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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005 Dec;1060:111-24.

Brain networks that track musical structure.

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Center for Mind and Brain, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, 95616, USA.


As the functional neuroimaging literature grows, it becomes increasingly apparent that music and musical activities engage diverse regions of the brain. In this paper I discuss two studies to illustrate that exactly which brain areas are observed to be responsive to musical stimuli and tasks depends on the tasks and the methods used to describe the tasks and the stimuli. In one study, subjects listened to polyphonic music and were asked to either orient their attention selectively to individual instruments or in a divided or holistic manner across multiple instruments. The network of brain areas that was recruited changed subtly with changes in the task instructions. The focus of the second study was to identify brain regions that follow the pattern of movement of a continuous melody through the tonal space defined by the major and minor keys of Western tonal music. Such an area was identified in the rostral medial prefrontal cortex. This observation is discussed in the context of other neuroimaging studies that implicate this region in inwardly directed mental states involving decisions about the self, autobiographical memory, the cognitive regulation of emotion, affective responses to musical stimuli, and familiarity judgments about musical stimuli. Together with observations that these regions are among the last to atrophy in Alzheimer disease, and that these patients appear to remain responsive to autobiographically salient musical stimuli, very early evidence is emerging from the literature for the hypothesis that the rostral medial prefrontal cortex is a node that is important for binding music with memories within a broader music-responsive network.

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