Musicians and non-musicians' different reliance of features in consonance perception: A behavioral and ERP study

Chun Chia Kung, Tsung Hao Hsieh, Jen Yu Liou, Kuei Ju Lin, Fu Zen Shaw, Sheng Fu Liang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The aim of this study was to compare the different features that musicians and non-musicians rely upon when they discern consonant and dissonant intervals. Previous studies have addressed this issue from the perspective of either the frequency ratio (Western music theory) or the frequency difference (psychoacoustics), but have not considered both features in a single and balanced study. Methods: Twelve musicians and twelve non-musicians judged musical consonance at various 50-500. Hz intervals, orthogonally selected from across the "pitch interval" and "roughness" spectrum. Both behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) data were collected separately. Results: Behavioral results demonstrated that while musicians relied upon pitch intervals (between perfect fifths and tritones, with 95% accuracy), non-musicians performed around chance. The latter performance could, however, be sub-divided into "rough tritone and non-rough perfect-fifth" (70-80%) and "non-rough tritone and rough perfect-fifth" combinations (25-30%), suggesting non-musicians' reliance on the roughness dimension. ERP components revealed corresponding P2 (200-250. ms) amplitude differences in the Fz and Cz channels for the "tritones vs. perfect fifths" comparison in musicians, and by the "rough vs. non-rough" comparison in the non-musicians. In addition, N1 (~100. ms) and N2 (300-400. ms) components also revealed difference in Fz, F3, F4, FCz, Cz and CPz electrodes for "tritones vs. perfect fifths" in musicians. In the non-musicians, a stronger negative N2 for rough than for non-rough stimuli was found at F4 and Cz. Conclusion: Together, these results suggest that musicians and non-musicians rely upon pitch intervals and sensory roughness, respectively, for consonance/dissonance perception. Significance: To our knowledge, this is the first study to compare independently across the pitch interval and roughness spectrum. Our results further support the brain plasticity as a result of musical training in consonance perception.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)971-978
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2014 May

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sensory Systems
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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