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Neuropsychologia. 2005;43(2):199-215.

The brain basis of piano performance.

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Research Imaging Center, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, TX 78284, USA.


Performances of memorized piano compositions unfold via dynamic integrations of motor, perceptual, cognitive, and emotive operations. The functional neuroanatomy of such elaborately skilled achievements was characterized in the present study by using (15)0-water positron emission tomography to image blindfolded pianists performing a concerto by J.S. Bach. The resulting brain activity was referenced to that for bimanual performance of memorized major scales. Scales and concerto performances both activated primary motor cortex, corresponding somatosensory areas, inferior parietal cortex, supplementary motor area, motor cingulate, bilateral superior and middle temporal cortex, right thalamus, anterior and posterior cerebellum. Regions specifically supporting the concerto performance included superior and middle temporal cortex, planum polare, thalamus, basal ganglia, posterior cerebellum, dorsolateral premotor cortex, right insula, right supplementary motor area, lingual gyrus, and posterior cingulate. Areas specifically implicated in generating and playing scales were posterior cingulate, middle temporal, right middle frontal, and right precuneus cortices, with lesser increases in right hemispheric superior temporal, temporoparietal, fusiform, precuneus, and prefrontal cortices, along with left inferior frontal gyrus. Finally, much greater deactivations were present for playing the concerto than scales. This seems to reflect a deeper attentional focus in which tonically active orienting and evaluative processes, among others, are suspended. This inference is supported by observed deactivations in posterior cingulate, parahippocampus, precuneus, prefrontal, middle temporal, and posterior cerebellar cortices. For each of the foregoing analyses, a distributed set of interacting localized functions is outlined for future test.

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