Language, music, syntax and the brain

Nat Neurosci. 2003 Jul;6(7):674-81. doi: 10.1038/nn1082.


The comparative study of music and language is drawing an increasing amount of research interest. Like language, music is a human universal involving perceptually discrete elements organized into hierarchically structured sequences. Music and language can thus serve as foils for each other in the study of brain mechanisms underlying complex sound processing, and comparative research can provide novel insights into the functional and neural architecture of both domains. This review focuses on syntax, using recent neuroimaging data and cognitive theory to propose a specific point of convergence between syntactic processing in language and music. This leads to testable predictions, including the prediction that that syntactic comprehension problems in Broca's aphasia are not selective to language but influence music perception as well.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aphasia / diagnosis
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Psychological Theory