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 Country:Italy

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