Music to My Ears: Neural modularity and flexibility differ in response to real-world music stimuli

Melia E. Bonomo, Anthony K. Brandt, J. Todd Frazier, Christof Karmonik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Music listening involves many simultaneous neural operations, including auditory processing, working memory, temporal sequencing, pitch tracking, anticipation, reward, and emotion, and thus, a full investigation of music cognition would benefit from whole-brain analyses. Here, we quantify whole-brain activity while participants listen to a variety of music and speech auditory pieces using two network measures that are grounded in complex systems theory: modularity, which measures the degree to which brain regions are interacting in communities, and flexibility, which measures the rate that brain regions switch the communities to which they belong. In a music and brain connectivity study that is part of a larger clinical investigation into music listening and stroke recovery at Houston Methodist Hospital's Center for Performing Arts Medicine, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed on healthy participants while they listened to self-selected music to which they felt a positive emotional attachment, as well as culturally familiar music (J.S. Bach), culturally unfamiliar music (Gagaku court music of medieval Japan), and several excerpts of speech. There was a marked contrast among the whole-brain networks during the different types of auditory pieces, in particular for the unfamiliar music. During the self-selected and Bach tracks, participants’ whole-brain networks exhibited modular organization that was significantly coordinated with the network flexibility. Meanwhile, when the Gagaku music was played, this relationship between brain network modularity and flexibility largely disappeared. In addition, while the auditory cortex's flexibility during the self-selected piece was equivalent to that during Bach, it was more flexible during Gagaku. The results suggest that the modularity and flexibility measures of whole-brain activity have the potential to lead to new insights into the complex neural function that occurs during music perception of real-world songs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages10
JournalIBRO Neuroscience Reports
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Brain network
  • Culture
  • FMRI
  • Flexibility
  • Modularity
  • Music

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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