Music and Language, Intertwined


The brain activity for music and language is enormously complicated, and researchers are still trying to determine how the brain handles each process. Below is a sampling of what we do know: Areas in the frontal lobe (orange) help us learn the rules that govern language and music, such as those for syntax and harmony. Regions in the temporal lobe (green) help us perceive and understand sounds, such as the meaning of words and melodies.

The auditory cortex (blue) appears to have distinct music and language roles: the left auditory cortex is important for decoding and discriminating different aspects of speech, whereas the right auditory cortex is more involved in perceiving the pitch and frequency of sound. The insula (red) processes rhythm, perhaps in subtly different ways, for both music and speech. And the corpus callosum (gray) is larger in the brains of musicians, suggesting that musicians require greater communication between the two hemispheres.

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