Music is one of the most demanding cognitive and neural challenges, requiring very accurate timing of multiple actions, precise interval control of pitch not involved in language, and multiple different ways of producing sound. Auditory and motor actions influence each other in a constant interplay, which is largely unknown.
Brain Lesion Effects on Music
All brain imaging is done in a time scale of seconds, but the brain functions in the scale of milliseconds. Imaging studies do not really correlate exactly to mental states (see post on limits of imaging). Because of this limitation, a major way to study specific regions of brain related to music has been study of brain lesions.
- A lesion in the auditory cortex causes “amusia” where a patient can speak and understand everyday sounds, but cannot notice wrong notes in tunes, or remember melodies.
- Another case, a 71-year-old cellist, had encephalitis and lost ordinary memory, but remembers music.
- Patients with a lesion in right temporal can lose pitch perception.
- Damage to right temporal lobe can distort sound to have negative response to music.
- Patients with lesion in right temporal can lose pitch perception.
But, recent research shows that when studying infants these differences do not necessarily exist. In infancy there is much more overlap of music and language in the brain.
What Is Known About Music in the Brain?
Perhaps some generalizations can be made:
Timing – some think timing is organized in the cerebellum (center of motor memory and learning.) Purely auditory perception has been observed in the cerebellum, but a single region does not control it.
Pitch – Different factors of a tune -contour, specific interval size, duration of notes, ratios of tones – are processed in different circuits throughout the brain. The right hemisphere does tonal processing.
Musical imagery is analyzed in regions of the frontal lobe.
Singing is dominant in right temporal lobe, while syntax of speech and music is left dominant.
The motor processes involve pre motor cortex, supplementary motor cortex, cerebellum, and basal ganglia, but in different amounts for different tasks.
Rhythm, Melody and emotion work in different parts of the brain
There are multiple different streams of neuronal activity for auditory processing pathways – the dorsal and ventral streams are important but especially dorsal with parietal and premotor cortex.
All neural systems – motor, sensory, emotional and analysis – are active in both performers and observers. Listening, as well as performing, use both motor and sensory systems, since observers trigger the muscles that are being utilized by the performers and dancers they are watching.
Recent studies show that learning absolute pitch, a very measurable skill, occurs only with genetic ability plus training before 12 to 15.[…]