Conductors single out sour side notes | Science News

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Conductors single out sour side notes

10:59am, February 5, 2001

Experienced classical-music conductors wield their batons like master anglers, pulling musical keepers out of an orchestra's pool of instrumentalists. This impressive feat—which occurs only after many practice sessions leading up to a concert—requires maestros to monitor both the orchestra's overall performance and the contributions of specific violinists, oboists, trumpeters, and so on.

Skilled conductors sort through the symphonic cacophony by homing in on subtle changes in sounds originating from precise locations to the side as well as in front of them, a new study finds. Measurements of the brain's electrical activity indicate that conductors allocate just as much attention to peripheral sounds as to centrally located sounds, a team of neuropsychologists reports in the Feb. 1 Nature.

Neither nonmusicians nor classical pianists possess this acoustic side-scanning ability, underscoring its key role in orchestra conducting, say Thomas F. Mó

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