Seminar Series

New Findings on the Brain Basis of Musical Skills and Dancing

Music experiences and skills are universal in human cultures. Their components may be present in varying analogue forms in whale, bird, gibbon, and mouse, among other species. Dance, patterned movement entrained to others and to music, appears uniquely, universally human. Human music is complex, governed by rules, and expressed developmentally early and in stages. Nearly all individuals acquire a basic musical competence, and others go on to develop very highly expert skills. Such evidence suggests that music is a consequence of biological evolution and is associated with a specific brain architecture. I will review recent findings indicating that indeed there are discrete brain systems and computations for particular music experiences and skills, and that these systems are distributed throughout the cortex, sub-cortex, and cerebellum. I will present functional neuroimaging data on the brain basis of call and response singing, harmonization, improvisational singing, sight-singing duets, music learning in non-musical adults, and the performance of memorized piano pieces. Also discussed will be the relation between neural systems for melodic and sentential generation, emotional musical experiences, and the brain basis of dancing.