Playing a Musical Instrument as a Protective Factor against Dementia and Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Twin Study


Increasing evidence supports that playing a musical instrument may benefit cognitive development and health at young ages. Whether playing an instrument provides protection against dementia has not been established. In a population-based cotwin control study, we examined the association between playing a musical instrument and whether or not the twins developed dementia or cognitive impairment. Participation in playing an instrument was taken from informant-based reports of twins’ leisure activities. Dementia diagnoses were based on a complete clinical workup using standard diagnostic criteria. Among 157 twin pairs discordant for dementia and cognitive impairment, 27 pairs were discordant for playing an instrument. Controlling for sex, education, and physical activity, playing a musical instrument was significantly associated with less likelihood of dementia and cognitive impairment (odds ratio [OR] = 0.36 [95% confidence interval 0.13–0.99]). These findings support further consideration of music as a modifiable protective factor against dementia and cognitive impairment.

For our Italian friends:

Crescenti evidenze sperimentali suggeriscono che suonare uno strumento musicale sia positivo per la salute e lo sviluppo cognitivo dei giovani, invece non è stato stabilito se possa esercitare un effetto protettivo contro la demenza. In questo studio gli Autori indagano l’associazione tra il suonare uno strumento e lo sviluppo di demenza o declino cognitivo in una popolazione di gemelli. La capacità o meno di suonare uno strumento è stata dedotta dalle informazioni personali ottenute dai gemelli, mentre la diagnosi di demenza è stata verificata usando i criteri diagnostici standard. Tra 157 gemelli discordanti per lo sviluppo di demenza, 27 coppie erano discordanti anche per l’aver suonato uno strumento musicale. Controllando per sesso, educazione e attività fisica, la capacità di suonare uno strumento era associata con una ridotta probabilità di demenza e disagio cognitivo (odds ratio [OR]?=?0.36 [95% intervallo di confidenza 0.13-0.99]). Questi risultati supportano la possibilità di considerare la musica come fattore protettivo contro demenza e declino cognitivo.

M. Alison Balbag, Nancy L. Pedersen, and Margaret Gatz, “Playing a Musical Instrument as a Protective Factor against Dementia and Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Twin Study,” International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, vol. 2014, Article ID 836748, 6 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/836748

Copyright © 2014 M. Alison Balbag et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Music and Diaspora


Call for Submissions:

The Spring/Summer issue of SEM Student News (Volume 10) will center on the theme of Music and Diaspora. As the term “diaspora” has been both problematized and defended, substituted and accepted, in Volume 10 we hope to engage in the issues and current trends of diaspora music studies, broadly defined. Please take the time to think about submitting or if you know a colleague another student who might be interested in this topic, encourage them to do so.

We are currently accepting submissions for Volume 10 in the following capacities:

- original photography related to topics of the issue

- student submissions (c.150-200 words) for our “State of the Field” column [discussing personal experience and research strategies on the topic]

- student articles/editorials (c. 500-750 words)

- professional submissions either for our “Dear SEM” column (c. 250 words) or individual editorials (c. 500-750 words)

Those planning on submitting a piece, please contact the editor at We also welcome any other ideas, comments, and questions. Submissions should be formatted in Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, in author-date style. Files should be submitted in .doc (text) or .jpg (photography) formats. Be sure to include your contact information and university affiliation in your email.

Submission due by March 20, 2015 to

Categorizations of physical gesture in piano teaching: A preliminary enquiry

The following taken from Communicating musical knowledge through gesture: Piano teachers’ gestural behaviors across different levels of student proficiency. (Psychology of Music, SAGE Journals).


The significance of the “physicality” involved in learning to play a musical instrument and the essential role of teachers are areas in need of research. This article explores the role of gesture within teacher–student communicative interaction in one-to-one piano lessons. Three teachers were required to teach a pre-selected repertoire of two contrasting pieces to three students studying piano grade 1. The data was collected by video recordings of piano lessons and analysis based on the type and frequency of gestures employed by teachers in association to teaching behaviours specifying where gestures fit under (or evade) predefined classifications. Spontaneous co-musical gestures were observed in the process of piano tuition emerging with similar general communicative purposes as spontaneous co-verbal gestures and were essential for the process of musical communication between teachers and students. Observed frequencies of categorized gestures varied significantly between different teaching behaviours and between the three teachers. Parallels established between co-verbal and co-musical spontaneous gestures lead to an argument for extension of McNeill’s (2005) ideas of imagery–language–dialectic to imagery–music–dialectic with relevant implications for piano pedagogy and fields of study invested in musical communication.


The findings of this study revealed that the instrumental teaching context not only makes use of spontaneous co-verbal gestures, but also avails from a set of gestures, that in analogy to co-verbal gestures have here been termed spontaneous co-musical gestures. Whilst McNeill’s (1992, 2005) spontaneous co-verbal gestures provide a relevant conceptual basis for theorizing the interactional communication between teacher and student, spontaneous co-musical gestures were ubiquitous and an essential element in the process of musical communication between teachers and students. Moreover, teachers were observed as employing both spontaneous co-verbal and co-musical gestures simultaneously and in some cases independently for the achievement of specific music instrumental pedagogical ends.

The strongly significant and moderate effect size of the correlation between teaching behaviour and gesture types suggests that there is a relationship between the didactic intention of the teacher and the forms of gesture they use to communicate information to the student. The nature and effectiveness of this relationship should be a subject of further investigation. Such a step might help in the development of teaching strategies alongside factors such as students’ ages and skill levels.

The communicative parallels established between co-verbal and co-musical spontaneous gestures can have important implications for piano pedagogy and fields of study invested in musical communication by instigating new lines of enquiry, promoting empirically based practical and useful knowledge for practitioners. These findings are specific to the context of the Western classical music tradition and considerations of other musical cultures in which music notation may be regarded differently demand their own specific contextual approaches.

Source: Lilian Simones, Franziska Schroeder, and Matthew Rodger

Categorizations of physical gesture in piano teaching: A preliminary enquiry

Psychology of Music. January 2015 43: 103-121, first published on October 8, 2013 doi:10.1177/0305735613498918

UC MERCI Project Wins $300K Award for Music and Science Research


Scott Makeig, research scientist and director of the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience at the Institute for Neural Computation of UC San Diego, has brought together a research group from four UC campuses who have won a $300,000 President’s Research Catalyst Award, one of five such awards across the UC system announced by President Janet Napolitano.

The group’s research, which uses music to understand the human brain, “brings together UC experts on music listening, performance, neuroscience, brain imaging, and data science to understand the transformative potential of music for health and cognition,” says Napolitano’s announcement.

Makeig and his colleagues are among the first to receive the new awards, which will channel $10 million over three years to fund research in areas of strategic importance, such as sustainability and climate, food and nutrition, equity and social justice, education innovation, and health care.

“It’s gratifying to know our work on the frontiers of music, systems neuroscience, and human experience has been recognized for its potential value,” said Makeig. “I’m especially pleased for my collaborators. This is a true team effort by scientists from different disciplines with common interests in musical experience and communication.”

His winning project proposes “an American center for the scientific study of musical experience, communication, and behavior.” The UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative (UC MERCI) will allow UC researchers to share cutting-edge resources and collaboratively develop methods to understand – and enhance – music’s ability to affect and even transform the human mind.

Working with Makeig on the project are John Iversen, Sarah Creel, and Gert Lanckriet of UC San Diego; Ramesh Balasubramaniam, UC Merced; Petr Janata, UC Davis; and Mark Tramo, UCLA. Under the initiative, a group of graduate students will work together across the four campuses. California music-industry groups may also be involved.

“The study of musical experience and communication is truly interdisciplinary,” said Makeig. “For centuries, humanists and scientists have studied music and language from different angles and for varied purposes at conservatories and universities around the globe. We now have an opportunity to gain new understanding by using new scientific tools including brain imaging and computation.”

“A thorough and systematic study of music cognition requires a truly multidisciplinary effort, bringing together neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, medicine and, of course, music. While the UC system has much invested in individuals, technologies, and methodologies for studying each of these separately, a systematic interdisciplinary effort to tackle music-cognition problems could enable UC to attain worldwide prominence in these research areas.”


Above information taken directly from full press release by Paul K. Mueller, which may be found here.

More information on MERCI may be found here.

The causal inference of cortical neural networks during music improvisations

The causal inference of cortical neural networks during music improvisations

Wan X1, Crüts B2, Jensen HJ1 
1 Department of Mathematics and Centre for Complexity Science, Imperial College London, London, UK; 2 Brainmarker BV, Molenweg 15a, Gulpen, The Netherlands

“We present an EEG study of two music improvisation experiments. Professional musicians with high level of improvisation skills were asked to perform music either according to notes (composed music) or in improvisation. Each piece of music was performed in two different modes: strict mode and “let-go” mode. Synchronized EEG data was measured from both musicians and listeners. We used one of the most reliable causality measures: conditional Mutual Information from Mixed Embedding (MIME), to analyze directed correlations between different EEG channels, which was combined with network theory to construct both intra-brain and cross-brain networks. Differences were identified in intra-brain neural networks between composed music and improvisation and between strict mode and “let-go” mode. Particular brain regions such as frontal, parietal and temporal regions were found to play a key role in differentiating the brain activities between different playing conditions. By comparing the level of degree centralities in intra-brain neural networks, we found a difference between the response of musicians and the listeners when comparing the different playing conditions.”

For our Italian friends:

Gli Autori presentano uno studio EEG da due esperimenti di improvvisazione musicale. Ai musicisti professionisti, con un grande livello di capacità di improvvisazione, veniva chiesto di eseguire musica composta o di improvvisare. Ogni pezzo musicale veniva eseguito in due modalità differenti: “preciso” e “rilassato”. I dati di sincronizzazione EEG sono stati registrati sia sui musicisti sia sugli ascoltatori. Gli Autori utilizzano una delle più attendibili misure di causalità, l’Informazione reciproca da embedding misto (MIME) condizionale, per analizzare le correlazioni dirette tra differenti canali EEG, che sono stati combinati con la teoria dei network per costruire circuiti sia intra-cerebrali che cross-cerebrali. Sono state identificate differenze nei network intra-neurali tra la musica composta e l’improvvisazione e tra il modo “preciso” e il modo “rilassato”. Particolari regioni cerebrali come quella frontale, parietale e temporale sono state identificate come regioni chiave nella distinzione delle attività cerebrali tra le differenti condizioni di esecuzione. Comparando i diversi gradi di centralità nei network intra-cerebrali, si è riscontrata una differenza tra la risposta dei musicisti e quella degli ascoltatori quando si comparavano le differenti condizioni di esecuzione.

For full article, please visit Cornell University Library.

CALL FOR PAPERS: Biennial Meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition



The biennial meeting of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition will be held at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 1-5, 2015.

Submissions are welcome from a broad range of disciplines, including (but not limited) to Psychology, Neuroscience, Medicine, Education, Engineering, and Musicology. Abstracts for presentations should be no longer than 300 words and should describe the motivation, methodology, results, and implications to the degree that this information is available at the time of submission.  Empirical contributions should refer to the stimuli/corpus, methodology, and data collected.  Theoretical contributions are also welcome, provided that the connection to music perception and cognition is underscored through discussion of aims, methods, and/or results. Abstracts for proposed symposia are welcome and should include individual abstracts as well as a brief description of the theme.

Abstracts can now be submitted as follows:

  1. Prepare your abstract using this template smpc2015abstracttemplate. Formatting requirements are here:
  1. Register as a new User and Create a CMT account for SMPC conference here:
  1. Go to the drop-down menu “Select Your Role” and choose “Author”. Then click on “Create a new Paper submission” in the Author Console.
  1. Enter in the required information and upload formatted abstract.

Deadline for submissions is 11 pm CDT on February 2, 2015.

Chill-inducing music enhances altruism in humans

Chill-inducing music enhances altruism in humans                                                                                                                                       Frontiers in Psychology, published online October 2014

Fukui H, Toyoshima
Faculty of Education, Nara University of Education, Nara, Japan

Music is a universal feature of human cultures, and it has both fascinated and troubled many researchers. In this paper we show through the dictator game (DG) that an individual’s listening to preferred “chill-inducing” music may promote altruistic behavior that extends beyond the bounds of kin selection or reciprocal altruism. Participants were 22 undergraduate and postgraduate students who were divided into two groups, the in-group and the out-group, and they acted as dictators. The dictators listened to their own preferred “chill-inducing” music, to music they disliked, or to silence, and then played the DG. In this hypothetical experiment, the dictators were given real money (which they did not keep) and were asked to distribute it to the recipients, who were presented as stylized images of men and women displayed on a computer screen. The dictators played the DG both before and after listening to the music. Both male and female dictators gave more money after listening to their preferred music and less after listening to the music they disliked, whereas silence had no effect on the allocated amounts. The group to which the recipient belonged did not influence these trends. The results suggest that listening to preferred “chill-inducing” music promotes altruistic behavior.


Table 1 – Mean allocation of each stimuli.

And for our Italian friends:

La musica è una caratteristica universale tra gli esseri umani, che da anni affascina e intriga i ricercatori. In questo studio i ricercatori dimostrano, attraverso il gioco del dittatore (DG), che quando un individuo ascolta la sua musica preferita, quella che induce i brividi, viene spinto verso comportamenti altruistici che vanno al di là del clan di appartenenza o dell’altruismo reciproco. Hanno partecipato allo studio 22 giovani tra studenti e laureati divisi in due gruppi, il gruppo “interno” e il gruppo “esterno”, e agivano da dittatori. I dittatori ascoltavano musica di loro gradimento o musica che non gradivano, oppure silenzio, prima di agire da dittatori. In questo esperimento ai dittatori veniva dato denaro reale che non potevano però tenere, ma che dovevano distribuire ai riceventi, presentati come immagini stilizzate di uomini e donne sullo schermo di un computer. I dittatori giocavano al DG sia prima sia dopo avere ascolto la musica. Sia i dittatori uomini che donne elargivano più denaro dopo avere ascoltato la loro musica preferita e meno dopo avere ascoltato musica sgradita, mentre il silenzio non aveva alcun effetto sulle somme che venivano allocate. Il gruppo al quale il ricevente apparteneva non influenzava questo trend. Gli Autori concludono che l’ascolto della musica preferita incoraggia comportamenti altruistici.

Fukui, H., & Toyoshima, K. (2014). Chill-inducing music enhances altruism in humans. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1215. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01215

For complete article, please see Frontiers in Psychology.

Editorial note: The views of the following statement contained in the full article, As is widely known, music has the ability to strongly affect a person’s emotions and sometimes even control them (Juslin and Sloboda, 2010),” does not necessarily represent the views of Pathways in Music.

Personal preferred ‘chill-inducing’ moment, in total recollection, occurs in the following piece, 3:32