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University of Southern California

1. Tuttle, Meghen Miles. Majoring in music: how conservatory training changes the brain.

Degree: PhD, Neuroscience, 2014, University of Southern California

Studies investigating musical experience-dependent neuroplasticity clearly show the presence of neuroanatomical differences between musicians and non-musicians, in a variety of regions having functionally to do with music perception and performance, including primary motor cortex (precentral gyrus), somatosensory cortex (postcentral gyrus), primary auditory cortex (Heschl’s gyrus), inferior frontal gyrus, cerebellum, and corpus callosum. The current study sought to answer the question of whether or not four years spent in conservatory-style training would be long enough to elicit noticeable changes in these regions of interest (ROIs). A comparison group of architecture majors was chosen for the educational similarities between architecture and music performance degrees; previously published studies have largely compared musicians to non-musicians of many disciplines. Two main methods were used to analyze the dataset collected: voxel-based morphometry (VBM), and a semi-automated anatomical approach using the software BrainSuite. The two methods differ in terms of time required for analysis, the types of comparisons that can be made, and what they measure. Regarding the latter, VBM measures groupwise differences in grey matter density, and BrainSuite analysis yields volumetric and thickness measurements in individual subjects. The results were as follows: 1. Music seniors exhibited increased grey matter density in right cerebellum, and total volume, grey matter volume, and white matter volume increases in left postcentral gyrus, when compared to music freshmen. 2. Music majors as a whole exhibited increased grey matter density in left anterior insula, and total volume and grey matter volume increases, as well as a statistical trend toward increased white matter volume, in left Broca’s area, when compared to architecture majors as a whole. 3. An effect of instrumentation (piano, strings, or voice) could be seen in bilateral precentral gyrus and right postcentral gyrus. 4. Finally, the age of onset of training on the primary instrument was found to negatively correlate with measurements in left precentral gyrus, left pars triangularis, left Heschl’s gyrus, and bilateral cingulate gyrus, regions found in both the extant literature and my hypotheses for this study. These regional correlations differed between instrumentalists and vocalists. I conclude that studies undertaken in the field of musical experience-dependent neuroplasticity have possible implications in the fields of education and music therapy. Advisors/Committee Members: Damasio, AntonioDamasio, Hanna (Committee Chair), Cutietta, Robert (Committee Member), Baker, Laura A. (Committee Member).

Subjects/Keywords: MRI; music; musician; neuroanatomy; neuroplasticity; training; architect; architecture; conservatory; VBM; BrainSuite

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APA (6th Edition):

Tuttle, M. M. (2014). Majoring in music: how conservatory training changes the brain. (Doctoral Dissertation). University of Southern California. Retrieved from

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Tuttle, Meghen Miles. “Majoring in music: how conservatory training changes the brain.” 2014. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Southern California. Accessed October 21, 2019.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Tuttle, Meghen Miles. “Majoring in music: how conservatory training changes the brain.” 2014. Web. 21 Oct 2019.


Tuttle MM. Majoring in music: how conservatory training changes the brain. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Southern California; 2014. [cited 2019 Oct 21]. Available from:

Council of Science Editors:

Tuttle MM. Majoring in music: how conservatory training changes the brain. [Doctoral Dissertation]. University of Southern California; 2014. Available from: