Cortical Processing of Music

  • Robert J. ZatorreEmail author
  • Jean Mary Zarate
Part of the Springer Handbook of Auditory Research book series (SHAR, volume 43)


Here’s a commonplace experience: you are walking in a shopping mall when you hear a tune being played in the background. It takes you a moment but then you realize that it is a song that you last heard 20 years ago, which has now been redone—perhaps unfortunately—as an advertising jingle. Although the aesthetic experience associated with this little vignette may not be high, the ease with which our nervous system can carry out this kind of analysis belies the complexity involved. Consider: the music you hear is embedded in a background of irrelevant noise, so you need first to strip it away; you recognize the pattern of sound as the tune you are familiar with, even though none of the actual elements reaching your ear are the same as what you had originally encoded—the tempo, musical key, and instrument timbres may all be different; if the song has lyrics you must also separate the tonal component from the speech component to process each of them; the experience may also lead to retrieval of memories associated with the song; you could also begin to sing along with it, which means you must convert the information contained in the sound waves you hear to a set of motor commands that will produce similar sound waves from your vocal musculature; finally the song may lead you to experience emotion, which could range from annoyance to pleasure. The mechanisms that allow this complex cognitive chain of events to occur are far from being fully understood. This chapter aims to give readers an overview of what is known about the role of auditory cortex in processing and production of musical sounds, and an indication of the many open questions that remain. Understanding the neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in tonal and musical processes will yield insights into fundamental aspects of neural organization and function that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.


Auditory Cortex Dorsal Stream Musical Training Primary Auditory Cortex Inferior Frontal Cortex 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Montréal Neurological InstituteMcGill UniversityMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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