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Neuropsychologia. 1998 Sep;36(9):857-67.

Hemispheric dominance in the processing of J.S. Bach fugues: a transcranial Doppler sonography (TCD) study with musicians.

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Department of Neurology, University of M√ľnster, Germany.


Although the majority of studies on musical processing in musicians observed a left hemisphere dominance which has usually been explained by a proficient analytical strategy used by these subjects, the findings are still inconsistent. Changes in hemispheric activity induced by listening to music (J. S. Bach fugues) and by recognizing the repetitions of the fugue theme were examined, using the technique of bilateral transcranial Doppler sonography (TCD) of the left and right middle cerebral artery (MCA). Subjects were 32 right-handed musicians, half of whom were members of an orchestra or members of a choir. The fugues were presented in two versions: a-cappella and instrumental. During passive listening to the a-cappella version, a weak left-dominant asymmetry of blood flow acceleration was observed, while there was no hemispheric asymmetry during listening to the instrumental version. During the task of fugue theme recognition, a highly significant asymmetry in favour of the right MCA was observed with both versions. It is concluded that when the processing of complex musical material has to be based on the analysis of melodic contour features and calls for working memory capacities a right hemisphere dominance is observed even in musically sophisticated subjects.

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