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Sequence learning in pianists and nonpianists: An fMRI study of motor expertise


Previous studies of motor learning have proposed a distinction between fast and slow learning, but these mechanisms have rarely been examined simultaneously. We examined the influence of long-term motor expertise (slow learning) while pianists and nonpianists performed alternating epochs of sequenced and random keypresses in response to visual cues (fast learning) during functional neuro-imaging. All of the participants demonstrated learning of the sequence as demonstrated by decreasing reaction times (RTs) on sequence trials relative to random trials throughout the session. Pianists also demonstrated faster RTs and superior sequence acquisition in comparison with nonpiartists. Within-session decreases in bilateral sensorimotor and parietal activation were observed for both groups. Additionally, there was more extensive activation throughout the session for pianists in comparison with nonpianists across a network of primarily right-lateralized prefrontal, sensorimotor, and parietal regions. These findings provide evidence that different neural systems subserve slow and fast phases of learning.

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