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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00142

Electrical Neuroimaging of Music Processing in Pianists With and Without True Absolute Pitch

 Clara E. James1, 2*, Sélim Y. Coll2, 3, Noémie Vuichoud2 and  Didier Grandjean2, 3
  • 1School of Health Sciences Geneva HES-SO, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland, Switzerland
  • 2Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland
  • 3Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland

True absolute pitch (AP), labeling of pitches with semitone precision without a reference, is classically studied using isolated tones. However, AP is acquired and has its function within complex dynamic musical contexts. Here we examined event-related brain responses and underlying cerebral sources to short expressive string quartets, investigating a homogeneous population of young highly trained pianists with half of them possessing true-AP. The pieces ended regularly or contained harmonic transgressions at closure that participants appraised.
Given the millisecond precision of ERP analyses, this experimental plan allowed examining whether AP alters music processing at an early perceptual or later cognitive level, or both, and which cerebral sources underlie differences with non-AP musicians. We also investigated the impact of AP on general auditory cognition.
Remarkably, harmonic transgression sensitivity did not differ between AP and non-AP participants, and differences for auditory cognition were only marginal. The key finding of this study is the involvement of a microstate peaking around 60 ms after musical closure, characterizing AP participants. Concurring sources were estimated in secondary auditory areas, comprising the planum temporale, all transgression conditions collapsed. These results suggest that AP is not a panacea to become a proficient musician, but a rare perceptual feature.

Keywords: complex music, electrical source imaging, ERP microstate analysis, trained pianists, true absolute pitch

Received: 06 Dec 2018; Accepted: 07 Feb 2019.

Edited by:

Claude Alain, Rotman Research Institute (RRI), Canada

Reviewed by:

Lutz Jäncke, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Peter Schneider, Universität Heidelberg, Germany  

Copyright: © 2019 James, Coll, Vuichoud and Grandjean. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Clara E. James, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland, School of Health Sciences Geneva HES-SO, Delémont, 1205, Switzerland,