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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2004 May;19(3):219-28.

Playing piano in the mind--an fMRI study on music imagery and performance in pianists.

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Department of Neurology, University Hospital Aachen, Pauwelsstrasse 30, D-52074 Aachen, Germany.


Reading of musical notes and playing piano is a very complex motor task which requires years of practice. In addition to motor skills, rapid and effective visuomotor transformation as well as processing of the different components of music like pitch, rhythm and musical texture are involved. The aim of the present study was the investigation of the cortical network which mediates music performance compared to music imagery in 12 music academy students playing the right hand part of a Bartok piece using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In both conditions, fMRI activations of a bilateral frontoparietal network comprising the premotor areas, the precuneus and the medial part of Brodmann Area 40 were found. During music performance but not during imagery the contralateral primary motor cortex and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) bilaterally was active. This reflects the role of primary motor cortex for motor execution but not imagery and the higher visuomotor integration requirements during music performance compared to simulation. The notion that the same areas are involved in visuomotor transformation/motor planning and music processing emphasizes the multimodal properties of cortical areas involved in music and motor imagery in musicians.

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