Musical training has been shown to positively influence linguistic abilities. To follow the developmental dynamics of this transfer effect at the preattentive level, we conducted a longitudinal study over 2 school years with nonmusician children randomly assigned to music or to painting training. We recorded the mismatch negativity (MMN), a cortical correlate of preattentive mismatch detection, to syllables that differed in vowel frequency, vowel duration, and voice onset time (VOT), using a test-training-retest procedure and 3 times of testing: before training, after 6 months and after 12 months of training. While no between-group differences were found before training, enhanced preattentive processing of syllabic duration and VOT, as reflected by greater MMN amplitude, but not of frequency, was found after 12 months of training in the music group only. These results demonstrate neuroplasticity in the child brain and suggest that active musical training rather than innate predispositions for music yielded the improvements in musically trained children. These results also highlight the influence of musical training for duration perception in speech and for the development of phonological representations in normally developing children. They support the importance of music-based training programs for children's education and open new remediation strategies for children with language-based learning impairments.
Keywords: children; duration; frequency; longitudinal study; mismatch negativity (MMN); musical training; syllables; transfer of training; voice onset time (VOT).