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Keywords:

  • beat;
  • ERP;
  • expertise;
  • mismatch negativity;
  • musician

Abstract

Auditory metre perception refers to the ability to extract a temporally regular pulse and an underlying hierarchical structure of perceptual accents from a sequence of tones. Pulse perception is widely present in humans, and can be measured by the temporal expectancy for prospective tones, which listeners generate when presented with a metrical rhythm. We tested whether musical expertise leads to an increased perception and representation of the hierarchical structure of a metrical rhythm. Musicians and musical novices were tested in a mismatch negativity (MMN) paradigm for their sensitivity to perceptual accents on tones of the same pulse level (metre-congruent deviant) and on tones of a lower hierarchical level (metre-incongruent deviant). The difference between these two perceptual accents was more pronounced in the MMNs of the musicians than in those of the non-musicians. That is, musical expertise includes increased sensitivity to metre, specifically to its hierarchical structure. This enhanced higher-order temporal pattern perception makes musicians ideal models for investigating neural correlates of metre perception and, potentially, of related abstract pattern perception. Finally, our data show that small differences in sensitivity to higher-order patterns can be captured by means of an MMN paradigm.