From expert percussionists to individuals who cannot dance, there are widespread differences in people's abilities to perceive and synchronize with a musical beat. The aim of our study was to identify candidate brain regions that might be associated with these abilities.
For this purpose, we used Voxel-Based-Morphometry to correlate inter-individual differences in performance on the Harvard Beat Assessment Tests (H-BAT) with local inter-individual variations in gray matter volumes across the entire brain space in 60 individuals.
Analysis revealed significant co-variations between performances on two perceptual tasks of the Harvard Beat Assessment Tests associated with beat interval change discrimination (faster, slower) and gray matter volume variations in the cerebellum. Participant discrimination thresholds for the Beat Finding Interval Test (quarter note beat) were positively associated with gray matter volume variation in cerebellum lobule IX in the left hemisphere and crus I bilaterally. Discrimination thresholds for the Beat Interval Test (simple series of tones) revealed the tendency for a positive association with gray matter volume variations in crus I/II of the left cerebellum.
Our results demonstrate the importance of the cerebellum in beat interval discrimination skills, as measured by two perceptual tasks of the Harvard Beat Assessment Tests. Current findings, in combination with evidence from patients with cerebellar degeneration and expert dancers, suggest that cerebellar gray matter and overall cerebellar integrity are important for temporal discrimination abilities.