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Humans naturally perceive and move to a musical beat, entraining body parts to the complex auditory stimuli through clapping, tapping and dancing. Yet the accuracy of this seemingly effortless behavior varies widely across individuals. Beat perception and production abilities can be positively impacted by past experiences, such as music and dance training, and are negatively impacted by progressive neurological changes in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). In this study, we assessed the combined effects of past music or dance training and early-stage PD to determine whether the positive effects of rhythm-based training in healthy adults on beat processing abilities are altered in PD. Musicians and dancers have morphological brain changes in areas directly engaged during their training, such as increased gray and white matter networks in temporal and motor areas. These neurological correlates may be preserved to facilitate motor timing abilities despite basal ganglia degeneration in PD. Thus, we examined whether PD patients with previous music and dance training demonstrated better beat perception and production abilities compared to PD patients without training. We used the Beat Alignment Test (BAT) to assess beat perception and production abilities among a pre-existing sample of 458 participants (278 healthy younger adults, 139 healthy older adults, and 41 people with early-stage PD), across varying levels of music and dance training. In general, participants with over three years of music training had more accurate beat perception than those with minimal training (p<.001). Interestingly, PD patients with over three years of music training demonstrated beat production abilities comparable to healthy adults (all p-values >.05) while PD patients with minimal music training performed significantly worse (p<.01). No dance training effects were found. The finding that musically trained PD patients perform similarly to healthy adults during a beat production task, while untrained patients do not, may broadly inform the role of music training in preserving certain rhythmic motor timing abilities in early-stage PD. These results suggest that, despite underlying motor timing deficits that are inherent to PD, patients with a musical background may be able to approximate sensorimotor synchronization abilities similar to that of a healthy adult during rhythm-based tasks.

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