Scan helps scientists understand how he processes music
By David Sands
August 25, 2016
Sting no doubt puts a lot of thought into his songs, but visualizing just how he thinks about music hasn’t been something that’s been easy to do…up until now. That’s because the former Police frontman had his brain scanned by scientists at McGill University in Montreal. The results of the scan were recently published in a report by Daniel Levitin and Scott Grafton in the scientific journal Neurocase.
“These state-of the-art techniques really allowed us to make maps of how Sting’s brain organizes music,” Levitin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “That’s important because at the heart of great musicianship is the ability to manipulate in one’s mind rich representations of the desired soundscape.”
The whole thing started a few years back when the singer and bassist read the book This Is Your Brain on Music by Levitin, a cognitive psychologist at McGill. Later, when Sting was scheduling a trip to play a concert in Montreal, his representatives contacted Levitin and inquired if he could take a tour of the lab.
Levitin agreed, but also asked if Sting would like to have scan of his brain done—something other musicians have done at his lab in the past. The process involved using an fMRI machine, which took both functional and structural scans of Sting’s brain. The approach used by the scientists allows them to compare how the mind compares different kinds of music.
“Sting’s brain scan pointed us to several connections between pieces of music that I know well but had never seen as related before,” says Levitin. “Piazzolla’s ‘Libertango’ and the Beatles’ ‘Girl’ proved to be two of the most similar. Both are in minor keys and include similar melodic motifs, the paper reveals.”
“Another example: Sting’s own ‘Moon over Bourbon Street” and Booker T. and the MG’s ‘Green Onions,'” added Levitin, “both of which are in the key of F minor, have the same tempo (132 beats per minute) and a swing rhythm.”
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