When guitarists play together

There’s something about playing together — and singing harmony — that feels better than anything in the world, so I thought this was fascinating:

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have shown that synchronization emerges between brains when making music together, and even when musicians play different voices. In a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, Johanna Sanger and her team used electrodes to record the brain waves of guitarists while they played different voices of the same duet. The results point to brain synchronicity that cannot be explained away by similitudes in external stimulation but can be attributed to a more profound interpersonal coordination.


Scientists working with Ulman Lindenberger at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin already discovered synchronous brain activity between musicians playing the same piece in 2009. The current study goes one step further by examining the brain activity of guitar players performing a piece of music with two different parts. Their aim was to find out whether musicians’ brains would synchronize if the two guitarists were not playing exactly the same notes, but instead played different voices of the same song.


To test their hypothesis, the psychologists arranged 32 experienced guitarists in duet pairs, and recorded electrical activity in different brain regions of each musician. They were then asked to play a sequence from the “Sonata in G Major” by Christian Gottlieb Scheidler a total of 60 times, and the duet partners were given slightly different tasks: each musician had to play a different voice, and one of the two was responsible for ensuring that they started at the same time and held the same tempo. Thus, one person took the lead and the other followed.


The duet’s brain activities showed coordinated brain oscillations, even when playing different voices of the same duet. Called phase coherence, this synchronous activity suggests a direct neural basis for interpersonal coordination.

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