Get access

Neuroarchitecture of verbal and tonal working memory in nonmusicians and musicians



Working memory (WM) for auditory information has been thought of as a unitary system, but whether WM for verbal and tonal information relies on the same or different functional neuroarchitectures has remained unknown. This fMRI study examines verbal and tonal WM in both nonmusicians (who are trained in speech, but not in music) and highly trained musicians (who are trained in both domains). The data show that core structures of WM are involved in both tonal and verbal WM (Broca's area, premotor cortex, pre-SMA/SMA, left insular cortex, inferior parietal lobe), although with significantly different structural weightings, in both nonmusicians and musicians. Additionally, musicians activated specific subcomponents only during verbal (right insular cortex) or only during tonal WM (right globus pallidus, right caudate nucleus, and left cerebellum). These results reveal the existence of two WM systems in musicians: A phonological loop supporting rehearsal of phonological information, and a tonal loop supporting rehearsal of tonal information. Differences between groups for tonal WM, and between verbal and tonal WM within musicians, were mainly related to structures involved in controlling, programming and planning of actions, thus presumably reflecting differences in action-related sensorimotor coding of verbal and tonal information. Hum Brain Mapp 32:771–783, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Get access to the full text of this article