Typically when I listen to a song, the song will have different sections (e.g. chorus, verses, etc). As a composer, I have found that many songs use this structure to create a sense of repetition and help make the song more familiar to the listener. It tends to give the song a cohesiveness that simply introducing new material over and over doesn't yield.

Therefore, when I listen to a song, what brain area helps me remember parts of the song so when I hear them again, they sound familiar?


We Wish You A Merry Christmas


1 Answer 1


I would read this paper, its mighty interesting.


Snyder, B.(2000) Music and memory: An introduction. The MIT Press. Cambridge 291.

Hemispheric Coordination and Conflict

"...while listening to the melody of the popular carol "Silent Night", the right hemisphere thinks, "Ah, yes, Silent Night", while the left hemisphere thinks, "two sequences: the first a literal repetition, the second a repetition at different pitch levels—ah, yes, Silent Night by Franz Gruber, typical pastorate folk style." The brain for the most part works well when each hemisphere performs its own function while solving a task or problem; the two hemispheres are quite complementary. However, situations arise when the two modes are in conflict, resulting in one hemisphere interfering with the operation of the other hemisphere." (Regalski 1977)

Melodic Memory

"Performance was greatest for the musicians, particularly for the nontonal melody pairs. These differences were not primarily attributable to pitch discrimination or pitch working memory impairments. The findings point to differential contributions of the left and right mesial temporal lobes to melodic memory, with specificity of the right mesial temporal lobe emerging for melodic learning within a tonal musical context." (Wilson, Saling 2008)

Tonal Memory

In general, tonal memory is supported by a wide network including primary and secondary auditory areas more right lateralized, the supramarginal gyrus particularly on the left, and dorsolateral inferior frontal areas, more clearly seen under heavy memory load conditions (Zatorre et al., 1994; Griffith et al., 1999; Gaab et al., 2003). Premotor areas, the cerebellum, basal ganglia and the thalamus are activated when subvocal tonal rehearsal is explicitly required (Hickok et al., 2003; Koelsch et al., 2009). Importantly a direct comparison of memory for verbal syllables and sung pitches under rehearsal and under suppression elicited largely overlapping brain areas consistent with this network (Schulze et al., 2011).

Quoted from this source.


Who Knows Where Music Lurks in the Mind of Man? New Brain Research Has The Answer.
Journal of Music Educators (May 1977, Vol.63, pages 31-38)

Contribution of the left and right Mesial Temporal Lobes to Musical Memory: Evidence from melodic learning difficulties
Sarah J. Wilson, Michael M. Saling
Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 25 No. 4, April 2008; (pp. 303-314)

Towards A Neural Basis Of Music Perception.
Stefan Koelsch and Walter A. Siebel
Trends in Cognitive Sciences Vol.9 No.12 December 2005

Functional anatomy of pitch memory—an fMRI study with sparse temporal sampling.
Gaab, N., Gaser, C., Zaehle, T., Jancke, L., and Schlaug, G. (2003).
Neuroimage 19, 1417–1426.

Neural mechanisms underlying melodic perception and memory for pitch.
Zatorre, R. J., Evans, A. C., and Meyer, E. (1994).
J. Neurosci. 14, 1908–1919.

Auditory-motorinteraction revealed by fMRI: speech, music, and working memory in area
Hickok, G., Buchsbaum, B., Humphries, C., and Muftuler, T. (2003).
Spt. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 15, 673–682.

Functional architecture of verbal and tonal working memory: an FMRI study.
Koelsch, S., Schulze, K., Sammler, D., Fritz, T., Müller, K., and Gruber, O. (2009).
Hum. Brain Mapp. 30, 859–873.

Neuroarchitecture of verbal and tonal working memory in nonmusicians and musicians.
Schulze, K., Zysset, S., Mueller, K., Friederici, A. D., and Koelsch, S. (2011).
Hum. Brain Mapp. 32, 771–783.

  • $\begingroup$ Not all those sources are incorporated in your answer. I would only list those you refer to, or disambiguate between 'other' potentially relevant papers, and the ones you provided a summary/reference of. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Those are the papers mentioned within the sources I've quoted. They are not necessarily the sources themselves. Note that the last source has 6 citations that I have directly linked to. $\endgroup$
    – Vakalate
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 17:02

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