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Performing musicians invest thousands of hours becoming experts in a range of perceptual, attentional, and cognitive skills. The duration and intensity of musicians' training - far greater than that of most educational or rehabilitation programs - provides a useful model to test the extent to which skills acquired in one particular context (music) generalize to different domains. Here, we asked whether the instrument-specific and more instrument-general skills acquired during professional violinists' and pianists' training would generalize to superior performance on a wide range of analogous (largely non-musical) skills, when compared to closely matched non-musicians. Violinists and pianists outperformed non-musicians on fine-grained auditory psychophysical measures, but surprisingly did not differ from each other, despite the different demands of their instruments. Musician groups did differ on a tuning system perception task: violinists showed clearest biases towards the tuning system specific to their instrument, suggesting that long-term experience leads to selective perceptual benefits given a training-relevant context. However, we found only weak evidence of group differences in non-musical skills, with musicians differing marginally in one measure of sustained auditory attention, but not significantly on auditory scene analysis or multi-modal sequencing measures. Further, regression analyses showed that this sustained auditory attention metric predicted more variance in one auditory psychophysical measure than did musical expertise. Our findings suggest that specific musical expertise may yield distinct perceptual outcomes within contexts close to the area of training. Generalization of expertise to relevant cognitive domains may be less clear, particularly where the task context is non-musical.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





81 - 105


Cognition, Expertise, Generalization, Musicians, Perception, Acoustic Stimulation, Adolescent, Adult, Aptitude, Attention, Auditory Perception, Cognition, Female, Humans, Male, Music, Young Adult