New Study Shows How Guitar Players' Brains Are Different from Everybody Else's

Sure, we've all suspected it for years, but now a study has pretty much confirmed it: Guitarists' brains are different from everyone else's.

In a 2012 study conducted in Berlin, researchers scanned the brains of 12 pairs of guitarists, all of whom were asked to play the same piece of music. The researchers discovered that the guitarists' neural networks could synchronize not only while playing the piece — but even slightly before playing.

According to the study — which you can read here and (in a much more reader-friendly format) here — when a guitarist shreds, he or she temporarily deactivates the brain region that routinely shuts down when achieving big-picture goals, signalling a shift from conscious to unconscious thought.

When non-experienced-musicians attempt to play a solo, the conscious portion of their brain stays on, which implies that "real" guitarists are able to switch to this more creative and less-practical mode of thinking more easily.

According to, this research makes it clear that guitarists are spiritual, intuitive people. This sort of intuitive thinking runs all the way to how guitarists learn. Unlike musicians who learn through sheet music, guitarists, according to researchers at Vanderbilt University, get a better grasp of a song by looking at someone playing it rather than reading the notes on paper (Have you seen our LESSONS section, by the way?).

The intuition might come from one truth every guitarist suspects: Playing guitar transcends simple brain chemistry. Pat Martino, a jazz guitarist from Philadelphia, had 70 percent of his left temporal lobe removed when he was in his mid-30s due to a hemorrhage. When he came out of surgery, he couldn't play guitar.

Within two years, Martino was able to completely relearn how to play jazz guitar. Scientists have used Martino's brain as an example of cerebral plasticity. For guitarists, Martino represents something else: Playing guitar isn't a skill. It's a way of being, a way of life.

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.