FMRI/ERP of musical syntax: comparison of melodies and unstructured note sequences

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To date, the neural correlates of musical syntax processing have been investigated mainly by means of paradigms in which isolated chords are made incongruent with the harmonic context. Here, we present results obtained contrasting unfamiliar one-part piano melodies with unstructured note sequences, comparable in pitch and rhythm but devoid of any syntactic structure. This paradigm indexes a superset of the cognitive functions involved in processing of harmonic rules. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, differential activation of a bilateral cortical network comprising the inferior frontal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus and premotor cortex was found. Using event-related potentials, the N2 evoked by each note in melodies was found to have longer latency and a more frontal distribution than that evoked in unstructured sequences.

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