Multiple studies have been conducted in the last decade to compile more research on the effects of music on the brain. One study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD in 2008 found that the brains of musicians interrupt music and language similarly.
The study recruited jazz piano players aged 25 to 26 to spend 10 minutes in an MRI machine while improvising a piece of music with other musicians in the room outside of the MRI in a process called “trading fours.” Each exchange of music involves the musicians responding. The piano players were given a plastic keyboard to play inside the MRI machine. A mirror was placed inside the machine so the player could view their finger placement on the keys.
Analyzing the results of the MRI scans, researchers found- while improvising – the areas of the musicians’ brains linked to syntax and language processing were activated. These areas are called “the inferior frontal gyrus” and “the posterior superior temporal gyrus” became deactivated during the improvisation sessions.
These findings suggest that the regions of the brain that process syntax are not limited to spoken word language.
“We’ve shown in this study that there is a fundamental difference between how meaning is processed by the brain for music and language,” says Dr. Charles Limb, senior study author and a fellow musician. “Specifically, it’s syntactic and not semantic processing that is key to this type of musical communication. Meanwhile, conventional notions of semantics may not apply to musical processing by the brain.”
Similar studies have found that music has various effects on the brains of non-musicians as well. A 2013 study used MRI to scan the brains of participants as they listened to different genres of music. The study found that music is processed as a “special kind of language, one that works on our emotions rather than our reason”, and that each genre produced different reactions in the brain.