Learning to play a melody: an fMRI study examining the formation of auditory-motor associations.
Chen JL., Rae C., Watkins KE.
Interactions between the auditory and motor systems are important for music and speech, and may be especially relevant when one learns to associate sounds with movements such as when learning to play a musical instrument. However, little is known about the neural substrates underlying auditory-motor learning. This study used fMRI to investigate the formation of auditory-motor associations while participants with no musical training learned to play a melody. Listening to melodies before and after training activated the superior temporal gyrus bilaterally, but neural activity in this region was significantly reduced on the right when participants listened to the trained melody. When playing melodies and random sequences, activity in the left dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) was reduced in the late compared to early phase of training; learning to play the melody was also associated with reduced neural activity in the left ventral premotor cortex (PMv). Participants with the highest performance scores for learning the melody showed more reduced neural activity in the left PMd and PMv. Learning to play a melody or random sequence involves acquiring conditional associations between key-presses and their corresponding musical pitches, and is related to activity in the PMd. Learning to play a melody additionally involves acquisition of a learned auditory-motor sequence and is related to activity in the PMv. Together, these findings demonstrate that auditory-motor learning is related to the reduction of neural activity in brain regions of the dorsal auditory action stream, which suggests increased efficiency in neural processing of a learned stimulus.