Studying a Virtuoso Violinist’s Brain with MRI


Until just a few years ago, violinist Jennifer Koh had no particular interest in the inner workings of the brain.

But then she suffered a concussion resulting in speech and memory loss. She couldn’t practice her violin for months; when she picked up the instrument again, she could play for no more than 20 minutes at a time.

Suddenly, Koh wanted all the knowledge she can muster about the brain. She read. She pestered friends who work in medical fields. And this week at Duke, she underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan – known as an functional MRI – in the hope it can help explain how the brain of a professional musician works.

“I have a general curiosity about the relationship between human beings and music,” said Koh, a touring professional who has played the violin since she was 3 years old. “No matter what the culture, no matter what the country … music is a fundamental part of human beings.”

Koh’s fMRI this week was an unexpected offshoot of a visit to campus in January as an artist-in-residence sponsored by Duke Performances, during which time she gave a recital at Baldwin Auditorium and participated in some classes. One was “Music and the Brain,” which explores the intersection of music and neuroscience and is taught jointly by professors Scott Lindroth of the music department and Tobias Overath from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

Read the full article on Duke Today.