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Performance Biomechanics: Music To Scientists' Ears

Neurologist Frank Wilson’s first foray into music came at the age of 12, when he struggled through six months of the universal childhood ritual known as piano lessons. It wasn’t until many years later, however, while listening to his daughter rehearse for a piano recital around the time of her own 12th birthday, that his interests in music and the medical sciences converged. As she played Chopin’s “Fantasy Impromptu,” Wilson found himself for the first time rea

Jeff Seiken

Neurologist Frank Wilson’s first foray into music came at the age of 12, when he struggled through six months of the universal childhood ritual known as piano lessons. It wasn’t until many years later, however, while listening to his daughter rehearse for a piano recital around the time of her own 12th birthday, that his interests in music and the medical sciences converged.

As she played Chopin’s “Fantasy Impromptu,” Wilson found himself for the first time really watching her hands. And the display of speed, dexterity, and timing he witnessed amazed him. His daughter’s fingers skipped across the keys in a blur. How could she make her fingers go so fast, he wondered. At least, that was his initial thought. His training in neurology soon led him to frame the question in terms more appropriate to his specialty: How does the brain control such highly skilled movement?

Shortly after this...

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