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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mapping perception to action in piano practice: a longitudinal DC-EEG study

Marc Bangert12 and Eckart O Altenmüller1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians Medicine, Hanover University of Music and Drama, Hohenzollernstrasse 47, D-30161 Hanover, Germany

2 Dept of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, 330 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA 02215, USA

BMC Neuroscience 2003, 4:26  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-4-26

Published: 15 October 2003



Performing music requires fast auditory and motor processing. Regarding professional musicians, recent brain imaging studies have demonstrated that auditory stimulation produces a co-activation of motor areas, whereas silent tapping of musical phrases evokes a co-activation in auditory regions. Whether this is obtained via a specific cerebral relay station is unclear. Furthermore, the time course of plasticity has not yet been addressed.


Changes in cortical activation patterns (DC-EEG potentials) induced by short (20 minute) and long term (5 week) piano learning were investigated during auditory and motoric tasks. Two beginner groups were trained. The 'map' group was allowed to learn the standard piano key-to-pitch map. For the 'no-map' group, random assignment of keys to tones prevented such a map. Auditory-sensorimotor EEG co-activity occurred within only 20 minutes. The effect was enhanced after 5-week training, contributing elements of both perception and action to the mental representation of the instrument. The 'map' group demonstrated significant additional activity of right anterior regions.


We conclude that musical training triggers instant plasticity in the cortex, and that right-hemispheric anterior areas provide an audio-motor interface for the mental representation of the keyboard.