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Jessica A Grahn (2009)

The role of the basal ganglia in beat perception

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169:35-45.

Perception of musical rhythms is culturally universal. Despite this special status, relatively little is known about the neurobiology of rhythm perception, particularly with respect to beat processing. Findings are presented here from a series of studies that have specifically examined the neural basis of beat perception, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and studying patients with Parkinson’s disease. fMRI data indicate that novel beat-based sequences robustly activate the basal ganglia when compared to irregular, nonbeat sequences. Furthermore, although most healthy participants find it much easier to discriminate changes in beat-based sequences compared to irregular sequences, Parkinson’s disease patients fail to show the same degree of benefit. Taken together, these data suggest that the basal ganglia are performing a crucial function in beat processing. The results of an additional fMRI study indicate that the role of the basal ganglia is strongly linked to internal generation of the beat. Basal ganglia activity is greater when participants listen to rhythms in which internal generation of the beat is required, as opposed to rhythms with strongly externally cued beats. Functional connectivity between part of the basal ganglia (the putamen) and cortical motor areas (premotor and supplementary motor areas) is also higher during perception of beat rhythms compared to nonbeat rhythms. Increased connectivity between cortical motor and auditory areas is found in those with musical training. The findings from these converging methods strongly implicate the basal ganglia in processing a regular beat, particularly when internal generation of the beat is required.

fMRI, postural stability, rhythm, beat perception, music, motor, timing, basal ganglia