Your heart literally knows when you are making a mistake playing

Working with professional pianists and experienced piano students, Dr Maria Herrojo Ruiz and colleagues found that the brain receives crucial information from the heart before an error in playing occurs.

This information helps the brain predict the occurrence of an upcoming error and adapt behaviour accordingly.

For pitch errors, the researchers found that the heart’s inter-beat interval immediately preceding an error was larger than the previous inter-beat interval.

Detecting errors during any type of performance is necessary to make corrections and improve our performance next time we try it.

For the first time, this study shows how, in expert musicians, detection of errors relies on integrating information from our environment (body movements used in performing and the sound they produce on a musical instrument) alongside cues from inside our body, such as heart rate activity.

The research suggests that highly skilled musicians might be trained to listen to their whole bodies during performance to minimise or eliminate mistakes.

A report of the research was published online in the journal NeuroImage on Tuesday 30 April.