Scientists Study the Brain of Blind Piano Prodigy

Scientists were inspired by the remarkable story of a blind piano prodigy and are studying his brain to better understand the source of his talent. Matthew Whitaker was born with complications and went through eleven surgeries before his second birthday, overcoming the 50% chance of survival the doctors gave him. On top of that, he was born blind.

Matthew Whitaker Steve Wonder
Scientists Study the Brain of Blind Piano Prodigy

A Person with an Extraordinary Gift

Despite the grim odds he was facing, Matthew survived his predicament and started exhibiting an extraordinary gift. He could play the piano even before he learned to walk. When he was three-years-old, he was playing piano compositions for two hands and writing new songs without ever being thought. Today, the prodigy from Hackensack, New Jersey, can play anything he hears, be it Beyonce or Antonin Dvorak, and has a repertoire that is both immense and diverse.

Matthew started taking piano lessons when he was five years old, becoming the youngest person in his school. After a recital, he impressed his teacher by playing the opening of a Dvorak quintet she played the night before. Soon after hearing it, Whitaker managed to play this quite difficult piece of music by ear. He did all five parts, which are usually performed by a quintet.

Matthew Whitaker Prodigy
Scientists Study the Brain of Blind Piano Prodigy

The Prodigy’s Brain Adapted To Better Perceive Music

Now at the age of eighteen, Whitaker has become somewhat of a star, headlining prestigious venues, touring around the world, and winning a number of music awards. The incredible talent of Matthew soon caught the attention of Dr. Charles Limb, who is both a neurologist and a fellow musician. Dr. Limb was fascinated by the phenomenon that was Whitaker’s brain, so he got the permission of the musician and his family to put him through some MRI exams while listening to music and playing on a keyboard.

Dr. Limb’s research showed that Whitaker’s brain had repurposed its visual cortex to build new neurological pathways. Just listening to his favorite bands made Matthew’s entire visual cortex light up.

The doctor believes that the brain is taking the tissue that’s not stimulated by sight and using it to perceive music, which rewires it and gives the young boy this incredible ability. What a magical thing to understand!