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Reading music modifies spatial mapping in pianists

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  • Lauren Stewart
  • ,
  • Vincent Walsh
  • ,
  • Uta Frith

We used a novel musical Stroop task to demonstrate that musical notation is automatically processed in trained pianists. Numbers were superimposed onto musical notes, and participants played five-note sequences by mapping from numbers to fingers instead of from notes to fingers. Pianists' reaction times were significantly affected by the congruence of the note/number pairing. Nonmusicians were unaffected. In a nonmusical analogue of the task, pianists and nonmusicians showed a qualitative difference on performance of a vertical-to-horizontal stimulus-response mapping task. Pianists were faster when stimuli specifying a leftward response were presented in vertically lower locations and stimuli specifying a rightward response were presented in vertically higher locations. Nonmusicians showed the reverse pattern. No group differences were found on a task that required horizontal-to-horizontal mappings. We suggest that, as a result of learning to read and play keyboard music, pianists acquire vertical-to-horizontal visuomotor mappings that generalize outside the musical context.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAttention, Perception & Psychophysics
Pages (from-to)183-95
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2004

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