Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 1, pp 297–305 | Cite as

Keeping brains young with making music

  • Lars Rogenmoser
  • Julius Kernbach
  • Gottfried Schlaug
  • Christian Gaser
Original Article


Music-making is a widespread leisure and professional activity that has garnered interest over the years due to its effect on brain and cognitive development and its potential as a rehabilitative and restorative therapy of brain dysfunctions. We investigated whether music-making has a potential age-protecting effect on the brain. For this, we studied anatomical magnetic resonance images obtained from three matched groups of subjects who differed in their lifetime dose of music-making activities (i.e., professional musicians, amateur musicians, and non-musicians). For each subject, we calculated a so-called BrainAGE score which corresponds to the discrepancy (in years) between chronological age and the “age of the brain”, with negative values reflecting an age-decelerating brain and positive values an age-accelerating brain, respectively. The index of “brain age” was estimated using a machine-learning algorithm that was trained in a large independent sample to identify anatomical correlates of brain-aging. Compared to non-musicians, musicians overall had lower BrainAGE scores, with amateur musicians having the lowest scores suggesting that music-making has an age-decelerating effect on the brain. Unlike the amateur musicians, the professional musicians showed a positive correlation between their BrainAGE scores and years of music-making, possibly indicating that engaging more intensely in just one otherwise enriching activity might not be as beneficial than if the activity is one of several that an amateur musician engages in. Intense music-making activities at a professional level could also lead to stress-related interferences and a less enriched environment than that of amateur musicians, possibly somewhat diminishing the otherwise positive effect of music-making.


Plasticity Aging Enrichment Music BrainAGE Machine-learning 



The authors acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0132508), the NIH/NIDCD (RO1-DC009823), and the Swiss National Science Foundation (P1ZHP1_158642, P2ZHP1_168587) to carry out this work.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

The study was approved by the local ethics committee and has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. All participants gave written informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lars Rogenmoser
    • 1
  • Julius Kernbach
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gottfried Schlaug
    • 1
  • Christian Gaser
    • 3
  1. 1.Music, Neuroimaging, and Stroke Recovery Laboratory, Department of NeurologyBeth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Nuclear Medicine, University HospitalRWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  3. 3.Structural Brain Mapping Group, Department of Psychiatry and NeurologyUniversity Hospital JenaJenaGermany

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