Neural Entrainment to Polyrhythms: A Comparison of Musicians and Non-musicians

Jan Stupacher, Guilherme Wood, Matthias Witte
2017 Frontiers in Neuroscience  
Music can be thought of as a dynamic path over time. In most cases, the rhythmic structure of this path, such as specific sequences of strong and weak beats or recurring patterns, allows us to predict what and particularly when sounds are going to happen. Without this ability we would not be able to entrain body movements to music, like we do when we dance. By combining EEG and behavioral measures, the current study provides evidence illustrating the importance of ongoing neural oscillations at
more » ... beat-related frequencies-i.e., neural entrainment-for tracking and predicting musical rhythms. Participants (13 musicians and 13 non-musicians) listened to drum rhythms that switched from a quadruple rhythm to a 3-over-4 polyrhythm. After a silent period of ∼2-3 s, participants had to decide whether a target stimulus was presented on time with the triple beat of the polyrhythm, too early, or too late. Results showed that neural oscillations reflected the rhythmic structure of both the simple quadruple rhythm and the more complex polyrhythm with no differences between musicians and non-musicians. During silent periods, the observation of time-frequency plots and more commonly used frequency spectra analyses suggest that beat-related neural oscillations were more pronounced in musicians compared to non-musicians. Neural oscillations during silent periods are not driven by an external input and therefore are thought to reflect top-down controlled endogenous neural entrainment. The functional relevance of endogenous neural entrainment was demonstrated by a positive correlation between the amplitude of task-relevant neural oscillations during silent periods and the number of correctly identified target stimuli. In sum, our findings add to the evidence supporting the neural resonance theory of pulse and meter. Furthermore, they indicate that beat-related topdown controlled neural oscillations can exist without external stimulation and suggest that those endogenous oscillations are strengthened by musical expertise. Finally, this study shows that the analysis of neural oscillations can be a useful tool to assess how we perceive and process complex auditory stimuli such as polyrhythms.
doi:10.3389/fnins.2017.00208 pmid:28446864 pmcid:PMC5388767 fatcat:5icqqti5xrhlrjuhzlud7rs2bi