Brain-computer interfaces can replace bodily functions to a certain degree and now they can even compose music. At least in a sense.

Derived from an established brain-computer interface method which mainly serves to spell - more accurately - write, a team writing in PLOS One has shown how they developed a new application by which music can be composed just through the power of thought. All that is needed is a special cap which measures brain waves, composition software. Before you start to think you'll be the next Haydn, keep in mind it can't create musical knowledge.

The basic principle of the brain-computer interface method used, which is called P300, is that various options, such as letters or notes, pauses, chords, etc. flash by one after the other in a table. If you're trained and can focus on the desired option while it lights up, you cause a minute change in your brain waves. The BCI recognizes this change and draws conclusions about the chosen option.

Gernot Müller-Putz, head of TU Graz' Institute of Neural Engineering and expert on brain-computer interfaces. Credit: Lunghammer - TU Graz

Testing music composition by thought

18 test persons chosen for the study by Gernot Müller-Putz, Andreas Pinegger and Selina C. Wriessnegger from TU Graz's Institute of Neural Engineering as well as Hannah Hiebel, meanwhile at the Institute of Cognitive Psychology&Neuroscience at the University of Graz, had to "think" melodies onto a musical score. All test subjects were of sound bodily health during the study and had a certain degree of basic musical and compositional knowledge since they all played musical instruments to some degree.

Brain composer. TU Graz's Institute of Neural Engineering shows how a brain-computer interface can allow people to create music composition with just their thoughts.

"The results of the BCI compositions can really be heard. And what is more important: the test persons enjoyed it. After a short training session, all of them could start composing and seeing their melodies on the score and then play them. The very positive results of the study with bodily healthy test persons are the first step in a possible expansion of the BCI composition to patients," according to Müller-Putz.