• critical period;
  • tonotopic map;
  • pitch acquisition;
  • musical enrichment;
  • auditory deprivation;
  • spectral structure;
  • musical expertise


A critical period can be defined as a developmental window during which specific experience has a greater effect than at other times. Musical behavior involves many skills, including the basic encoding of pitch and time information, understanding scale and harmonic structure, performance, interpretation, and composition. We review studies of genetics, behavior, and brain structure and function in conjunction with the experiences of auditory deprivation and musical enrichment, and conclude that there is more supporting evidence for critical periods for basic than for more complex aspects of musical pitch acquisition. Much remains unknown about the mechanisms of interaction between genetic and experiential factors that create critical periods, but it is clear that there are multiple pathways for achieving musical expertise. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 46: 262–278, 2005.