Neuroscience and music

Giuliano Avanzini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Music is part of all known human cultures, which suggests that musical competences are encoded in the human brain. Attempts to define the cerebral organisation of music perception and production date back to the beginning of the modern era of the neurosciences, but the subject has been adequately developed on only over the last two decades. The combined approaches of neuropsychological, neurophysiological and neuroimaging methods have demonstrated that the musical information reaching the primary auditory cortex undergoes a series of processes involving both hemispheres, but with predominance of the right. Particularly interesting is the demonstration of overlapping brain mechanisms that create and maintain learned sound categories in both the linguistic and musical domains i.e. Broca's area, whose functional properties hierarchically organise perceptually discrete elements (words or musical tones) into structured sequences based on syntactic principles. Only a few studies have addressed the challenging task of investigating the neurobiological basis of music by aesthetic categories. One possible approach is to take advantage of neurophysiological methods capable of detecting brain responses to novel sound combinations as a signature of creativity. Most sound data relate to the brain processing of music-related emotions. The results of studies carried out over the last 10 years demonstrate that intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in the brain regions involved in the emotional colour of biologically important activities such as nutrition and reproduction. Whether such structures are of general interest for the perception of the artistic quality of music is an exciting question that needs to addressed by comparing the results obtained in other domains of neuroaesthetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-304
Number of pages10
JournalRendiconti Lincei
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012


  • Music
  • Music and emotions
  • Music and languages
  • Music perception
  • Neuroaesthetics
  • Neuromusic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)


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