Solo and duet: Neural bases of piano performance


Daniela Sammler

Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

Frankfurt/Main, Germany


Everywhere in the world people enjoy listening to and making music together. Over the past 30 years, research on the neurocognition of music has gained a lot of insights into how the brain perceives music. Yet, our knowledge about the neural mechanisms of music production remains sparse. How does a musical idea turn into action? And how do musicians coordinate sounds and actions when they perform in groups? The present line of research isolated distinct levels of action planning in solo pianists and identified dynamically balanced mechanisms of interaction in duetting pianists using 3T fMRI and dual EEG. The data converge on three main findings: (A) distinct neural networks for abstract harmonic and concrete motor planning converge in left lateral prefrontal cortex that acts as a hub for solo music production, (B) internal models of other-produced musical parts in cortico-cerebellar audio-motor networks shift the balance between self-other integration and segregation of duet partners, and (C) interbrain synchrony during joint musical action is not merely an epiphenomenon of shared sensorimotor information but is modulated by the alignment of cognitive processes. Altogether, it will become clear that solo and joint music performance relies on general principles of human cognition tuned to achieve the musical perfection required on stage.