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Activation maps of 16 professional classical singers were evaluated during overt singing and imagined singing of an Italian aria utilizing a sparse sampling functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) technique. Overt singing involved bilateral primary and secondary sensorimotor and auditory cortices but also areas associated with speech and language production. Activation magnitude within the gyri of Heschl (A1) was comparable in both hemispheres. Subcortical motor areas (cerebellum, thalamus, medulla and basal ganglia) were active too. Areas associated with emotional processing showed slight (anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula) activation. Cerebral activation sites during imagined singing were centered on fronto-parietal areas and involved primary and secondary sensorimotor areas in both hemispheres. Areas processing emotions showed intense activation (ACC and bilateral insula, hippocampus and anterior temporal poles, bilateral amygdala). Imagery showed no significant activation in A1. Overt minus imagined singing revealed increased activation in cortical (bilateral primary motor; M1) and subcortical (right cerebellar hemisphere, medulla) motor as well as in sensory areas (primary somatosensory cortex, bilateral A1). Imagined minus overt singing showed enhanced activity in the medial Brodmann's area 6, the ventrolateral and medial prefrontal cortex (PFC), the anterior cingulate cortex and the inferior parietal lobe. Additionally, Wernicke's area and Brocca's area and their homologues were increasingly active during imagery. We conclude that imagined and overt singing involves partly different brain systems in professional singers with more prefrontal and limbic activation and a larger network of higher order associative functions during imagery.