Brain Topography

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 285–292 | Cite as

Detecting Scale Violations in Absence of Mismatch Requires Music-Syntactic Analysis: A Further Look at the Early Right Anterior Negativity (ERAN)

  • Tiina Kalda
  • Ludovico Minati
Original Paper


The purpose of this study was to determine whether infrequent scale violations in a sequence of in-key notes are detected when the deviants are matched for frequency of occurrence and preceding intervals with the control notes. We further investigated whether the detectability of scale violations is modulated by the presence of melodic context and by the level of musical training. Event related potentials were recorded from 14 musicians and 13 non-musicians. In non-musicians, the out-of-key notes elicited an early right anterior negativity (ERAN), which appeared prominently over right frontal sites only when presented within structured sequences; no effects were found when the out-of-key notes were presented within scrambled sequences. In musicians, the out-of-key notes elicited a similar bilateral ERAN in structured and scrambled sequences. Our findings suggest that scale information is processed at the level of music-syntactic analysis, and that the detection of deviants does not require activation of auditory sensory memory by mismatch effects. Scales are perceived as a broader context, not just as online interval relations. Additional melodic context information appears necessary to support the representation of scale deviants in non-musicians, but not in musically-trained individuals, likely as a consequence of stronger pre-existing representations.


Auditory sensory memory Music-synctactic analysis Musical syntax Event-related potentials (ERP) Early right anterior negativity (ERAN) 



The authors would like to thank all study participants, Prof. Risto Näätänen for helpful comments, Prof. Stefan Koelsch for essential contribution in earlier phases of the project and two anonymous reviewers for insightful feedback on an earlier draft of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of SussexFalmer, BrightonUK
  2. 2.Scientific DepartmentFondazione IRCCS Istituto Neurologico “Carlo Besta”MilanoItaly

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