Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Music performance requires control of two sequential structures: the ordering of pitches and the temporal intervals between successive pitches. Whether pitch and temporal structures are processed as separate or integrated features remains unclear. A repetition suppression paradigm compared neural and behavioral correlates of mapping pitch sequences and temporal sequences to motor movements in music performance. Fourteen pianists listened to and performed novel melodies on an MR-compatible piano keyboard during fMRI scanning. The pitch or temporal patterns in the melodies either changed or repeated (remained the same) across consecutive trials. We expected decreased neural response to the patterns (pitch or temporal) that repeated across trials relative to patterns that changed. Pitch and temporal accuracy were high, and pitch accuracy improved when either pitch or temporal sequences repeated over trials. Repetition of either pitch or temporal sequences was associated with linear BOLD decrease in frontal–parietal brain regions including dorsal and ventral premotor cortex, pre-SMA, and superior parietal cortex. Pitch sequence repetition (in contrast to temporal sequence repetition) was associated with linear BOLD decrease in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) while pianists listened to melodies they were about to perform. Decreased BOLD response in IPS also predicted increase in pitch accuracy only when pitch sequences repeated. Thus, behavioral performance and neural response in sensorimotor mapping networks were sensitive to both pitch and temporal structure, suggesting that pitch and temporal structure are largely integrated in auditory–motor transformations. IPS may be involved in transforming pitch sequences into spatial coordinates for accurate piano performance.