Evidence of cortical thickness increases in bilateral auditory brain structures following piano learning in older adults

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2022 Jul;1513(1):21-30. doi: 10.1111/nyas.14762. Epub 2022 Mar 15.


Morphological differences in the auditory brain of musicians compared to nonmusicians are often associated with life-long musical activity. Cross-sectional studies, however, do not allow for any causal inferences, and most experimental studies testing music-driven adaptations investigated children. Although the importance of the age at which musical training begins is widely recognized to impact neuroplasticity, there have been few longitudinal studies examining music-related changes in the brains of older adults. Using magnetic resonance imaging, we measured cortical thickness (CT) of 12 auditory-related regions of interest before and after 6 months of musical instruction in 134 healthy, right-handed, normal-hearing, musically-naive older adults (64-76 years old). Prior to the study, all participants were randomly assigned to either piano training or to a musical culture/music listening group. In five regions-left Heschl's gyrus, left planum polare, bilateral superior temporal sulcus, and right Heschl's sulcus-we found an increase in CT in the piano training group compared with the musical culture group. Furthermore, CT of the right Heschl's gyrus could be identified as a morphological substrate supporting speech in noise perception. The results support the conclusion that playing an instrument is an effective stimulator for cortical plasticity, even in older adults.

Keywords: auditory cortex; cortical thickness; elderly; magnetic resonance imaging; music-induced neuroplasticity; randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Aged
  • Auditory Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Auditory Perception
  • Brain
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Music*