When reviewing the literature on brain substrates of music processing, a puzzling variety of findings can be stated. The traditional view of a left-right dichotomy of brain organization—assuming that in contrast to language, music is primarily processed in the right hemisphere—was challenged 20 years ago, when the influence of music education on brain lateralization was demonstrated.
Modern concepts emphasize the modular organization of music cognition. According to this viewpoint, different aspects of music are processed in different, although partly overlapping neuronal networks of both hemispheres. However, even when isolating a single “module,” such as, for example, the perception of contours, the interindividual variance of brain substrates is enormous. To clarify the factors contributing to this variability, we conducted a longitudinal experiment comparing the effects of procedural versus explicit music teaching on brain networks.
We demonstrated that cortical activation during music processing reflects the auditory “learning biography,” the personal experiences accumulated over time. Listening to music, learning to play an instrument, formal instruction, and professional training result in multiple, in many instances multisensory, representations of music, which seem to be partly interchangeable and rapidly adaptive. In summary, as soon as we consider “real music” apart from laboratory experiments, we have to expect individually formed and quickly adaptive brain substrates, including widely distributed neuronal networks in both hemispheres.