equivalent to an improvement of one grade or class of honours.

The research published in this months edition of Neuroreport, shows that using a process known as neurofeedback, students at London's Royal College of Music were able to improve their performance across a number of areas including their musical understanding and imagination, and their communication with the audience.

Dr Tobias Egner, from Imperial College London at Charing Cross Hospital, one of the authors of the study, comments: "This is a unique use of neurofeedback. It has been used for helping with a number of conditions such as attention deficit disorder and epilepsy, but this is the first time it has been used to improve a complex set of skills such as musical performance in healthy students."

Two experiments were conducted involving a total of 97 students. In both experiments, the students were assessed on two pieces of music, both before and after the neurofeedback training, according to a 10-point scale adapted from a standard set of music performance evaluation criteria of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, by a panel of expert judges. The judges evaluated video-recorded performances, and were unaware of whether the performance had been given before or after the intervention.

Neurofeedback monitors brain activity through sensors attached to the scalp which filter out the brainwaves. These filtered brainwaves are then fed back to the individual in the form of a video game displayed on screen, and the participant learns to control the game by altering particular aspects of their brain activity. This alteration in brain activity can influence cognitive performance.

In the first experiment, 22 students out of 36 were trained on two neurofeedback protocols (SMR and beta1), commonly used as tools for the enhancement of attention, and, following this, on a deep relaxation alpha/theta (a/t) protocol. In addition a second group of 12 was engaged in a regime of weekly physical exercise and a mental skills training programme derived from applications in sports psychology. A third group consisted of a scholastic grade and age matched no-training group, which served as a control grade.

In the second experiment, a different cohort of students were randomly allocated to one of six training groups: alpha/theta neurofeedback, beta1 neurofeedback, SMR neurofeedback, physical exercise, mental skills training, or a group that engaged in Alexander Technique training.

All of the students who received neurofeedback training were found to have improved their performances marginally compared with those who received other forms of training, but those who had received the alpha/theta (a/t) protocol improved their performance the most. The range of improvement in performance for the alpha/theta group was between 13.5 per cent and 17 per cent.

Professor John Gruzelier, from Imperial College London at Charing Cross Hospital, and senior author of the study, adds: "These results show that neurofeedback can have a marked effect on musical performance. The alpha/theta training protocol has found promising applications as a complementary therapeutic tool in post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. While it has a role in stress reduction by reducing the level of stage fright, the magnitude and range of beneficial effects on artistic aspects of performance have wider implications than alleviating stress."

In light of other recent results about musical training improving verbal abilities it would be interesting to know whether neurofeedback training can improve verbal abilities as well.

Update: Links to published papers of their research available here.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 August 07 01:13 PM  Brain Enhancement

John Moore (Useful Fools) said at August 8, 2003 11:27 PM:

Back at the start of "New Age" silliness, I was manufacturing and selling widgets to do this same thing - except the term then was biofeedback. I suppose neurofeedback is a more narrow term. Anyhow, I sold a device for learning to control mid frequency ( alpha and theta) brainwaves. It was called the Transcendental Mediator :-) I got started in this business when I built one for myself, and then all my friends wanted them. I met some of the strangest people in that business, from a parapsychological researcher to a famous musician (whose check bounced) to a Hollywood Producer/Inventor to a brilliant engineer who was 15 years old to a bunch of con artists selling crap and bad ideas to the gullible - whom I also met in large numbers.

Then again, this WAS in California (LA) in the early 70s.

Oh, BTW, you could achieve some interesting mental states with this type of gadget.

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