Imagery for Music

Halpern, A.R., Zatorre, R.J., Bouffard, M. & Johnson, J.A. (2004) Behavioral and neural correlates of perceived and imagined timbre. Neuropsychologia, 42, 1281-1292.

The generality of findings implicating secondary auditory areas in auditory imagery was tested by using a timbre imagery task with fMRI. Another aim was to test whether activity in supplementary motor area (SMA) seen in prior studies might have been related to subvocalization. Participants with moderate musical background were scanned while making similarity judgments about the timbre of heard or imagined musical instrument sounds. The critical control condition was a visual imagery task. The pattern of judgments in perceived and imagined conditions was similar, suggesting that perception and imagery access similar cognitive representations of timbre. As expected, judgments of heard timbres, relative to the visual imagery control, activated primary and secondary auditory areas with some right-sided asymmetry. Timbre imagery also activated secondary auditory areas relative to the visual imagery control, although less strongly, in accord with previous data. Significant overlap was observed in these regions between perceptual and imagery conditions. Because the visual control task resulted in deactivation of auditory areas relative to a silent baseline, we interpret the timbre imagery effect as a reversal of that deactivation. Despite the lack of an obvious subvocalization component to timbre imagery, some activity in SMA was observed, suggesting that SMA may have a more general role in imagery beyond any motor component.


Typical trial used in both perception and imagery conditions. Subjects see text on the screen such as:


During perception trials, they also hear the corresponding sound (click on above to hear examples); during imagery trials no auditory stimuli are presented.

Note: All sounds on this page are CBR encoded at 96 Kbps with LAME MP3 encoder and are of lower audio quality than the stimuli used in the actual experiments.  If your browser is not configured to launch an MP3 player automatically, right click on the link and choose "Save link as..." in Netscape Navigator or "Save Target As..." in Microsoft Internet Explorer to save the file to disk.  You can then play the sample with any MP3 capable media player such as the one below.  It has recently been verified that, for reasons still unknown, some versions of Netscape Navigator 4.x can sometimes save MP3 data incorrectly.  Mozilla, Opera, Netscape Navigator 6.x and Internet Explorer do not have this difficulty.