Listening to music can induce us to tune in to its beat. Previous neuroimaging studies have shown that the motor system becomes involved in perceptual rhythm and timing tasks in general, as well as during preference-related responses to music. However, the role of preferred rhythm and, in particular, of preferred beat frequency (tempo) in driving activity in the motor system remains unknown. The goals of the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study were to determine whether the musical rhythms that are subjectively judged as beautiful boost activity in motor-related areas and if so, whether this effect is driven by preferred tempo, the underlying pulse people tune in to. On the basis of the subjects' judgments, individual preferences were determined for the different systematically varied constituents of the musical rhythms. Results demonstrate the involvement of premotor and cerebellar areas during preferred compared to not preferred musical rhythms and indicate that activity in the ventral premotor cortex (PMv) is enhanced by preferred tempo. Our findings support the assumption that the premotor activity increase during preferred tempo is the result of enhanced sensorimotor simulation of the beat frequency. This may serve as a mechanism that facilitates the tuning-in to the beat of appealing music.
2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.