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Specialization of the Specialized: Electrophysiological Investigations in Professional Musicians


Address for correspondence: Thomas F. Münte, Department of Neuropsychology, Otto von Guericke Universität, Universitätsplatz 2, Gebäude 24, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany. Fax: +49-391-6711947;


Abstract: Several event-related brain potential (ERP) studies examining the processing of auditory stimuli by professional musicians compared with non-musicians are reviewed. In the first study, musicians (string players) and non-musicians attended to one of two streams of auditory stimuli characterized by a specific pitch. Musicians showed a prolonged ERP attention effect, the late portion of which was more frontally distributed than was that of the non-musicians. In the second study, we investigated auditory spatial processing in conductors, pianists, and nonmusicians. Only the conductors showed behavioral selectivity of sound sources located in the peripheral auditory space. In addition, this group showed a negative/positive mismatch response for deviant stimuli occurring outside the focus of spatial attention. Finally, a group of drummers was compared to woodwind players and nonmusicians in a passive listening task. A real continuous drum sequence was manipulated so that some beats were anticipated by 80 ms. The drummers showed a mismatch response not only for the anticipated beats but also for the subsequent beats, suggesting a more complex representation of the temporal aspects stimulus sequence in this subject group. Together, these studies suggest qualitative differences of the neural correlates of auditory processing between musicians and non-musicians. Moreover, these differences appear to be shaped by the specific training of a musician.