Head injury turns man into musical savant
2012 06 07

By Linda Carroll | MSNBC.msn.com

When Derek Amato crashed headfirst into the hard bottom of a pool, he was scared about what he might have done to his brain. But amazingly the fallout from that accident wasn’t all bad. Along with the headaches and other post-concussion symptoms, the accident brought Amato an unexpected gift: it turned him into a musical savant.

Although Amato had always loved music, he’d never been serious about playing any instrument before the head injury. Amato dabbled a bit with guitar before the accident but described his musical ability to TODAY as “on a scale of 1 to 10 . . . like a 2.5, close to 3.”

Amato now plays the piano like a virtuoso, making up melodies from the patterns of black and white blocks that stream across his brain in endless succession. He’s cut an album of original compositions and is currently at work on another.

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Amato isn’t the only person who has had artistic talents spring from an injury to the brain. While rare, there are at least 30 others around the world who have developed musical abilities after some sort of brain trauma. Damage to the brain has also been known to spark the ability to draw and paint in others who had never before put pen or paint brush to easel.

Amato’s life changing head injury occurred in 2006 when he was horsing around with some friends. He dove into the shallow end of a pool and hit his head hard.

“I remember the panic that set in,” Amato remembers. “Like I knew I hurt myself. I knew it was something bad.”


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