#coachlearninginsport: hearing music



I came across a paper by Evangelos Paraskevopoulos and his colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). The paper discusses musical expertise and this sentence caught my attention:

These data provide strong evidence that cortical connectivity is reorganized due to expertise in a relevant cognitive domain, indicating training-related neuroplasticity.

A second article had me thinking about neuroplasticity too. Erin Carson has been writing about NASA’s twenty-year engagement with virtual reality training environments.

In space, an astronaut’s next minutes are never guaranteed. They have to adjust to the drastically modified rules of physics, and to a calmness and a slowness that masks danger.

This post looks at both discussions in the context of how coaches develop their learning environments.

Multi-sensory integration

Evangelos has been researching multi-sensory integration for some time. The recent PNAS paper reports the use of magnetoencephalographic (MEG) methods to compare musicians and non-musicians reading music notation. He and his colleagues observe:

  • Musicians’ results showed enhanced connectivity in regions related to the identification of auditory pattern violations;
  • Nonmusicians’ results indicated that the cortical network associated with audiovisual integration supports visuospatial processing and attentional shifting.

They conclude:

Nonmusicians rely on the processing of visual clues for the integration of audiovisual information, whereas musicians rely mostly on the corresponding auditory information. The large-scale cortical network underpinning multisensory integration is reorganized due to expertise in a cognitive domain that largely involves audiovisual integration, indicating long-term training-related neuroplasticity.

I take this to indicate that training-related neuroplasticity enables learners to hear the music as they become more skilled in reading music notation.  Such training often involves a 1:1 teacher:learner ratio. MEG data suggest that this move to expertise involves the increasing use of a large-scale cortical network that forms “a dynamic system for integrating information from multiple senses” (Roheeni Saxena).


Erin’s article on the use of virtual reality at the Johnson Space Centre in Texas provides an interesting companion piece to Evangelos’ paper.
The Virtual Reality Lab is in Building 9 at the Space Centre. I liked Erin’s description of it:

Through gray metal doors is a room that looks like a standard-issue office, with off-white walls and pressed wood desks. But, there are posters from different space missions everywhere. A section of the lab is set off by a narrow open doorway and two half walls made of plywood. The walls are draped with black sheets, and smattered with a few handfuls of glow-in-the-dark stars—the kind kids put on the ceiling above their beds. The stars were Evelyn Miralles’ doing. She’s the lead engineer, and a full-time staple in the lab for the past 16 years.

Her article provides a fascinating insight into a learning environment that is “the closest experience there is to floating above the Earth”.
Erin has a short video (3 minutes) on 3 lessons for the rest of us from NASA’s use of virtual reality:

  1. Find a real need
  2. Expect iterations
  3. Consider the customer

I think this is a really helpful list for anyone working with coaches to support the development of learning environments. The verbs are particularly important: find; expect; consider.
The expect point 2 sent me off thinking about the time we have to iterate learning environments. I take this iteration to be a characteristic of an expert pedagogue, particularly when we are trying to make significant change.


Erin concluded her article with this observation:

Though the lab has been staffed and supported by many people over the years, there are typically only between four and seven people working there full time.

It became a requirement after 1994 that every astronaut came to the Lab for training. Erin notes:

while much of the training is skills-oriented, one of its best functions is to get astronauts in the right frame of mind for completing the task. There’s a great advantage in just feeling as though the environment isn’t entirely new.


By the time astronauts exit the Space Station, they’ve rehearsed and reviewed the spacewalk so many times in the pool, in the lab, and on the station … they can practically do it with their eyes closed and feel their way along.

These points encouraged me to think about the impact coaches can have on learning through exploring different kinds of experiences. The use of MEG methods underscores for me the work we do to develop a pedagogy that enables us to hear music beyond its notation.
I take coaching to be about this dynamic interaction with opportunities that move us, and those we coach, from cacophony to harmony in real, augmented and virtual learning environments … riffing meets Oculus Rift

Photo Credits

Space Station (NASA, Courtesy Photo)
Music Theory (Kathleen Jowitt, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Street Music (Shaun Dunphy, CC BY-SA 2.0)


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