We investigated the neural underpinnings of timbral, tonal, and rhythmic features of a naturalistic musical stimulus. Participants were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while listening to a stimulus with a rich musical structure, a modern tango. We correlated temporal evolutions of timbral, tonal, and rhythmic features of the stimulus, extracted using acoustic feature extraction procedures, with the fMRI time series. Results corroborate those obtained with controlled stimuli in previous studies and highlight additional areas recruited during musical feature processing. While timbral feature processing was associated with activations in cognitive areas of the cerebellum, and sensory and default mode network cerebrocortical areas, musical pulse and tonality processing recruited cortical and subcortical cognitive, motor and emotion-related circuits. In sum, by combining neuroimaging, acoustic feature extraction and behavioral methods, we revealed the large-scale cognitive, motor and limbic brain circuitry dedicated to acoustic feature processing during listening to a naturalistic stimulus. In addition to these novel findings, our study has practical relevance as it provides a powerful means to localize neural processing of individual acoustical features, be it those of music, speech, or soundscapes, in ecological settings.
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