Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 204, Issue 1, pp 91–101 | Cite as

Rhythm synchronization performance and auditory working memory in early- and late-trained musicians

  • Jennifer A. BaileyEmail author
  • Virginia B. Penhune
Research Article


Behavioural and neuroimaging studies provide evidence for a possible “sensitive” period in childhood development during which musical training results in long-lasting changes in brain structure and auditory and motor performance. Previous work from our laboratory has shown that adult musicians who begin training before the age of 7 (early-trained; ET) perform better on a visuomotor task than those who begin after the age of 7 (late-trained; LT), even when matched on total years of musical training and experience. Two questions were raised regarding the findings from this experiment. First, would this group performance difference be observed using a more familiar, musically relevant task such as auditory rhythms? Second, would cognitive abilities mediate this difference in task performance? To address these questions, ET and LT musicians, matched on years of musical training, hours of current practice and experience, were tested on an auditory rhythm synchronization task. The task consisted of six woodblock rhythms of varying levels of metrical complexity. In addition, participants were tested on cognitive subtests measuring vocabulary, working memory and pattern recognition. The two groups of musicians differed in their performance of the rhythm task, such that the ET musicians were better at reproducing the temporal structure of the rhythms. There were no group differences on the cognitive measures. Interestingly, across both groups, individual task performance correlated with auditory working memory abilities and years of formal training. These results support the idea of a sensitive period during the early years of childhood for developing sensorimotor synchronization abilities via musical training.


Sensitive period Early-trained Late-trained Sensorimotor Musicians Rhythm synchronization Working memory Cognitive abilities 



We would like to acknowledge the important contribution of Amanda Daly in data collection and analysis. Most importantly, we would like to thank the musicians who participated in our study. Funds supporting this research came from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).


  1. Amunts K, Schlaug G, Jäncke L, Steinmetz H, Schleicher A, Dabringhaus A, Zilles K (1997) Motor cortex and hand motor skills: structural compliance in the human brain. Hum Brain Mapp 5:206–215CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Anvari S, Trainor L, Woodside J, Levy B (2002) Relations among musical skills, phonological processing, and early reading ability in preschool children. J Exp Child Psychol 83(2):111–130CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bangert M, Schlaug G (2006) Specialization of the specialized in features of external human brain morphology. Eur J Neurosci 24(6):1832–1834CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnea-Goraly N et al (2005) White matter development during childhood and adolescence: a cross-sectional diffusion tensor imaging study. Cereb Cortex 15:1848–1854CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bengtsson SL, Nagy Z, Skare S, Forsman L, Forssberg H, Ullen F (2005) Extensive piano practicing has regionally specific effects on white matter development. Nat Neurosci 8(9):1148–1150CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bermudez P, Zatorre R (2005) Differences in gray matter between musicians and nonmusicians. Ann NY Acad Sci 1060:395–399CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen J, Penhune V, Zatorre R (2008) Moving on time: brain network for auditory- motor synchronization is modulated by rhythm complexity and musical training. J Cogn Neurosci 20(2):226–239CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Curtiss S (1977) Genie: a psycholinguistic study of a modern-day wild child. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Essens P (1995) Structuring temporal sequences: comparison of models and factors of complexity. Percept Psychophys 57(4):519–532PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Essens P, Povel D (1985) Metrical and nonmetrical representations of temporal patterns. Percept Psychophys 37(1):1–7PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Forgeard M, Winner E, Norton A, Schlaug G (2008) Practicing a musical instrument in childhood is associated with enhanced verbal ability and nonverbal reasoning. PLoS ONE 3(10):e3566CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Gaab N, Schlaug G (2003) Musicians differ from nonmusicians in brain activation despite performance matching. Ann NY Acad Sci 999:385–388CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Garvey MA, Ziemann U, Bartko JJ, Denckla MB, Barker CA, Wasserman EM (2003) Cortical correlates of neuromotor development in healthy children. Clin Neurophysiol 114:1662–1670CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Gaser C, Schlaug G (2003) Brain structures differ between musicians and non- musicians. J Neurosci 23(27):9240–9245PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Helmbold N, Troche S, Rammsayer T (2007) Processing of temporal and nontemporal information as predictors of psychometric intelligence: a structural- equation modeling approach. J Pers 75(5):985–1006CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hooks B, Chen C (2007) Critical periods in the visual system: changing views for a model of experience-dependent plasticity. Neuron 56(2):312–326CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hutchinson S, Lee L-L, Gaab N, Schlaug G (2003) Cerebellar volume of musicians. Cereb Cortex 13(9):943–949CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Hyde KL, Lerch J, Norton A, Foregeard M, Winner E, Evans AC, Schlaug G (2009) Musical training shapes structural brain development. J Neurosci 29(10):3019–3025CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Innocenti G (2007) Subcortical regulation of cortical development: some effects of early, selective deprivations. Prog Brain Res 164:23–37CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Jentschke S, Koelsch S (2009) Musical training modulates the development of syntax processing in children. Neuroimage 47:735–744CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Knudsen EI (2004) Sensitive periods in the development of the brain and behaviour. J Cogn Neurosci 16(8):1412–1425CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Kral A, Hartmann R, Tillein J, Heid S, Klinke R (2001) Delayed maturation and sensitive periods in the auditory cortex. Audiol Neuro-otol 6(6):346–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lenneberg E (1967) Biological foundations of language. New York, WileyGoogle Scholar
  24. Madison G, Forsman L, Blom Ö, Karabanov A, Ullén F (2009) Correlations between general intelligence and components of serial timing variability. Intelligence 37:68–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moore J, Linthicum F (2007) The human auditory system: a timeline of development. Int J Audiol 46(9):460–478CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Moreno S, Marques C, Santos A, Santos M, Castro S, Besson M (2009) Musical training influences linguistic abilities in 8-year-old children: more evidence for brain plasticity. Cereb Cortex 19(3):712–723CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Pantev C, Oostenveld R, Engelien A, Ross B, Roberts L, Hoke M (1998) Increased auditory cortical representation in musicians. Nature 392(6678):811–814CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Paus T, Zijdenbos A, Worsley K, Collins DL, Blumenthal J, Giedd JN, Rapoport AL, Evans AC (1999) Structural maturation of neural pathways in children and adolescents: in vivo study. Science 283(5409):1908–1911CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Rammsayer TH, Brandler S (2007) Performance on temporal information processing as an index of general intelligence. Intelligence 35(2):123–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Saffran J (2003) Musical learning and language development. Ann NY Acad Sci 999:397–401CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Savion-Lemieux T, Bailey J, Penhune V (2009) Developmental contributions to motor sequence learning. Exp Brain Res 195:293–306CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Schellenberg E (2001) Music and nonmusical abilities. Ann NY Acad Sci 930:355–371PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Schellenberg E (2004) Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychol Sci 15(8):511–514CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Schellenberg E (2006) Long-term positive associations between music lessons and IQ. J Educ Psychol 98(2):457–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schellenberg E, Peretz I (2008) Music, language and cognition: unresolved issues. Trends Cogn Sci 12(2):45–46CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Schlaug G, Jäncke L, Huang Y, Staiger J, Steinmetz H (1995) Increased corpus callosum size in musicians. Neuropsychologia 33(8):1047–1055CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Schlaug G, Norton A, Overy K, Winner E (2005) Effects of music training on the child’s brain and cognitive development. Ann NY Acad Sci 1060:219–230CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Shahin A, Roberts LE, Trainor L (2004) Enhancement of auditory cortical development by musical experience in children. Neuroreport 15(12):1917–1921CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Sharma A, Gilley P, Dorman M, Baldwin R (2007) Deprivation-induced cortical reorganization in children with cochlear implants. Int J Audiol 46(9):494–499CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Svirsky M, Teoh S-W, Neuburger H (2004) Development of language and speech perception in congenitally, profoundly deaf children as a function of age at cochlear implantation. Audiol Neuro-otol 9(4):224–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Takeuchi A, Hulse S (1993) Absolute pitch. Psychol Bull 113(2):345–361CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Thomas K, Nelson C (2001) Serial reaction time learning in pre-school and school- age children. J Exp Child Psychol 79:364–387CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Thompson PM, Giedd JN, Woods RP, MacDonald D, Evans AC, Toage AW (2000) Growth patterns in the developing brain detected by using continuum mechanical tensor maps. Nature 404(6774):190–193CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Tomblin J, Barker B, Hubbs S (2007) Developmental constraints on language development in children with cochlear implants. Int J Audiol 46(9):512–523CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Trainor L (2005) Are there critical periods for musical development? Dev Psychobiol 46(3):262–278CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Ullén F, Forsman L, Blom Ö, Karabanov A, Madison G (2008) Intelligence and variability in a simple timing task share neural substrates in the prefrontal white matter. J Neurosci 28(16):4238–4243CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Watanabe D, Savion-Lemieux T, Penhune V (2007) The effect of early musical training on adult motor performance: evidence for a sensitive period in motor learning. Exp Brain Res 176(2):332–340CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Weber-Fox C, Neville HJ (2001) Sensitive periods differentiating processing of open- and closed-class words: an ERP study of bilinguals. J Speech Lang Hear Res 44(6):1338–1353CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Wechsler D (1997) Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 3rd edn. Psychological Corporation, San AntonioGoogle Scholar
  50. Wechsler D (1999) Wechsler abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. Psychological Corporation, San AntonioGoogle Scholar
  51. Wiesel TN, Hubel DN (1965) Extent of recovery from the effects of visual deprivation in kittens. J Neurophysiol 28(6):1060–1072PubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Zatorre R (2003) Absolute pitch: a model for understanding the influence of genes and development on neural and cognitive function. Nat Neurosci 6(7):692–695CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Concordia UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations