Pitch Memory in Nonmusicians and Musicians: Revealing Functional Differences Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

Schaal, N.K. ; Krause, V. ; Lange, K. ; Banissy, M.J. ; Williamson, V.J. ; Pollok, B.

In: Cerebral Cortex, 2015, vol. 25, no. 9, p. 2774-2782

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    For music and language processing, memory for relative pitches is highly important. Functional imaging studies have shown activation of a complex neural system for pitch memory. One region that has been shown to be causally involved in the process for nonmusicians is the supramarginal gyrus (SMG). The present study aims at replicating this finding and at further examining the role of the SMG for pitch memory in musicians. Nonmusicians and musicians received cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the left SMG, right SMG, or sham stimulation, while completing a pitch recognition, pitch recall, and visual memory task. Cathodal tDCS over the left SMG led to a significant decrease in performance on both pitch memory tasks in nonmusicians. In musicians, cathodal stimulation over the left SMG had no effect, but stimulation over the right SMG impaired performance on the recognition task only. Furthermore, the results show a more pronounced deterioration effect for longer pitch sequences indicating that the SMG is involved in maintaining higher memory load. No stimulation effect was found in both groups on the visual control task. These findings provide evidence for a causal distinction of the left and right SMG function in musicians and nonmusicians