The musician's brain: Functional imaging of amateurs and professionals during performance and imagery

M. Lotze, G. Scheler, H. R M Tan, C. Braun, N. Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We compared activation maps of professional and amateur violinists during actual and imagined performance of Mozart's violin concerto in G major (KV216). Execution and imagination of (left hand) fingering movements of the first 16 bars of the concerto were performed. Electromyography (EMG) feedback was used during imagery training to avoid actual movement execution and EMG recording was employed during the scanning of both executed and imagined musical performances. We observed that professional musicians generated higher EMG amplitudes during movement execution and showed focused cerebral activations in the contralateral primary sensorimotor cortex, the bilateral superior parietal lobes, and the ipsilateral anterior cerebellar hemisphere. The finding that professionals exhibited higher activity of the right primary auditory cortex during execution may reflect an increased strength of audio-motor associative connectivity. It appears that during execution of musical sequences in professionals, a higher economy of motor areas frees resources for increased connectivity between the finger sequences and auditory as well as somatosensory loops, which may account for the superior musical performance. Professionals also demonstrated more focused activation patterns during imagined musical performance. However, the auditory-motor loop was not involved during imagined performances in either musician group. It seems that the motor and auditory systems are coactivated as a consequence of musical training but only if one system (motor or auditory) becomes activated by actual movement execution or live musical auditory stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1817-1829
Number of pages13
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003


  • fMRI
  • Imagery
  • Motor learning
  • Music
  • String players

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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