Sergent, J., Zuck, E., Terriah, S. and MacDonald, B. (1992) Distributed neural network underlying musical sight-reading and keyboard performance. Science, 257, 106- 109.

“With the use of positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, the functional neuroanatomy of musical sight-reading and keyboard performance was studied in 10 professional pianists. Reading musical notations and translating these notations into movement patterns on a key board resulted in activation of cortical areas distinct from, but adjacent to, those underlying similar verbal operations. These findings help explain why brain damage in muscians may or may not affect both verbal and musical functions depending on the size and location of the damaged area.” (p.106)

Ss were right-handed pianists from McGill Univ Music Faculty with 15+ yrs of training.
They were prone, and read music from a TV monitor suitably placed, while playing on an electronic key board conveniently positioned for each S to play with right- hand only, hearing the results thro earphones. Radioactive water was injected in the left brachial vein thro a catheter.

The main experimental condition was sight-reading an unknown Bach partita. Six control conditions isolated the components of this task —

1)         visual fixation of the lit screen
2)         just listening to piano scales
3)         playing scales on the piano while listening
4)         manually responding according to the position of a dot on the screen
5)         just reading a musical score on screen
6)         following a score while listening to it being played.

Activation in paired tasks was compared after image-averaging across subjects.


The reading, playing, and listening in the exptl task engaged cortical areas that were isolated in the control tasks.

· playing scales activated left motor cortex and right cerebellum in the hand region.

· listening to or playing scales activated 2ndary auditory cortex in both hemispheres and another temporal lobe area only on the left.

· listening to a piece of music did the same, but also engaged the right temporal lobe area (in the superior temporal gyrus).

· just reading a score, activated extra-striate areas bilaterally, but the lower areas normally activated by reading words did not respond, instead it was upper areas (towards the parietal lobe, which is involved with spatial location)

· some areas were activated only while jointly listening and reading, suggesting they were needed for a mapping function. (In the inferior parietal lobe, where visual-to-sound mapping is well established for verbal tasks, but in a slighly different location.)

· two additional areas were only activated by the main task. (Superior parietal lobule, both hemispheres; and an area just above Broca’s area in the left hemisphere only).

· The network of activation parallels the neural substrates of verbal processing but is distinct from it.

(see the paper by Polk and Farah, 1998, below, for a discussion of localization for culturally acquired cognitive ablities, in their case, letter recogniton)

Polk, TA and Farah, MJ (1998) The neural development and organization of letter recognition: evidence from functional neuroimaging, computational modeling, and behavioral studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol.95, No.3, Pp.847-852.(link to html online)