Musical learning disorders

 

We continue to study learning disorders, such as amusia and dyslexia, because they provide one of the best sources of evidence regarding the learning of complex systems. The logic of this approach is one of reverse-engineering, whereby the behavioural breakdown patterns coupled with precise neuroimaging techniques can reveal the inner working of the musical and language brain.

Based on recent research, Peretz (TiCS, 2016) has proposed that unreliable feedback provided by the frontal cortex is the cause of the learning deficits in congenital amusia of which the most studied form is pitch deafness that affects fine-grained pitch processing in 1 to 4% of the population. Beat deafness is a more recently discovered form and affects fine-tuning of timing. There is also substantial evidence that beat processing is impaired in dyslexia and likely represents impaired bottom‐up connections from auditory to frontal regions.

We plan to combine electroencephalography (EEG) and online feedback in these learning disorders, in order to establish a causal relationship between the behavioural effects of error correction and the brain signatures of the disorders.

 

Here are three key questions:

  • What is the musical knowledge captured in the auditory cortex without frontal feedback?

  • Can error correction alleviate musical disorders?

  • Can feedback fine-tune timing in beat deafness and in dyslexia?

 

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Supported by a discovery grant, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

«The role of feedback: from amusia to dyslexia», 2021-2025

 

What makes musical prodigies? 

 

This project aims to better characterize the impact of environmental and genetic factors in the emergence of exceptional musical talent, as well as talent in different fields. We examine different factors such as family musical background, personality, absolute pitch, synesthesia, autistic traits as well as expertise in different fields.

 

 

This project is supported by the Canada Research Chair in neurocognition of music

 

What is the genetic architecture of singing ability?

 

For centuries, the role of “innate talent” versus training in the expression of music abilities has intrigued musicians and researchers alike, with our general capacity to perceive, produce, and enjoy music in the absence of formal training suggesting that music may be “hardwired” in our genetic makeup.

Singing is the most universal means of music making and an ideal paradigm for investigating the genetic basis of music abilities. Anecdotally, it appears to cluster in families (e.g., the Jackson 5), with some individuals possessing a natural talent to sing in-tune, as reflected by their pitch accuracy. There is also an emerging understanding of the neurobiological basis of singing and how this varies with training and expertise [6]. This provides a fruitful opportunity to address the fundamental aim of this project; to investigate the molecular genetic basis of singing ability.

In 2017, our team was awarded ARC Discovery Project funding to perform the world’s first objective investigation of the heritability of singing using a twin study design. This formed the first crucial stage in our research program, which points to the likelihood of obtaining evidence for the molecular genetic basis of singing ability. This underscores the specific aims of the second stage of our research program, as follows:

  • To characterise the phenotype of ‘in-tune’ singing ability

  • To examine large multiplex families with a high incidence of high singing ability to determine the mode of inheritance

  • To use molecular genetic approaches of linkage analysis and whole genome sequencing to identify chromosomal regions and genetic variants associated with high singing ability.

 

 

This project is supported by a Discovery Project, Australian Research Council, 2020-2023

                        “Discovering genes for singing ability in Australian families”

Wilson (P.I.), G. McPherson, S. Berkovic, I Peretz.

 

Universals in music and animal communication

 

Although there is tremendous diversity in music, growing evidence indicates there are numerous commonalities or “universals” in musical structures. These commonalities underscore that music is rooted in fundamental biological processes (e.g., auditory and reward processing, motor control) that are shared across humans. While similar fundamental processes are also present in non-human animals, the degree to which the structure and evaluation of animal communication signals resembles music universals and human aesthetic preferences remains unclear. We Aim to discover acoustical universals shared between animal communication and music (Aim 1) and to address the evolutionary links between universals and aesthetics (Aims 2 & 3).

 

 

Supported by a Research team grant, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et Technologies (FRQ-NT), 2021-2024,  Wooley,S. (PI), Sakata,J., Peretz, I., O’Donnel,T.

 

Group singing to support social wellbeing and communication in adults with communication disorders

 

Adults living with communication disorders face formidable challenges to social wellbeing. Foremost among these is the social isolation and loneliness that can arise as a downstream consequence of impaired communication. In particular, they may develop a disability focus, believing that they are no longer able to have meaningful communication, or engage in social activities and relationships. Here we define a communication disorder (CD) broadly as any condition that affects an individual’s ability to produce, perceive, or understand verbal and nonverbal aspects of speech to engage in discourse effectively with others (i.e., aphasia, stuttering, hearing loss, Parkinson’s disease, breathing disorders).

The current project considers group singing as a meaningful social activity for people living with CDs that has potential to support communication skills (production, perception and understanding) as well as social wellbeing. While other effective interventions already exist, they are highly medicalized, costly to deploy, not widely available in remote communities, and generally not effective with regard to combating social wellbeing issues related to CD. Thus, group singing for CD appears to be worthy of further consideration from scientific, practical, economic, and ethical standpoints.

 

 

Supported by a Partnership Grant, Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), 2021-2028, Russo (PI)

 

Study on sung improvisation in young children 

 

 

This project aims to study young childrens’ aptitude to sing novel melodies, to better understand the relationship between vocal performance and acquisition of implicit tonal knowledge.