• Roberto Grandini, Italy

    School of Medicine and Surgery, Sapienza University, Rome (1974-1981) Residency, General Pathology, Sapienza University, Rome (1981-1985) PhD, Human Pathology, Sapienza University, Rome (1987-1991) Visiting Scientist, Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago, USA (1984-1985) Clinical Assistant Professor, Pathology, Loyola University, Chicago, USA (1985-1993) Visiting Scientist, Loyola University of Chicago, USA (1986) Research Associate, Pathology, Loyola University Medical Center, USA (1986-1989) Lecturer, Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University, Rome (1992-2001) Research Associate, Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University, Rome (2001-2005) Scientific Consultant, Neuropharmacology, Neuromed, Pozzilli (2002- ) Associate Professor, General Pathology, Sapienza University, Rome (2005- ) Visiting Professor, Pathology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, USA (2009) Scientific Consultant, University of Lille1, France (2010-2011) Visiting Scientist, Anesthesiology, La Jolla University, San Diego, California, USA (2010)

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Performing a piece of music involves cognitive and motor processes and requires extensive training to achieve a high skill level. However, even professional musicians commit errors occasionally....

Performing a piece of music involves the interplay of several cognitive and motor processes and requires extensive training to achieve a high skill level. However, even professional musicians commit errors occasionally. Previous event-related potential (ERP) studies have investigated the neurophysiological correlates of pitch errors during piano performance, and reported pre-error negativity already occurring approximately 70–100 ms before the error had been committed and audible. It was assumed that this pre-error negativity reflects predictive control processes that compare predicted consequences with actual consequences of one’s own actions. However, in previous investigations, correct and incorrect pitch events were confounded by their different tempi. In addition, no data about the underlying movements were available. In the present study, we exploratively recorded the ERPs and 3D movement data of pianists’ fingers simultaneously while they performed fingering exercises from memory. Results showed a pre-error negativity for incorrect keystrokes when both correct and incorrect keystrokes were performed with comparable tempi. Interestingly, even correct notes immediately preceding erroneous keystrokes elicited a very similar negativity. In addition, we explored the possibility of computing ERPs time-locked to a kinematic landmark in the finger motion trajectories defined by when a finger makes initial contact with the key surface, that is, at the onset of tactile feedback. Results suggest that incorrect notes elicited a small difference after the onset of tactile feedback, whereas correct notes preceding incorrect ones elicited negativity before the onset of tactile feedback. The results tentatively suggest that tactile feedback plays an important role in error-monitoring during piano performance, because the comparison between predicted and actual sensory (tactile) feedback may provide the information necessary for the detection of an upcoming error.

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Musical training can have dramatic effects on the brain. Several studies investigated the neural effects of musical training, but there is no study on the specific consequences of training musical creativity (i.e., improvisation).

Musicians have been used extensively to study neural correlates of long-term practice, but no studies have investigated the specific effects of training musical creativity. Here, we used human functional MRI to measure brain activity during improvisation in a sample of 39 professional pianists with varying backgrounds in classical and jazz piano playing. We found total hours of improvisation experience to be negatively associated with activity in frontoparietal executive cortical areas. In contrast, improvisation training was positively associated with functional connectivity of the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, dorsal premotor cortices, and presupplementary areas. The effects were significant when controlling for hours of classical piano practice and age. These results indicate that even neural mechanisms involved in creative behaviors, which require a flexible online generation of novel and meaningful output, can be automated by training. Second, improvisational musical training can influence functional brain properties at a network level. We show that the greater functional connectivity seen in experienced improvisers may reflect a more efficient exchange of information within associative networks of importance for musical creativity.

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The role of a core set of regions in the hippocampus and superior temporal cortex for skilled exploration of complex sound scenes in which precise sound "templates" are encoded and consolidated into memory over time in an experience-dependent manner.

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Over a typical career piano tuners spend tens of thousands of hours exploring a specialized acoustic environment. Tuning requires accurate perception and adjustment of beats in two-note chords that serve as a navigational device to move between points in previously learned acoustic scenes. It is a two-stage process that depends on the following: first, selective listening to beats within frequency windows, and, second, the subsequent use of those beats to navigate through a complex soundscape. The neuroanatomical substrates underlying brain specialization for such fundamental organization of sound scenes are unknown. Here, we demonstrate that professional piano tuners are significantly better than controls matched for age and musical ability on a psychophysical task simulating active listening to beats within frequency windows that is based on amplitude modulation rate discrimination. Tuners show a categorical increase in gray matter volume in the right frontal operculum and right superior temporal lobe. Tuners also show a striking enhancement of gray matter volume in the anterior hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus, and an increase in white matter volume in the posterior hippocampus as a function of years of tuning experience. The relationship with gray matter volume is sensitive to years of tuning experience and starting age but not actual age or level of musicality. Our findings support a role for a core set of regions in the hippocampus and superior temporal cortex in skilled exploration of complex sound scenes in which precise sound “templates” are encoded and consolidated into memory over time in an experience-dependent manner.

 

We assessed brain specialization in a previously unstudied group of expert listeners who spend large amounts of time exploring a complex acoustic environment that requires accurate perception and adjustment. The subjects, piano tuners, perform an active listening and adjustment task every time a piano is tuned where they explore an acoustic scene according to a specific route. Piano tuning is a highly sophisticated skill: a single tuning session might take up to 2 h and a professional tuner may typically tune up to 20 pianos a week, so the highest levels of expertise follow thousands of hours of experience over a period of 20 to 30 years (Capleton, 2007). Thus, this group provides a unique opportunity to investigate neuroanatomical bases of skilled organization of sound scenes.

Piano tuning requires the practitioner to perform successive navigation between tuned and untuned notes in which the beat rate between notes is used as a form of “signpost.” Traditionally, tuning starts with tuning a single note to a standard tuning fork. A two-note chord is then played, comprising the tuned note and another note. The two notes contain multiple frequencies at the fundamental and higher harmonics, and certain harmonics in the two notes occur close to each other and produce beats fluctuations in the envelope of the combined harmonics at a rate equal to their frequency difference (Fig. 1A). The piano tuner is required to detect a particular beat rate corresponding to the interval between the two notes played, and match that to a specific value. A further interval is then tuned based on the most recently tuned note and another note, and this process is repeated iteratively (Fig. 2A). The beat rate and the frequency region in which the beat is to be detected vary for different intervals but are fixed for any given interval with beat rates that are typically less than 20 Hz (Table 1).

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Learning to play a musical instrument is a demanding process requiring years of intense practice. Dramatic changes in brain connectivity, volume, and functionality have been shown in skilled musicians. It is thought that music learning involves the formation of novel audio visuomotor associations, but not much is known about the gradual acquisition of this ability. In the present study, we investigated whether formal music training enhances audiovisual multisensory processing. To this end, pupils at different stages of education were examined based on the hypothesis that the strength of audio/visuomotor associations would be augmented as a function of the number of years of conservatory study (expertise). The study participants were violin and clarinet students of pre-academic and academic levels and of different chronological ages, ages of acquisition, and academic levels. A violinist and a clarinetist each played the same score, and each participant viewed the video corresponding to his or her instrument. Pitch, intensity, rhythm, and sound duration were matched across instruments. In half of the trials, the soundtrack did not match (in pitch) the corresponding musical gestures. Data analysis indicated a correlation between the number of years of formal training (expertise) and the ability to detect an audiomotor incongruence in music performance (relative to the musical instrument practiced), thus suggesting a direct correlation between knowing how to play and perceptual sensitivity.

Research has shown that learning to play a musical instrument has dramatic effects on cognition (Schlaug et al., 2005), even after only a few years of training. The beneficial effects of musical training are not limited to enhancement of musical skills [such as, note coding and staff reading (e.g., Proverbio et al., 2013; Wong et al., 2014)] but extend to many other skills, including finger tapping (Braun Janzen et al., 2014), visual memory (Rodrigues et al., 2014), auditory memory (Cohen et al., 2011), speech in noise perception (Strait and Kraus, 2011), auditory temporal processing (Bishop-Liebler et al., 2014), dexterity of finger movements (Furuya et al., 2014), reading skills (Tierney and Kraus, 2013), gesture imitation (Spilka et al., 2010), and non-verbal reasoning (Forgeard et al., 2008). By increasing the number of years of constant practice (musical expertise), the musical ability is thought to improve monotonically, independent of individual musical talent (which naturally affects achievement). Indeed, according to Ericsson et al. (1993), “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense musical practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.” Interestingly, Groussard et al. (2014) conducted a regression study on 44 non-musicians and amateur musicians with 0–26 years of musical practice with a variety instruments to identify which brain areas undergo gray matter changes as a function of expertise. They found that some brain areas underwent volume changes after only a few years of musical practice, whereas others (especially auditory and motor areas such as the superior temporal and supplementary motor areas) required longer practice before they exhibited changes, thus suggesting a long-lasting learning process.
Front. Psychol., 02 April 2015

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00376/full

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Learning to play a musical instrument is a demanding process requiring years of intense practice. Dramatic changes in brain connectivity, volume, and functionality have been shown in skilled musicians. It is thought that music learning involves the formation of novel audio visuomotor associations, but not much is known about the gradual acquisition of this ability. In the present study, we investigated whether formal music training enhances audiovisual multisensory processing. To this end, pupils at different stages of education were examined based on the hypothesis that the strength of audio/visuomotor associations would be augmented as a function of the number of years of conservatory study (expertise). The study participants were violin and clarinet students of pre-academic and academic levels and of different chronological ages, ages of acquisition, and academic levels. A violinist and a clarinetist each played the same score, and each participant viewed the video corresponding to his or her instrument. Pitch, intensity, rhythm, and sound duration were matched across instruments. In half of the trials, the soundtrack did not match (in pitch) the corresponding musical gestures. Data analysis indicated a correlation between the number of years of formal training (expertise) and the ability to detect an audiomotor incongruence in music performance (relative to the musical instrument practiced), thus suggesting a direct correlation between knowing how to play and perceptual sensitivity.

fpsyg-06-00376-g002

Research has shown that learning to play a musical instrument has dramatic effects on cognition (Schlaug et al., 2005), even after only a few years of training. The beneficial effects of musical training are not limited to enhancement of musical skills [such as, note coding and staff reading (e.g., Proverbio et al., 2013; Wong et al., 2014)] but extend to many other skills, including finger tapping (Braun Janzen et al., 2014), visual memory (Rodrigues et al., 2014), auditory memory (Cohen et al., 2011), speech in noise perception (Strait and Kraus, 2011), auditory temporal processing (Bishop-Liebler et al., 2014), dexterity of finger movements (Furuya et al., 2014), reading skills (Tierney and Kraus, 2013), gesture imitation (Spilka et al., 2010), and non-verbal reasoning (Forgeard et al., 2008). By increasing the number of years of constant practice (musical expertise), the musical ability is thought to improve monotonically, independent of individual musical talent (which naturally affects achievement). Indeed, according to Ericsson et al. (1993), “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense musical practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.” Interestingly, Groussard et al. (2014) conducted a regression study on 44 non-musicians and amateur musicians with 0–26 years of musical practice with a variety instruments to identify which brain areas undergo gray matter changes as a function of expertise. They found that some brain areas underwent volume changes after only a few years of musical practice, whereas others (especially auditory and motor areas such as the superior temporal and supplementary motor areas) required longer practice before they exhibited changes, thus suggesting a long-lasting learning process.
Front. Psychol., 02 April 2015 |

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The musical brain is built over time through experience with a multitude of sounds in the auditory environment. However, learning the melodies, timbres, and rhythms unique to the music and language of one's culture begins already within the mother's womb during the third trimester of human development. We review evidence that the intrauterine auditory environment plays a key role in shaping later auditory development and musical preferences. We describe evidence that externally and internally generated sounds influence the developing fetus, and argue that such prenatal auditory experience may set the trajectory for the development of the musical mind.

Early experience lays the foundations for the developing musical
mind. Hearing emerges prior to birth (Sansavini, 1997) and
the acoustic environment in utero begins to shape the auditory
system much earlier than sensory systems that are not exposed
to input until after birth, such as vision. Twenty-five week
old fetuses are equipped with structural components of the
ear that allow them to hear (Cheour-Luhtanen et al., 1996).
Hydrophone recordings reveal that many sounds are measurable
in the intrauterine environment, such as the maternal heartbeat,
breathing, digestion, and the maternal voice (Dunham, 1990).
Even non-maternal speech and song is potentially audible, at or
above 60 dB sound pressure level (SPL) and attenuated above
250–500 Hz (Busnel et al., 1992; Gerhardt and Abrams, 1996).
Fetal heart rate evidence suggests that during the third trimester
fetuses discriminate the speech of their mother from that of
a stranger, speech of their native language from a non-native
language (Kisilevsky et al., 2003; Kisilevsky and Hains, 2009),
and they respond differentially to music and speech (Kisilevsky
et al., 2004; Granier-Deferre et al., 2011). Thus, a wide range of
maternal and non-maternal sounds are available and potentially
audible to the fetus during late pregnancy.
The effects of prenatal auditory experience can be observed
among newborns within only a few hours or days after birth. Soon
after birth, infants show a strong preference for their mother’s
voice over the voice of another female (DeCasper and Fifer, 1980;
Cooper and Aslin, 1989; Kisilevsky et al., 2003), their mother’s
language over a foreign language (Moon et al., 1993, 2012), and
specific passages of speech (DeCasper and Spence, 1986) or music
(Hepper, 1991) presented during the final weeks of pregnancy.
Thus, even prior to birth human listeners may begin to acquire
rudimentary auditory representations that may be considered
as the earliest building blocks of the musical mind. Here, we
examine the nature of the prenatal auditory input and its effects
on auditory preferences, perceptual capacities, and musical skills

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Experience-dependent changes in functional activation

moving classics comparison brain musicians

There is considerable evidence that cortical representation of the body may be continuously changed in response to activity, behavior, and skill acquisition (Buonomano and Merzenich 1998). Adaptive changes in neural circuitries related to motor skill-training have also been attributed to improved performance (Nielsen and Cohen 2008). For investigating the latter professional musicians are ideally suited because they begin with training in childhood and practice extensively throughout their life to achieve the most astonishing levels of motor skill perfection. This combination of training specificity (i.e., highly specific motor skills), training intensity, and early training onset has shown to result in considerable use-dependent neural plasticity in professional musicians (Munte et al. 2002).

In string and keyboard players, exceptional skill has been associated with reduced premotor activation and a shift toward more focused (or task relevant) activation in regions related to motor execution—namely, in the primary sensorimotor cortex (Lotze et al. 2003; Haslinger et al. 2004), although decreased involvement of some brain areas has also been reported as a result of more efficient functioning (Jancke et al. 2000). Adaptations on the level of functional or morphologic characterization appear not only as increased cortical representation of hand and fingers (Elbert et al. 1995) but involve also the auditory cortex (Schneider et al. 2002). Corresponding to Hebbian learning (Hebb 1949), cross-modal plasticity has been reported as a consequence of simultaneous integration of auditory and somatosensory signals (Pantev et al. 2003). Other experience-dependent effects in the musicians’ brain involve an increased motor cortical excitability (Rosenkranz et al. 2007), a larger cerebellum (Hutchinson et al. 2003) and anterior corpus callosum (Schlaug et al. 1995) and even a more structured fiber tract organization in white matter (Bengtsson et al. 2005).

 

Several studies have shown that motor-skill training over extended time periods results in reorganization of neural networks and changes in brain morphology. Yet, little is known about training-induced adaptive changes in the vocal system, which is largely subserved by intrinsic reflex mechanisms. We investigated highly accomplished opera singers, conservatory level vocal students, and laymen during overt singing of an Italian aria in a neuroimaging experiment. We provide the first evidence that the training of vocal skills is accompanied by increased functional activation of bilateral primary somatosensory cortex representing articulators and larynx. Opera singers showed additional activation in right primary sensorimotor cortex. Further training-related activation comprised the inferior parietal lobe and bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. At the subcortical level, expert singers showed increased activation in the basal ganglia, the thalamus, and the cerebellum. A regression analysis of functional activation with accumulated singing practice confirmed that vocal skills training correlates with increased activity of a cortical network for enhanced kinesthetic motor control and sensorimotor guidance together with increased involvement of implicit motor memory areas at the subcortical and cerebellar level. Our findings may have ramifications for both voice rehabilitation and deliberate practice of other implicit motor skills that require interoception.

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Music is not simply a series of organized pitches, rhythms, and timbres, it is capable of evoking emotions. In the present study, voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was employed to explore the neural basis that may link music to emotion.

Music is not simply a series of organized pitches, rhythms, and timbres, it is capable of evoking emotions. In the present study, voxel-based morphometry (VBM) was employed to explore the neural basis that may link music to emotion. To do this, we identified the neuroanatomical correlates of the ability to extract pitch interval size in a music segment (i.e., interval perception) in a large population of healthy young adults (N = 264). Behaviorally, we found that interval perception was correlated with daily emotional experiences, indicating the intrinsic link between music and emotion. Neurally, and as expected, we found that interval perception was positively correlated with the gray matter volume (GMV) of the bilateral temporal cortex. More important, a larger GMV of the bilateral amygdala was associated with better interval perception, suggesting that the amygdala, which is the neural substrate of emotional processing, is also involved in music processing. In sum, our study provides one of first neuroanatomical evidence on the association between the amygdala and music, which contributes to our understanding of exactly how music evokes emotional responses.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
Music is a powerful tool for evoking emotional responses. Tears burst out uncontrolledly when “The Queen’s Epicedium” (Henry Purcell and John Blow, 1695) is performed, whereas intense joy floods our heart when we hear “The Blue Danube” (Johann Strauss II, 1866). Indeed, behavioral studies have shown that music evokes various emotions, and can help patients feel less anxious and reduce postoperative pain. However, little is known about the neural basis that links music and emotion. In the present study, we addressed this question by exploring the neuroanatomical correlates of individuals’ behavioral performance in music processing.

The amygdala, a core component in the neural circuits of emotional processing and emotional experiences, has attracted attention for its significance in processing music. Previous functional neuroimaging studies have demonstrated the amygdala’s involvement in music processing. First, exposure to music scoring high on emotional valence (e.g., pleasant and unpleasant music) activates the amygdala. Specifically, this region of the brain is activated when participants experience a positive emotion after being exposed to pleasant music or when they experience a negative emotion after listening to unpleasant music. Second, in addition to responding to pleasant or unpleasant music, the amygdala may respond to the occurrence of fairly abstract musical features, such as unexpected chords (the processing of which is perceived as being less pleasant than the processing of expected chords).

In contrast, structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies relying on the measurement of cortical thickness and/or voxel-based morphometry have only focused on frontotemporal circuits as neuroanatomical correlates of music processing. While the role of the amygdala in music processing is largely ignored in structural MRI studies, there is abundant evidence showing that the anatomical structure of the amygdala is correlated with emotional processing. For example, amygdala gray matter volume (GMV) or density is correlated with magnitude of stress and anxiety in the normal population, and the change of amygdala volume is a neural signature of a variety of emotion-related disorders, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and autism. Finally, lesions of the amygdala severely impair emotional processing, such as emotion recognition, emotion arousal, and emotion judgment.

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Roberto Gradini editorial about brain waves

Although brain imaging studies have demonstrated that listening to music alters human brain structure and function, the molecular mechanisms mediating those effects remain unknown. With the advent of genomics and bioinformatics approaches, these effects of music can now be studied in a more detailed fashion. To verify whether listening to classical music has any effect on human transcriptome, we performed genome-wide transcriptional profiling from the peripheral blood of participants after listening to classical music (n = 48), and after a control study without music exposure (n = 15). As musical experience is known to influence the responses to music, we compared the transcriptional responses of musically experienced and inexperienced participants separately with those of the controls. Comparisons were made based on two subphenotypes of musical experience: musical aptitude and music education. In musically experiencd participants, we observed the differential expression of 45 genes (27 up- and 18 down-regulated) and 97 genes (75 up- and 22 down-regulated) respectively based on subphenotype comparisons (rank product non-parametric statistics, pfp 0.05, >1.2-fold change over time across conditions). Gene ontological overrepresentation analysis (hypergeometric test, FDR < 0.05) revealed that the up-regulated genes are primarily known to be involved in the secretion and transport of dopamine, neuron projection, protein sumoylation, long-term potentiation and dephosphorylation. Down-regulated genes are known to be involved in ATP synthase-coupled proton transport, cytolysis, and positive regulation of caspase, peptidase and endopeptidase activities. One of the most up-regulated genes, alpha-synuclein (SNCA), is located in the best linkage region of musical aptitude on chromosome 4q22.1 and is regulated by GATA2, which is known to be associated with musical aptitude. Several genes reported to regulate song perception and production in songbirds displayed altered activities, suggesting a possible evolutionary conservation of sound perception between species. We observed no significant findings in musically inexperienced participants.

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Music performance involves not only hundreds of muscles, coordinated to produce the desired musical result, but also a variety of cognitive mechanisms, including complex emotional and analytic processes.

Music performance is considered one of the most complex human activities. It involves not only hundreds of muscles, coordinated to produce the desired musical result, but also a variety of cognitive mechanisms, including complex emotional and analytic processes (Zatorre et al., 2007). The study of music performance has yielded important insights into brain processes, including neural plasticity (Schlaug et al., 1995; Schlaug, 2001; Münte et al., 2002; Schneider et al., 2005), motor control (Slobounov et al., 2002; Watson, 2006), rhythmic control (Rammsayer and Altenmüller, 2006; Repp and Doggett, 2007; Goebl and Palmer, 2009), and emotional communication (Gabrielsson and Juslin, 1996; Juslin, 1997; Juslin and Laukka, 2003). The information acquired through systematic studies is invaluable in its contribution to our understanding of brain mechanisms underlying music perception and performance. However, such studies are limited in their ability to simulate the atmosphere of a concert performance, or to systematically follow the long period of training required to master a musical piece. Hence, it may be beneficial to obtain additional information by studying the strategies employed by professional concert artists to optimize their practice routines and their performance under stressful conditions. Such strategies enable them to confront many of the physiological constraints dictated by the muscular and central nervous system. In this short note, we highlight some key properties of these strategies and their possible relevance to studying other complex human activities:

journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnsys.2013.00035/full

Front. Syst. Neurosci., 31 July 2013

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