Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Early optimization in finger dexterity of skilled pianists: implication of transcranial stimulation

Shinichi Furuya1*, Michael A Nitsche2, Walter Paulus2 and Eckart Altenmüller1

Author affiliations

1 Institute for Music Physiology and Musicians’ Medicine, Hannover University of Music, Drama and Media, Hannover, Germany

2 Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:35  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-35

Published: 16 March 2013



It has been shown that non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) facilitates motor functions in healthy adults and stroke patients. However, little is known about neuroplastic changes induced by tDCS in highly-trained individuals. Here we addressed this issue by assessing the effect of tDCS on dexterity of finger movements in healthy adult pianists. Twelve pianists practiced bimanual keystrokes in an in-phase manner while bilateral tDCS (left anodal/right cathodal or vice versa) of the primary motor cortex was performed. Before and after stimulation, each participant was asked to perform the trained successive keystrokes, and to repetitively strike a key with each of the fingers as fast and accurate as possible while keeping the remaining fingers immobilized voluntarily.


In contrast to previous findings in untrained individuals, tDCS yielded overall no apparent improvement of fine control of finger movements in the professional pianists. However, for some movement features, pianists who commenced training at later age demonstrated larger improvements of fine motor control following tDCS.


These findings, in combination with lack of any correlation between the age at which pianists commenced the training and motor improvements for sham stimulation conditions, supports the idea that selectively late-started players benefit from tDCS, which we interpret as early optimization of neuroplasticity of the motor system.

tDCS; Fine motor control; Neuroplasticity; Motor learning; Skilled finger movements