Well, not exactly, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I read this paper last night, and afterwards, when I was looking around one of the author’s pages, I came across a neuroimaging study designed to look for “pre-existing neural, cognitive, or motoric markers for musical ability” 1. Apparently there are neural differences between adult musicians and adult nonmusicians (duh), so the authors of the study wanted to see if these might be innate or the product of musical training. In the study, Norton et al. subjected 39 five to seven-year olds who were beginning piano or violin lessons, and 31 five to seven-year olds who weren’t taking music lessons, to a battery of tests designed to measure handedness, visual and spatial IQ, phonemic awareness, motor skills, visual pattern recognition, and music audiation. On top of that, the kids got their brains scanned with an fMRI machine (where, I wonder, did they find 70 5-7 year olds who could make it through all of that?).
Norton et al. didn’t find any neural, cognitive, or motoric differences between the students beginning music lessons and those who weren’t, but they did find something else. The scores on the visual pattern recognition — a Raven’s Progressive Matrices test, which involves presenting the kids with pictures that have a piece missing, and then having them choose the piece that will complete the picture from a group of 6-8 pieces — and the phonemic awareness test — the Auditory Analysis test, in which the kids are presented with words, and asked to repeat them in full, and then to repeat them with parts (e.g., the first letter or syllable, or the last letter or syllable) missing — were correlated with music audiation, or skill in perceiving music (this was measured by having children listen to a bunch of pairs of rhythms and tone sequences, and asking them to make same-different judgments).
Norton et al. argue that the correlation between visual pattern recognition and music audiation scores indicates a relationship between visual pattern recognition and auditory pattern recognition, and that the correlation between phonemic awareness and music audiation reflects a relationship between language and music (a connection supported by previous neuroimaging studies). Now, what do these relationships mean? I don’t know, really. But I thought they were cool enough to write a quick post about anyway. Maybe you can speculate about what they might mean in the comments.