The Science of Singing: New, High-Speed MRI Machine Images Man Singing ‘If I Only Had a Brain’

Back in Decem­ber, Ayun Hal­l­i­day took you inside an MRI machine to explore the neu­ro­science of jazz impro­vi­sa­tion and musi­cal cre­ativ­i­ty. Along the way, you got to see Johns Hop­kins sur­geon Charles Limb jam on a key­board inside one of those crowd­ed, claus­tro­pho­bia-induc­ing tubes. How could you beat that for enter­tain­ment?

Today, we return with a new video show­ing anoth­er way the MRI machine is giv­ing sci­en­tists new insights into the mak­ing of music. This time the focus is on how we pro­duce sounds when we sing. When “we sing or speak, the vocal folds—the two small pieces of tis­sue [in our neck]—come togeth­er and, as air pass­es over them, they vibrate,” and pro­duce sound. That’s basi­cal­ly what hap­pens. We know that. But the typ­i­cal MRI machine, cap­tur­ing about 10 frames per sec­ond, is too slow to real­ly let sci­en­tists break down the action of the lar­ynx. Enter the new, high speed MRI machine at the Beck­man Insti­tute at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois, work­ing at 100 frames per sec­ond. It does the trick.

Above, you can see the new machine in action, as a vol­un­teer sings ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’ Get more of the back­sto­ry over at the Beck­man Insti­tute.

via Men­tal Floss

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Why We Love Rep­e­ti­tion in Music: Explained in a New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion

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