Guitarists’ Brains are Different – Here’s How

At the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, three researchers of the Center for Lifespan Psychology took up a study in 2012. They sought to measure the brainwaves of guitar players while soloing to see if the waves would match brainwaves studied during social interaction. Amazingly, they found a connection.

In the study, there were 12 pairs of guitarists playing a particular piece of music (Rondo in D-Major by C.G. Scheidler) while being scanned by an EEG machine. This machine maps brainwaves in real time. Researchers can then read those brainwaves and interpret them.

In this case, what they noticed was that each pair of guitar players were not just synchronizing their playing. In fact, they were synchronizing slightly ahead of the notes they were playing. In other words, they started to show the same brainwave patterns from before they even played.

This is probably the meaning behind “band chemistry”. It’s also probably why people like the Allmans and Angus and Malcolm Young are quite so successful.

Another study that looked at improvisation tells us that when an experienced guitarist is shredding away, certain brain regions are more active while others are less so. The part that signals unconscious thought turns on the part that deals with intuition and creative thinking. This might explain a few people we might know.

Jazz guitarist Pat Martino had to have a huge part of his brain removed when he was still quite young. And yet he was able to relearn his craft within just two years. This is an example of how the brain can adapt itself to make up for shortcomings. It is also an example of how certain abilities are so ingrained that they become unconscious. This has not been seen only with music, as many creative abilities appear to be largely intuitive, at least once mastered.

The 2012 study noticed something else as well. When the guitarists were playing as a duet, the brain wave patterns resembled those that appear during social coordination.

This suggests that guitarists are largely intuitive, creative types with social leanings. Nothing we didn’t already know, but now science seems to be confirming what we all thought was a stereotype with a kernel of truth!