ECKART ALTENMÜLLER & WILFRIED GRUHN
Neurological foundations of music perception, performance, and learning rely on individually variable, widely distributed neuronal networks in both hemispheres. Music performance is a complex voluntary sensorimotor behavior that becomes automated during extensive practice with auditory feedback. It involves all motor, somatosensory, and auditory areas of the brain. Practicing a musical instrument results first in a temporary and later in a stable increase in the amount of nerve tissue devoted to the various component tasks. Overuse of movement patterns may degrade motor memory and voluntary control of movements (musician's cramp). Neuronal networks established during music learning may depend on teaching strategies. Brain regions corresponding to specific subtasks of music performance are larger in musicians with early training, which may account for their superior capacity to acquire complex musical sensory-motor and auditory skills.
Music performance at a professional level is one of the most demanding tasks for the human central nervous system. It involves the precise execution of very fast and, in many instances, extremely complex physical movements under continuous auditory feedback. A further aspect of music performance—although not specifically addressed in this chapter—is the involvement of emotional experiences.
Extensive practice is required to develop new skills and carry out these complex tasks. Motor skills, on the one hand, can only be automated by countless repetitions; aural skills, on the other hand, are developed through a broad variety of listening experiences. These skills are not represented in isolated brain areas but rather depend on the multiple connections and interactions established during training within and among the different regions of the brain. The general ability of our central nervous system to adapt to both changing environmental conditions and newly imposed tasks during its entire life span is referred to as plasticity: in music, learning through experience and training is accompanied