Reading aloud Music gets up, dancers know that for a long time. In fact, the American music therapist Michael Thaut discovered in the brain a direct connection between hearing and movement centers. In his rehabilitation center now handicapped patients learn to walk with music. Bonn researchers, however, want to improve the training of top athletes with sounds. For this they developed a unique technique in Germany: they set motion to music. Patient K. is hesitant, uncertain. His steps have been brief since he had a stroke just a few weeks ago. Music therapist Michael Thaut from Colorado State University in Fort Collins looks at the patient. He chooses a march music at the right tempo and turns it on. As if he had turned a switch, Mr. K. moves suddenly smoother. He is almost as sure as before the stroke. After some therapy sessions, patients could move more safely without music, Thaut said recently at the "The Musical Brain" congress of the Royal British Institute in London. Thaut's team at the Center for Biomedical Music Research has been studying the effect of music on the brain for years. In doing so, they discovered a direct and, after Thaut, "surprisingly fast" connection between the hearing centers in the brain and the areas that control movements. Thaut has always been able to prove what dancers already knew in experiments: rhythms penetrate the limbs directly and without detouring over consciousness. The researchers had volunteers tap the finger of a metronome with a finger. The rhythm changed slightly, the subjects adapted the movements of their fingers immediately, although they had consciously not perceived the clock change.

Thaut suspects that the mechanism helps the brain adapt our movements to events in the environment. That was vital for our ancestors, says the native of Hamburg. If a branch had cracked or the foliage rustled, they could run away without hesitation. Today, however, the direct connection in the brain helps patients learn movements, says Thaut. In addition to stroke patients, Parkinson's and Huntington's patients also practice walking with music in their center.

Music does not only help with learning rhythmic movements like walking. Recently, the team, together with Volker Hömberg from the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, showed that music can also improve will-driven arm movements. For example, stroke patients after a music therapy were able to target a subject more purposefully than before. Apparently music supports all aspects of a movement, not just the rhythmic, says Thaut.

The effect of Bonn researchers to use now also in top-level sport. The sports scientists Heinz Mechling and Alfred Effenberg from the University of Bonn have developed a unique technique in Germany: they set the movements of athletes to music. For this they determine the forces acting on a movement at different points of the body. Breast swimmers, for example, measure them at the center of gravity and at the wrists and feet. Also a stretch rod with measuring devices and a dance plate are installed in their laboratories. The data of the force measurements are then converted by a computer into tones, Mechling explained to the news agency ddp. Above all, these soundscapes are intended to convey to the athlete the timing with which he must use his powers in order to move as smoothly as possible. You can not see that from a video recording, says Mechling. In first attempts, top athletes could actually only follow the movements in many details from the sounds. The researchers were also able to demonstrate learning effects by hearing the sounds in tests with students from the University of Bonn. The sounds are intended to support athletes in a variety of ways, says Mechling. To learn new moves, they would perform the sounds along with video recordings. In some sports, it is also possible to produce the sounds directly during gymnastics. The athletes could then try to match their sound pattern to that of top athletes. At present, the Bonn researchers are looking for an industrial partner who will turn the technology into a product. This could be in the market in a year, Mechling hopes. The sound worlds should not only help athletes. Even victims of strokes such as the patient K. could learn to walk more easily to the sound of footsteps. display

Marcel Falk


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