Cerebral substrates for musical temporal processes

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Jun;930:166-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb05732.x.


Music as well as language consists of a succession of auditory events in time, which require elaborate temporal processing. Although several lines of evidence suggest that the left dominant hemisphere is predominantly involved in the processing of rapid temporal changes of speech, very little is known about the cerebral substrates underlying such auditory temporal processes in music. To investigate this issue, we examined epileptic patients with either left (LTL) or right (RTL) temporal lobe lesions as well as normal control subjects (NC) in two different tasks involving the processing of time-related (temporal) information. By manipulating the interonset interval (IOI) in a psychophysical task, as well as in a task of detection of rhythmic changes in real tunes, we studied the processing of temporal microvariations in music. The first task assessed anisochrony (or irregularity) discrimination of sequential information according to different presentation rates (between 80 and 1000 ms IOI). For all subjects, an effect of tempo was obtained; thresholds were lower for the 80 ms IOI than for longer IOIs. Furthermore, there was a specific impairment of rapid anisochronous discrimination (80 ms IOI) for LTL patients as compared to RTL and NC subjects, but no deficit was observed for longer IOIs. These findings suggest the specialization of left temporal lobe structures in processing rapid sequential auditory information. The second task involved the detection of IOI increments in familiar monodic tunes. Performance was measured for two increments (easy vs. difficult to detect according to cognitive expectation) to assess the effect of cognitive expectation using a forced-choice paradigm (changed vs. unchanged melody). The results showed that LTL patients but not RTL were impaired as compared to NC subjects in the increment detection. However, all groups showed differences between the two levels of difficulty, suggesting that top-down processing remains functional. These findings suggest that left temporal lobe structures are predominantly involved in perceiving time-related perturbations in familiar tunes as well as in isochronous sequences, extending to the musical domain findings previously reported in speech.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Humans
  • Music / psychology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*