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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Jul;110(1):230-42. doi: 10.1152/jn.00973.2012. Epub 2013 Apr 17.

Patterns of muscle activity for digital coarticulation.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455, USA.


Although piano playing is a highly skilled task, basic features of motor pattern generation may be shared across tasks involving fine movements, such as handling coins, fingering food, or using a touch screen. The scripted and sequential nature of piano playing offered the opportunity to quantify the neuromuscular basis of coarticulation, i.e., the manner in which the muscle activation for one sequential element is altered to facilitate production of the preceding and subsequent elements. Ten pianists were asked to play selected pieces with the right hand at a uniform tempo. Key-press times were recorded along with the electromyographic (EMG) activity from seven channels: thumb flexor and abductor muscles, a flexor for each finger, and the four-finger extensor muscle. For the thumb and index finger, principal components of EMG waveforms revealed highly consistent variations in the shape of the flexor bursts, depending on the type of sequence in which a particular central key press was embedded. For all digits, the duration of the central EMG burst scaled, along with slight variations across subjects in the duration of the interkeystroke intervals. Even within a narrow time frame (about 100 ms) centered on the central EMG burst, the exact balance of EMG amplitudes across multiple muscles depended on the nature of the preceding and subsequent key presses. This fails to support the idea of fixed burst patterns executed in sequential phases and instead provides evidence for neuromuscular coarticulation throughout the time course of a hand movement sequence.


finger movement; hand movement; motor cortex; muscle; piano playing

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