By measuring the auditory brainstem response to two musical intervals, the major sixth (E3 and G2) and the minor seventh (E3 and F#2), we found that musicians have a more specialized sensory system for processing behaviorally relevant aspects of sound. Musicians had heightened responses to the harmonics of the upper tone (E), as well as certain combination tones (sum tones) generated by nonlinear processing in the auditory system. In music, the upper note is typically carried by the upper voice, and the enhancement of the upper tone likely reflects musicians' extensive experience attending to the upper voice. Neural phase locking to the temporal periodicity of the amplitude-modulated envelope, which underlies the perception of musical harmony, was also more precise in musicians than nonmusicians. Neural enhancements were strongly correlated with years of musical training, and our findings, therefore, underscore the role that long-term experience with music plays in shaping auditory sensory encoding.
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