Singers show enhanced performance and neural representation of vocal imitation

Sheena Waters, Elise Kanber, Nadine Lavan, Michel Belyk, Daniel Carey, Valentina Cartei, Clare Lally, Marc Miquel, Carolyn McGettigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
125 Downloads (Pure)


Humans have a remarkable capacity to finely control the muscles of the
larynx, via distinct patterns of cortical topography and innervation that
may underpin our sophisticated vocal capabilities compared with nonhuman primates. Here, we investigated the behavioural and neural correlates
of laryngeal control, and their relationship to vocal expertise, using an imitation task that required adjustments of larynx musculature during speech.
Highly trained human singers and non-singer control participants modulated
voice pitch and vocal tract length (VTL) to mimic auditory speech targets,
while undergoing real-time anatomical scans of the vocal tract and functional
scans of brain activity. Multivariate analyses of speech acoustics, larynx
movements and brain activation data were used to quantify vocal modulation
behaviour and to search for neural representations of the two modulated
vocal parameters during the preparation and execution of speech. We
found that singers showed more accurate task-relevant modulations of
speech pitch and VTL (i.e. larynx height, as measured with vocal tract MRI)
during speech imitation; this was accompanied by stronger representation
of VTL within a region of the right somatosensory cortex. Our findings
suggest a common neural basis for enhanced vocal control in speech
and song.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Voice modulation: from origin and
mechanism to social impact (Part I)’
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1840
Early online date1 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021


  • Psychology

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