‘Imagining’ piano practice better than real thing

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Imagining playing the piano could help you improve more than traditional practice, new research suggests.

Players who followed a co-performer’s lead by mentally copying their technique saw their own accuracy and timing improved, University of Edinburgh scientists found.

Scientists studied the brains of pianists whilst they played alongside a duet partner shown over a video link.

And the findings could lead on to a better understanding of how people carry out a conversation.

The study involved stimulating different regions of the musicians’ brains to identify which parts were most active when they practised their own part, and then their partner’s.

As the pianists practised their partner’s music, watching their co-performer play activated a part of the brain that controlled automatic simulation of hand movements.

This part of the brain appeared to help the musicians hit the right notes at the right time.’

PhD student Lauren Hadley said: “The findings suggest that musicians put themselves in their partner’s shoes to better predict their actions.

“Next it would be interesting to look at whether people do this in other turn-taking contexts, such as during conversation.”

The study involved 16 pianists with more than eight years’ experience and was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.