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Inter-subject Similarity of Brain Activity in Expert Musicians After Multimodal Learning: A Behavioral and Neuroimaging Study on Learning to Play a Piano Sonata

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  • Maria C. Fasano
  • Enrico Glerean, Aalto University, Higher School of Economics
  • ,
  • Benjamin P. Gold, McGill University
  • ,
  • Dana Sheng, Georgetown University
  • ,
  • Mikko Sams, Aalto University
  • ,
  • Peter Vuust
  • Josef P. Rauschecker, Georgetown University, Technical University of Munich
  • ,
  • Elvira Brattico

Human behavior is inherently multimodal and relies on sensorimotor integration. This is evident when pianists exhibit activity in motor and premotor cortices, as part of a dorsal pathway, while listening to a familiar piece of music, or when naïve participants learn to play simple patterns on the piano. Here we investigated the interaction between multimodal learning and dorsal-stream activity over the course of four weeks in ten skilled pianists by adopting a naturalistic data-driven analysis approach. We presented the pianists with audio-only, video-only and audiovisual recordings of a piano sonata during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after they had learned to play the sonata by heart for a total of four weeks. We followed the learning process and its outcome with questionnaires administered to the pianists, one piano instructor following their training, and seven external expert judges. The similarity of the pianists’ brain activity during stimulus presentations was examined before and after learning by means of inter-subject correlation (ISC) analysis. After learning, an increased ISC was found in the pianists while watching the audiovisual performance, particularly in motor and premotor regions of the dorsal stream. While these brain structures have previously been associated with learning simple audio-motor sequences, our findings are the first to suggest their involvement in learning a complex and demanding audiovisual-motor task. Moreover, the most motivated learners and the best performers of the sonata showed ISC in the dorsal stream and in the reward brain network.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-116
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • audiovisual perception, dorsal pathway, motivation, striatum, multimodal learning, auditory-motor integration

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