Listening to musical rhythms recruits motor regions of the brain

Cereb Cortex. 2008 Dec;18(12):2844-54. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhn042. Epub 2008 Apr 3.


Perception and actions can be tightly coupled; but does a perceptual event dissociated from action processes still engage the motor system? We conducted 2 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies involving rhythm perception and production to address this question. In experiment 1, on each trial subjects 1st listened in anticipation of tapping, and then tapped along with musical rhythms. Recruitment of the supplementary motor area, mid-premotor cortex (PMC), and cerebellum was observed during listen with anticipation. To test whether this activation was related to motor planning or rehearsal, in experiment 2 subjects naively listened to rhythms without foreknowledge that they would later tap along with them. Yet, the same motor regions were engaged despite no action-perception connection. In contrast, the ventral PMC was only recruited during action and action-coupled perceptual processes, whereas the dorsal part was only sensitive to the selection of actions based on higher-order rules of temporal organization. These functional dissociations shed light on the nature of action-perception processes and suggest an inherent link between auditory and motor systems in the context of rhythm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Patient Selection
  • Perception
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Young Adult