Effects of Music Reading on Motor Cortex Excitability in Pianists: A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study

Fabio Giovannelli, Simone Rossi, Alessandra Borgheresi, Gioele Gavazzi, Gaetano Zaccara, Maria Pia Viggiano, Massimo Cincotta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neurophysiological studies suggest that music reading facilitates sensorimotor cortex. The aim of this study was to evaluate (1) whether in pianists, reading notes in bass and treble clef selectively enhances right and left primary motor cortex (M1) excitability; and (2) whether reading notes played with the thumb or little finger selectively modulates the excitability of specific muscles. Twenty musicians (11 pianists, 9 non-pianists) participated. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) was applied while subjects read the bass or the treble clef of sheets music and during the observation of a blank staff (baseline). When pianists read the treble clef, the excitability of the left M1 was higher compared to that recorded in the right M1. Moreover, in the treble clef condition motor evoked potentials (MEPs) induced by TMS of the left M1 were higher when pianists read notes to be played with the 5° finger (little finger) with respect to 1° finger (thumb) notes, whereas in the bass clef condition TMS of the right M1 induced higher MEPs for 1° finger note compared to 5° finger notes. No significant modulation was observed in non-pianists. These data support the view that music reading may induce specific inter- and intra-hemispheric modulation of the motor cortex excitability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-53
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Jun 15 2020


  • motor cortex excitability
  • motor evoked potential
  • music reading
  • musicians
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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