Integrated Production of Music and Language

In the act of singing (with words) there is a smooth integration ofthe neural systems producing speech and singing. We know that in terms of activation, these systems seem to exhibit a significant degree of overlap but also some opposite hemispheric asymmetries. These asymmetries may reflect complementary specializations that arose specifically to serve the simultaneous demands inherent in producing speech (words with prosodic intonation) or song (melody with lyrics). Regardless of its evolutionary origins, song production, like song perception, calls upon a combination of functions, some of whose components appear to exhibit opposite hemisphere asymmetries.

Numerous cases have been reported in the neurological literature of patients who were profoundly aphasic but could still sing songs with normal intonation and sometimes with perfect lyrics. The examples of combined loss of speaking and singing suggest damage at a shared level of the vocal motor control system, whereas dissociations suggest that higher levels are distinct, possibly due to opposite hemispheric specializations.

Although no brain imaging studies have examined the activity associated with song production, Zatorre, Halpern, and Perry investigated the perception and mental imagery of songs (see Section III.B). As with other nonverbal imagery tasks involving melodies or musical intervals, SMA was active during song imagery (Fig. 5.III). Since both speech and singing also activate SMA, its activation by song imagery is clearly expected.

Temporal lobe areas were activated bilaterally during song imagery, consistent with the integrated nature of melody and lyrics in song representations. During actual singing, temporal lobe activation would be predominantly driven by the processing of auditory feedback. It remains to be demonstrated whether song singing will result in strongly right hemisphere asymmetric activation, as does simple singing without words, or in significant activation of left temporal lobe areas associated with language comprehension.

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