A neurocognitive approach to music reading

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  • Lauren Stewart

Music reading offers a unique perspective on the acquisition of a notational system. Many people cannot read music, but a large proportion are motivated to learn. Musical literacy is therefore amenable to studies of acquisition in a way that language literacy is not. The studies reviewed here investigate how musical symbols on the page are decoded into a musical response. The studies address the nature of the mental representations used in music reading, as well as their instantiation within the brain. The results of a musical Stroop paradigm are described, in which musical notation was present but irrelevant for task performance. The presence of musical notation produced systematic effects on reaction time, demonstrating that reading of the written note, like the written word, is obligatory for those who are musically literate. Spatial interference tasks are also described that suggest that music reading, at least for the pianist, can be characterized as a set of vertical to horizontal mappings. These behavioral findings are mirrored by the results of an fMRI training study in which musically untrained adults were taught to read music and play piano keyboard over a period of three months. Specific learning-related changes were seen in the superior parietal cortex and fusiform gyrus, for melody reading and rhythm reading, respectively. These changes are suggested to correspond to the acquisition of processes that deal with the extraction of spatial and featural properties of notation, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Volume1060
Pages (from-to)377-86
Number of pages10
ISSN0077-8923
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005

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