Musical training has emerged as a useful framework for the investigation of training-related plasticity in the human brain. Learning to play an instrument is a highly complex task that involves the interaction of several modalities and higher-order cognitive functions and that results in behavioral, structural, and functional changes on time scales ranging from days to years. While early work focused on comparison of musical experts and novices, more recently an increasing number of controlled training studies provide clear experimental evidence for training effects. Here, we review research investigating brain plasticity induced by musical training, highlight common patterns and possible underlying mechanisms of such plasticity, and integrate these studies with findings and models for mechanisms of plasticity in other domains.
Figure 2 (click to enlarge). Interindividual Differences in Auditory Cortical Structure and Function(A) Variability in auditory cortex gray matter concentration and cortical thickness predicted performance on a melodic transposition task (adapted from Foster and Zatorre, 2010).(B) Different rates of behavioral improvement during pitch memory training were accompanied by differential training-related functional changes in secondary auditory areas (adapted from Gaab et al., 2006).(C) BOLD signal covariation to increasing pitch size in microtonal melodies prior to training in both left and right auditory cortices was predictive of the speed with which learning occurred, such that those individuals who subsequently learned more quickly had an initially steeper response function (adapted from Zatorre et al., in press).