Musicians versus Nonmusicians

A Neurophysiological Approach


Address for correspondence: Dr. Luisa Lopez, Center for Developmental Disabilities “E. Litta,” Via Anagnina Nuova 13, 00046 Grottaferrata, Rome, Italy. Voice: +39 06 94315621; fax: +39 06 9411463;


Abstract: The ability to perceive sounds and correctly categorize them within a scale is the result of the interaction between inherited capabilities and acquired rules. If a subject listens to a melody, occasional and unexpected endings of the melody typically evoke characteristic auditory evoked responses in the latency range of 300-400 ms (P300). Also, earlier stages of auditory information processing have been exhaustively investigated by means of mismatch negativity (MMN), a deflection that occurs in the auditory evoked response at a latency of about 200 ms, whenever a deviance is randomly inserted in a series of otherwise equal stimuli. Conceivably, perceptual deviations could also be detected against expectancies that are based on abstract rules; introspective experience suggests that such deviations may also elicit fast intuitive responses that typically initiate processes of analytical reasoning for confirmation. In music, the physical features of the stimulus are, in fact, always changing, because the melodic contour consists of a series of notes with different pitch characteristics. In such a condition, a typical mismatch negativity would not be evoked on the basis of physical deviance, but rather of criteria involving the musical contour of the stimulus. In this study, 20 healthy subjects (10 nonmusicians and 10 musicians) underwent auditory stimulation (tone, chord, chord sequence, Mozart and Bach melodies) and both electrical and magnetic recordings. Clear N1 was recorded for all paradigms, in all subjects; MMN and P300 were also recorded, and their amplitudes and latencies were significantly correlated with the musicality score and with the paradigm's difficulty.