Differential parietal and temporal contributions to music perception in improvising and score-dependent musicians, an fMRI study

Robert Harris, Bauke M. de Jong

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    129 Downloads (Pure)


    Using fMRI, cerebral activations were studied in 24 classically-trained keyboard performers and 12 musically unskilled control subjects. Two groups of musicians were recruited: improvising (n=12) and score-dependent (non-improvising) musicians (n=12). While listening to both familiar and unfamiliar music, subjects either (covertly) appraised the presented music performance or imagined they were playing the music themselves. We hypothesized that improvising musicians would exhibit enhanced efficiency of audiomotor transformation reflected by stronger ventral premotor activation. Statistical Parametric Mapping revealed that, while virtually 'playing along' with the music, improvising musicians exhibited activation of a right-hemisphere distribution of cerebral areas including posterior-superior parietal and dorsal premotor cortex. Involvement of these right-hemisphere dorsal stream areas suggests that improvising musicians recruited an amodal spatial processing system subserving pitch-to-space transformations to facilitate their virtual motor performance. Score-dependent musicians recruited a primarily left-hemisphere pattern of motor areas together with the posterior part of the right superior temporal sulcus, suggesting a relationship between aural discrimination and symbolic representation. Activations in bilateral auditory cortex were significantly larger for improvising musicians than for score-dependent musicians, suggesting enhanced top-down effects on aural perception. Our results suggest that learning to play a music instrument primarily from notation predisposes musicians toward aural identification and discrimination, while learning by improvisation involves audio-spatial-motor transformations, not only during performance, but also perception.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)253-264
    Number of pages12
    JournalBrain Research
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • music
    • improvisation
    • aural perception
    • audiomotor transformation
    • parietal cortex
    • premotor cortex


    Dive into the research topics of 'Differential parietal and temporal contributions to music perception in improvising and score-dependent musicians, an fMRI study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this