Neural correlates of binding lyrics and melodies for the encoding of new songs

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Abstract

Songs naturally bind lyrics and melody into a unified representation. Using a subsequent memory paradigm, we examined the neural processes associated with binding lyrics and melodies during song encoding. Participants were presented with songs in two conditions: a unified condition (melodies sung with lyrics), and a separate condition (melodies sung with the syllable “la”). In both cases, written lyrics were displayed and participants were instructed to memorize them by repeating them covertly or by generating mental images of the songs. We expected the unified condition to recruit the posterior superior temporal gyrus, known to be involved in perceptual integration of songs, as well as the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Conversely, we hypothesized that the separate condition would engage a larger network including the hippocampus to bind lyrics and melodies of songs, and the basal ganglia and the cerebellum to ensure the correct sequence coupling of verbal and musical information in time. Binding lyrics and melodies in the unified condition revealed activation of the left IFG, bilateral middle temporal gyrus (MTG), and left motor cortex, suggesting a strong linguistic processing for this condition. Binding in the separate compared to the unified condition revealed greater activity in the right hippocampus as well as other areas including the left caudate, left cerebellum, and right IFG. This study provides novel evidence for the role of the right hippocampus in binding lyrics and melodies in songs. Results are discussed in light of studies of binding in the visual domain and highlight the role of regions involved in timing and synchronization such as the basal ganglia and the cerebellum.

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