Dissociable systems of working memory for rhythm and melody

Trenton A. Jerde, Stephanie K. Childs, Sarah T. Handy, Jennifer C. Nagode, José V. Pardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Specialized neural systems are engaged by the rhythmic and melodic components of music. Here, we used PET to measure regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in a working memory task for sequences of rhythms and melodies, which were presented in separate blocks. Healthy subjects, without musical training, judged whether a target rhythm or melody was identical to a series of subsequently presented rhythms or melodies. When contrasted with passive listening to rhythms, working memory for rhythm activated the cerebellar hemispheres and vermis, right anterior insular cortex, and left anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas were not activated in a contrast between passive listening to rhythms and a non-auditory control, indicating their role in the temporal processing that was specific to working memory for rhythm. The contrast between working memory for melody and passive listening to melodies activated mainly a right-hemisphere network of frontal, parietal, and temporal cortices: areas involved in pitch processing and auditory working memory. Overall, these results demonstrate that rhythm and melody have unique neural signatures not only in the early stages of auditory processing, but also at the higher cognitive level of working memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1572-1579
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 15 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota and a VA Merit Award to JVP. We thank Josh H. McDermott, James H. Hedges, and Jonathan W. Kanen for comments on a draft of the paper; and we thank the volunteers in this study for their patience and generosity.

Copyright 2012 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Melody
  • Music
  • PET neuroimaging
  • Rhythm
  • Working memory

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