Tervaniemi, M., Just, V., Koelsch, S., Widmann, A., & Schröger, E. (2005). Pitch discrimination accuracy in musicians vs nonmusicians: an event-related potential and behavioral study. Experimental Brain Research, 161(1), 1-10.

Pitch discrimination accuracy in musicians vs nonmusicians: an event-related potential and behavioral study

Previously, professional violin players were found to automatically discriminate tiny pitch changes, not discriminable by nonmusicians. The present study addressed the pitch processing accuracy in musicians with expertise in playing a wide selection of instruments (e.g., piano; wind and string instruments). Of specific interest was whether also musicians with such divergent backgrounds have facilitated accuracy in automatic and/or attentive levels of auditory processing. Thirteen professional musicians and 13 nonmusicians were presented with frequent standard sounds and rare deviant sounds (0.8, 2, or 4% higher in frequency). Auditory event-related potentials evoked by these sounds were recorded while first the subjects read a self-chosen book and second they indicated behaviorally the detection of sounds with deviant frequency. Musicians detected the pitch changes faster and more accurately than nonmusicians. The N2b and P3 responses recorded during attentive listening had larger amplitude in musicians than in nonmusicians. Interestingly, the superiority in pitch discrimination accuracy in musicians over nonmusicians was observed not only with the 0.8% but also with the 2% frequency changes. Moreover, also nonmusicians detected quite reliably the smallest pitch changes of 0.8%. However, the mismatch negativity (MMN) and P3a recorded during a reading condition did not differentiate musicians and nonmusicians. These results suggest that musical expertise may exert its effects merely at attentive levels of processing and not necessarily already at the preattentive levels.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Biosciences, Pharmacy and Psychology
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Dorit Thieme
Phone: +49 341 97-39540
Email: d dot thieme at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271