Exploring the Functional Neuroanatomy of Music Performance, Perception, and Comprehension


Address for correspondence: Lawrence M. Parsons, Research Imaging Center, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, TX 78284-6240. Voice: 210-567-8189; fax: 210-567-8152. parsons@uthscsa.edu.


Abstract: This chapter highlights findings by my colleagues and me in four neuroimaging and neurological studies of music performance, perception, and comprehension. These investigations elucidate the neural subsystems supporting musical pitch, melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, meter, and duration. In a positron emission tomography (PET) study of pianists, a memorized performance of a musical piece was contrasted with that of scales to localize brain areas specifically supporting music. A second PET study assayed brain areas subserving selectively the comprehension of harmony, melody, and rhythm. Musicians sight-read a score while detecting specific melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic errors in its heard performance. In a third PET study, musicians and nonmusicians discriminated pairs of rhythms with respect to pattern, tempo, meter, or duration. Data in these studies implicated the cerebellum in nonmotor, nonsomatic, sensory, or cognitive processing. In a fourth study, neurological patients with degeneration of the cerebellum were found to be impaired in fine discrimination of pitch. Overall, these data suggest that the neural systems underlying music are distributed throughout the left and right cerebral and cerebellar hemispheres, with different aspects of music processed by distinct neural circuits. Also discussed are key issues for interpreting the role in music of brain areas implicated in neuroimaging studies.