Dissociations among functional subsystems governing melody recognition after right-hemisphere damage

  • Steinke W
  • Cuddy L
  • Jakobson L
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This study describes an amateur musician, KB, who became amusic following a right-hemisphere stroke. A series of assessments conducted post-stroke revealed that KB functioned in the normal range for most verbal skills. However, compared with controls matched in age and music training, KB showed severe loss of pitch and rhythmic processing abilities. His ability to recognise and identify familiar instrumental melodies was also lost. Despite these deficits, KB performed remarkably well when asked to recognise and identify familiar song melodies presented without accompanying lyrics. This dissociation between the ability to recognise/identify song vs. instrumental melodies was replicated across different sets of musical materials, including newly learned melodies. Analyses of the acoustical and musical features of song and instrumental melodies discounted an explanation of the dissociation based on these features alone. Rather, the results suggest a functional dissociation resulting from a focal brain lesion. We propose that, in the case of song melodies, there remains sufficient activation in KB's melody analysis system to coactivate an intact representation of both associative information and the lyrics in the speech lexicon, making recognition and identification possible. In the case of instrumental melodies, no such associative processes exist; thus recognition and identification do not occur.

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  • W. R. Steinke

  • L. L. Cuddy

  • L. S. Jakobson

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