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Festival of science Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Brain control improves the music
Music BBC
Interpretive imagination improved as well
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Musicians have been trained how to improve their performance by learning to control their brain rhythms using a computer game.

Twenty-two musicians from the Royal College of Music in London, UK, were taught how to access a relaxed brain state with a game that responded to the electrical activity in their heads.

Professional musicians asked to rate their performances after training found that the quality of their music, emotional commitment and interpretive imagination all improved.

The technique, known as neurofeedback training, has already been used as a clinical tool for helping children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to concentrate.

'Go with the flow'

To learn to control their brain rhythms, the musicians were shown a picture of a boat and asked to make it sail towards the horizon. This only happened when they achieved the desired brain state.

"First you try as hard as you can to make the boat move, and it just goes backwards," John Gruzelier, professor of psychology at Imperial College Medical School, told the British Association's Festival of Science.

"Soon you learn to go with the flow, and let your brain do all the work for you."

"The idea is that having learned how to do this in the laboratory, you can then turn it on anywhere. It would probably take 100 years to do it without the feedback."

Walk in the park

Science is also coming up with solutions for performers who suffer stage fright.

One approach, being studied by Professor Adrian Taylor, from De Montfort University, Bedford, is physical fitness training.

The research found that even modest aerobic activity, such as a walk in the park, reduced anxiety and might combat stage nerves.

Eight musicians from the Royal College of Music were put through a six-week physical training programme, including aerobic exercise and resistance training.

At the end of the programme, they reported reduced levels of anxiety prior to performance.

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The BBC's Christine McGourty reports
"Professor Adrian Taylor... has been working with music students to see if exercise can reduce stagefright"
See also:

12 Oct 99 | Sheffield 99
22 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
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