Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Much is known about the motor system and its role in simple movement execution. However, little is understood about the neural systems underlying auditory-motor integration in the context of musical rhythm, or the enhanced ability of musicians to execute precisely timed sequences. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated how performance and neural activity were modulated as musicians and nonmusicians tapped in synchrony with progressively more complex and less metrically structured auditory rhythms. A functionally connected network was implicated in extracting higher-order features of a rhythm's temporal structure, with the dorsal premotor cortex mediating these auditory-motor interactions. In contrast to past studies, musicians recruited the prefrontal cortex to a greater degree than nonmusicians, whereas secondary motor regions were recruited to the same extent. We argue that the superior ability of musicians to deconstruct and organize a rhythm's temporal structure relates to the greater involvement of the prefrontal cortex mediating working memory.