Effects of musical training on response timing, motor related cortical potentials, task related power and coherence in a simple synchronization tapping task

Eichele, T.1, Hugdahl, K.2, and Nordby, H.3
Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, Section for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Bergen, Norway
E-mail: tom.eichele@psybp.uib.no

Musical training provides an ideal model to study how training affects brain plasticity with respect to both perceptual and behavioral tasks. Others have shown that long-term musical training increases representations of salient stimulus features, as evident in ERP (e.g. MMN and Nd) and MEG (e.g. mN1). The crucial ability to play (the right note) in-time can be studied with rhythmic finger-tapping experiments, in which musicians commonly show reduced synchronization error (SE) and timing jitter.

In this study, the performances of professional musicians (n=11) and untrained subjects (n=11) were compared in a simple auditory paced synchronization tapping task. In addition to behavioral data, Motor Related Cortical Potentials (MRCP), Task Related Power (TRPow) and Coherence (TRCoh) were obtained from 31 scalp electrodes.

Response Timing showed expected reductions of SE and jitter in musicians. Musicians’ MRCP displayed higher amplitudes fronto-centrally in the pre-response negative slope (NS) and the post-response P60 (postMPI), whereas the motor potential (MP) was highly similar between groups. Pre-response musicians’ TRPow revealed a globally stronger desynchronized 10-12 Hz (µ-band) with slightly pronounced activity over bilateral central sites. Pre-response TRCoh in the µ-band showed increased coupling strength between fronto-central to left central sites and between left and right central sites in musicians. Post-response TRPow/TRcoh effects were not observed.

In sum, the behavioral and electrophysiological effects observed in a group of highly trained musicians can be interpreted as correlates of adaptive/plastic changes in midline motor areas (e.g. SMA, CMA) associated with the cortical contribution to the timing of motor processes.