Get access

The effects of learning on event-related potential correlates of musical expectancy


  • These experiments were conducted as part of the first author's doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University–Newark. We thank Björn Rasch and Angelyn E. Gonzalez for their efforts in analysis and interpretation, data collection, and the creation of musical stimuli for this research. We acknowledge Stefan Koelsch and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.

Address reprint requests to: Ricardo E. Carrión, Ph.D., Institute for the Study of Child Development, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School–UMDNJ, 97 Paterson Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08903 USA. E-mail:


Musical processing studies have shown that unexpected endings in familiar musical sequences produce extended latencies of the P300 component. The present study sought to identify event-related potential (ERP) correlates of musical expectancy by entraining participants with rule-governed chord sequences and testing whether unexpected endings created similar responses. Two experiments were conducted in which participants performed grammaticality classifications without training (Experiment 1) and with training (Experiment 2). In both experiments, deviant chords differing in instrumental timbre elicited a MMN/P3a waveform complex. Violations related to learned patterns elicited an early right anterior negativity and P3b. Latency and amplitude of peak components were modulated by the physical characteristics of the chords, expectations due to prior knowledge of musical harmony, and contextually defined expectations developed through entrainment.