The nature of telencephalic control over premotor and motor circuits is debated. Hypotheses range from complete usurping of downstream circuitry to highly interactive mechanisms of control. We show theoretically and experimentally, that telencephalic song motor control in canaries is consistent with a highly interactive strategy. As predicted from a theoretical model of respiratory control, mild cooling of a forebrain nucleus (HVC) led to song stretching, but further cooling caused progressive restructuring of song, consistent with the hypothesis that respiratory gestures are subharmonic responses to a timescale present in the output of HVC. This interaction between a life-sustaining motor function (respiration) and telencephalic song motor control suggests a more general mechanism of how nonlinear integration of evolutionarily new brain structures into existing circuitry gives rise to diverse, new behavior.