Dr. Daniela Sammler: Musical Action Planning in Expert Pianists

Event date: 
Wednesday 16 May
Alison House, Lecture Room B

Musical Action Planning in Expert Pianists

Wednesday 16th May, 2.30 pm, Alison House, Lecture Room B

Dr. Daniela Sammler

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig

Over the past 20 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. One aspect that has been studied particularly well in perception is musical syntax, i.e. the processing of harmonic rules in the auditory signal. The present talk will demonstrate that the notion of syntax not only applies to the auditory modality but transfers – in trained musicians – to a “grammar of musical action”. I will present a series of neuroimaging experiments that show (i) that the performance of musicians is guided by their music-syntactic knowledge – irrespective of sounds, (ii) that syntax takes priority over the selection of finger movements during piano performance, (iii) that training style (classical vs. Jazz) has an impact on syntactic motor planning, and (iv) that syntax perception and production in music overlap partly – but not fully – in the musician’s brain. Altogether, these results show how strongly musicians rely on syntax as a scaffolding that facilitates their performance and enables them to achieve the motoric proficiency that is required on stage.

Daniela Sammler is leader of the independent research group Neural Bases of Intonation in Speech and Music at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. Her research focuses on the neurocognition of music and language and their social roles in human interaction. She combines behavioural, neuroimaging and brain stimulation techniques in healthy and brain damaged adults and professional musicians to elucidate the mechanisms of music/language perception and production. Dr Sammler received her Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig (2008) and was recipient of the Otto Hahn Award of the Max Planck Society for her outstanding doctoral dissertation. She has conducted research at the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, University of Glasgow, and Western Sydney University and has published in Journal of Memory and Language, Current Biology, Brain, and Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, among other scholarly journals.