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Brain Cogn. 2005 Nov;59(2):124-34. Epub 2005 Jul 28.

Are there pre-existing neural, cognitive, or motoric markers for musical ability?

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Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, USA.


Adult musician's brains show structural enlargements, but it is not known whether these are inborn or a consequence of long-term training. In addition, music training in childhood has been shown to have positive effects on visual-spatial and verbal outcomes. However, it is not known whether pre-existing advantages in these skills are found in children who choose to study a musical instrument nor is it known whether there are pre-existing associations between music and any of these outcome measures that could help explain the training effects. To answer these questions, we compared 5- to 7-year-olds beginning piano or string lessons (n=39) with 5- to 7-year-olds not beginning instrumental training (n=31). All children received a series of tests (visual-spatial, non-verbal reasoning, verbal, motor, and musical) and underwent magnetic resonance imaging. We found no pre-existing neural, cognitive, motor, or musical differences between groups and no correlations (after correction for multiple analyses) between music perceptual skills and any brain or visual-spatial measures. However, correlations were found between music perceptual skills and both non-verbal reasoning and phonemic awareness. Such pre-existing correlations suggest similarities in auditory and visual pattern recognition as well a sharing of the neural substrates for language and music processing, most likely due to innate abilities or implicit learning during early development. This baseline study lays the groundwork for an ongoing longitudinal study addressing the effects of intensive musical training on brain and cognitive development, and making it possible to look retroactively at the brain and cognitive development of those children who emerge showing exceptional musical talent.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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