Abstract

It is believed that auditory processes governing grouping and segmentation of sounds are automatic and represent universal aspects of music perception (e.g., they are independent of the listener's musical skill). The present study challenges this view by showing that musicians and nonmusicians differ in their ability to preattentively group consecutive sounds. We measured event-related potentials (ERPs) from professional musicians and nonmusicians who were presented with isochronous tone sequences that they ignored. Four consecutive tones in a sequence could be grouped according to either pitch similarity or good continuation of pitch. Occasionally, the tone-group length was violated by a deviant tone. The mismatch negativity (MMN) was elicited to the deviants in both subject groups when the sounds could be grouped based on pitch similarity. In contrast, MMN was only elicited in musicians when the sounds could be grouped according to good continuation of pitch. These results suggest that some forms of auditory grouping depend on musical skill and that not all aspects of auditory grouping are universal.

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