Music Form but Not Music Experience Modulates Motor Cortical Activity in Response to Novel Music

External cues, such as music, improve movement performance in persons with Parkinson’s disease. However, research examining the motor cortical mechanisms by which this occurs is lacking. Research using electroencephalography in healthy young adults has revealed that moving to music can modulate motor cortical activity.

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Moreover, motor cortical activity is further influenced by music experience. It remains unknown whether these effects extend to corticomotor excitability. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to determine the effects of novel music on corticomotor excitability using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in a pilot study of healthy young adults.

A secondary aim of this study was to determine the influence of music experience on corticomotor excitability. We hypothesized that corticomotor excitability will change during music conditions, and that it will differ in those with formal music training. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were recorded from the first dorsal interosseous using single-pulse TMS in three conditions: (1) No Music, (2) Music Condition I, and (3) Music Condition II.

Both pieces were set to novel MIDI piano instrumentation and part-writing conventions typical of early nineteenth-century Western classical practices. Results revealed Music Condition II (i.e., more relaxing music) compared to rest increased MEP amplitude (i.e., corticomotor excitability).

Music Condition II as compared to Music Condition I (i.e., more activating music) reduced MEP variability (i.e., corticomotor variability). Finally, years of formal music training did not significantly influence corticomotor excitability while listening to music.

Overall, results revealed that unfamiliar music modulates motor cortical excitability but is dependent upon the form of music and possibly music preference. These results will be used to inform planned studies in healthy older adults and people with Parkinson’s disease.