Superior formation of cortical memory traces for melodic patterns in musicians.Learn Mem. 2001 Sep-Oct; 8(5):295-300.LM
The human central auditory system has a remarkable ability to establish memory traces for invariant features in the acoustic environment despite continual acoustic variations in the sounds heard. By recording the memory-related mismatch negativity (MMN) component of the auditory electric and magnetic brain responses as well as behavioral performance, we investigated how subjects learn to discriminate changes in a melodic pattern presented at several frequency levels. In addition, we explored whether musical expertise facilitates this learning. Our data show that especially musicians who perform music primarily without a score learn easily to detect contour changes in a melodic pattern presented at variable frequency levels. After learning, their auditory cortex detects these changes even when their attention is directed away from the sounds. The present results thus show that, after perceptual learning during attentive listening has taken place, changes in a highly complex auditory pattern can be detected automatically by the human auditory cortex and, further, that this process is facilitated by musical expertise.