9.3 Music training
The major goal of the present study was to examine the general notion that temporal information processing is more accurate in musicians than in nonmusicians. For this purpose, timing performance on seven different auditory temporal tasks was compared in 36 academically trained musicians and 36 controls without music experience. Superior temporal acuity for musicians compared to nonmusicians was shown for auditory fusion, rhythm perception, temporal discrimination of very brief filled and empty intervals in the range of milliseconds, and temporal discrimination of filled intervals in the range of seconds.Group differences were not observed, however, for temporal generalization with 75 and 1,000 ms standard durations.
The positive manifold among the seven temporal tasks observed for the nonmusician group, may imply that, under untrained conditions, functional independence of different timing mechanisms cannot be detected. Only after extensive “temporal training,”when the respective timing mechanisms operate at an optimum level, does a dissociation of task-specific timing mechanisms become evident.Within the framework of the present study, task-specific optimum timing performance can be considered a by- product of early music training.
From this perspective, musicians’ superior performance on perceptual temporal tasks, that do not require reference memory processes, suggests that extensive music training may exert a positive effect on timing performance by reducing variability or noise associated with the timing process. This advantage of musicians compared to nonmusicians appears to be limited to aspects of timing performance which are considered to be automatically and immediately derived from online perceptual processing of temporal information. On the other hand, the absence of a performance difference between musicians and nonmusicians for temporal generalization tasks, which involve a reference memory of sorts, points to the conclusion that temporal judgments which cannot be derived automatically or immediately from perceptual processing are less sensitive to music training.
The overall pattern of our findings suggests that perceptual timing skills are superior in musicians, while most of their training has been in more complex performance skills. This links in well with present theories on perception-action coupling,which is best expressed in the “common-coding hypothesis” (Prinz 1990): training of precise timing in motor performance is inseparably linked to the corresponding training and improvement of auditory temporal resolution. This is the more relevant in professional musicians, since temporal precision is a fundamental characteristic of performance quality. The musicians’ superior performance in temporal discrimination tasks also fits well into concepts of neuroplastic adaptation to attentive auditory processing.
Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that rhythm perception and extremely precise motor timing, often observed in musicians (e.g., Aschersleben, 2002; Moore, 1992; Trappe et al., 1998; Wagner, 1971), share a common neurophysiological basis.
Therefore,musicians’ superiority in temporal processing may be considered a consequence of their long lasting music training as well as of their outstanding, innate music talent. Certainly, numerous studies suggest that, due to neural plasticity,music training has beneficial effects on neural mechanisms related to temporal information processing. This, however, does not necessarily rule out the possibility that the individual level of music ability represented a crucial factor for musicians’ superior temporal performance compared to nonmusicians in the present study.