Music and language side by side in the brain: a PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences

  • Brown S
  • Martinez M
  • Parsons L
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Parallel generational tasks for music and language were compared using positron emission tomography. Amateur musicians vocally improvised melodic or linguistic phrases in response to unfamiliar, auditorily presented melodies or phrases. Core areas for generating melodic phrases appeared to be in left Brodmann area (BA) 45, right BA 44, bilateral temporal planum polare, lateral BA 6, and pre-SMA. Core areas for generating sentences seemed to be in bilateral posterior superior and middle temporal cortex (BA 22, 21), left BA 39, bilateral superior frontal (BA 8, 9), left inferior frontal (BA 44, 45), anterior cingulate, and pre-SMA. Direct comparisons of the two tasks revealed activations in nearly identical functional brain areas, including the primary motor cortex, supplementary motor area, Broca's area, anterior insula, primary and secondary auditory cortices, temporal pole, basal ganglia, ventral thalamus, and posterior cerebellum. Most of the differences between melodic and sentential generation were seen in lateralization tendencies, with the language task favouring the left hemisphere. However, many of the activations for each modality were bilateral, and so there was significant overlap. While clarification of this overlapping activity awaits higher-resolution measurements and interventional assessments, plausible accounts for it include component sharing, interleaved representations, and adaptive coding. With these and related findings, we outline a comparative model of shared, parallel, and distinctive features of the neural systems supporting music and language. The model assumes that music and language show parallel combinatoric generativity for complex sound structures (phonology) but distinctly different informational content (semantics).

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  • S Brown

  • MJ Martinez

  • LM Parsons

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