Audiomotor transformations in improvising and score-dependent musicians

Robert Harris, Bauke de Jong

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterOther research output


The realization of one’s musical ideas at the keyboard is dependent on the ability to transform sound into movement, a process called audiomotor transformation. Using fMRI, we investigated cerebral activations while classically‐trained improvising and non‐improvising musicians imagined playing along with recordings of familiar and unfamiliar music excerpts. We hypothesized that audiomotor transformation would be associated with the recruitment of dedicated cerebral networks, facilitating aurally‐cued performance. Results indicate that while all classically‐trained musicians engage a left‐hemisphere network involved in motor skill and action recognition, only improvising musicians additionally recruit a right dorsal frontoparietal network dedicated to spatially‐driven motor control. Mobilization of this network, which plays a crucial role in the real‐time transformation of imagined or perceived music into goal‐directed action, may be held responsible not only for the stronger activation of auditory cortex we observed in improvising musicians in response to the aural perception of music, but also for the superior ability to play ‘by ear’ which they demonstrated in a follow‐up study. The results of this study suggest that the practice of improvisation promotes the implicit acquisition of hierarchical music syntax which is then recruited in top‐down manner via the dorsal stream during music performance.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2017
EventThe Neurosciences and Music VI: Music, Sound, and Health - Harvard Medical School, Boston, United States
Duration: 15 Jun 201718 Jun 2017
Conference number: VI


ConferenceThe Neurosciences and Music VI
CountryUnited States
Internet address


  • improvising
  • score-dependent
  • audiomotor transformations
  • dual-stream processing
  • top-down effects

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    Harris, R., & de Jong, B. (2017). Audiomotor transformations in improvising and score-dependent musicians. Poster session presented at The Neurosciences and Music VI, Boston, United States.