This story is over 5 years old.

Can Brain Scans Tell Us the Difference Between a Good Artist and a Great Artist?

McGill University just blinded us with science.
Screencaps via

Have you ever found that no matter how fiercely you practice the guitar, you’re just not getting any closer to becoming the next Johnny Marr?

Scientists at McGill University under the International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research (BRAMS) are starting to answer the question of why some people have a natural aptitude for music while others hit a ceiling. As WIRED reports, neuroscience specialists are using a specially-designed cello that can be played in an MRI machine to record the brainwaves of a cellist as she plays, tracking how her brain responds when she hears an off-note or when she makes a mistake. By tracking these patterns, the end result will show how different brains overcompensate for error.


“You know, when you watch or listen to an expert musician, it’s amazing to see what they do. The ability that they have to have control over their instrument is the thing that everyone always finds remarkable. So we want to understand what makes that particular individual so good?” Robert Zatorre, one of the leading cognitive neuroscientists involved with the study, says in the short video below.

The trajectory of this research is to expand knowledge on auditory therapy for stroke patients, but the implications about your genetics can determine whether you're a good musician versus a great musician are food for thought. Watch the video below to learn more about your brain on music.

Neurologist Robert Zatorre worked on the project with his PhD Student Melanie Segado, Schulich School of Music engineer Marcelo Wanderley, and his student Avrum Hollinger.


Watch a Man Play Guitar While Getting Brain Surgery

Hear a Handsfree Guitar Play a Haunting Melody

10 Pieces Of Music Created With Brainwaves