Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How the brains of virtuosic pianists are different...

Because I'm a performing classical pianist (in fact, giving a concert on Feb. 9 in Fort Lauderdale, my snowbird roost from mid-October to mid_April), I always perk up when I come across articles showing how the brains of experienced pianists or other musicians are different from the brains of non-musicians. Candidi et al. make the interesting observation that the refined somatosensory and motor skills of musicians provide the brain with fine anticipatory, simulative error monitoring systems that are absent in non-pianist naive individuals.
Virtuosic musical performance requires fine sensorimotor skills and high predictive control of the fast finger movements that produce the intended sounds, and cannot be corrected once the notes have been played. The anticipatory nature of motor control in experts explains why musical performance is barely affected by auditory feedback. Using single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation, In a first experiment we provide evidence that, in expert pianists, the observation of a mute piano fingering error induces 1) a time-locked facilitation of hand corticospinal representation which occurred 300 and 700 ms but not 100 ms after error onset, and 2) a somatotopic corticospinal facilitation of the very same finger that commits the error. In a second experiment, we show that no corticospinal modulation is found in non-pianist na├»ve individuals who were experimentally trained to visually detect the observed fingering errors. This is the first evidence showing that the refined somatosensory and motor skills of musicians exceed the domain of individual motor control and may provide the brain with fine anticipatory, simulative error monitoring systems for the evaluation of others’ movements.

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