Reading music modifies spatial mapping in pianists

Percept Psychophys. 2004 Feb;66(2):183-95. doi: 10.3758/bf03194871.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reading*
  • Space Perception*