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Musical abilities are among the last to be lost in cases of brain damage?

Hello Everyone:

I wonder if there might be a misunderstanding here.  Is it true that
"musical abilities are among the last to be lost in cases of brain
damage" is some kind of general rule about brain function?  An
alternate view has three points.  First, musical ability is mediated
by somewhat different brain regions than is language function.
Second, competent language function is also arguably more common than
is competent musical function, so selective impairments in the former
may be more visible for that reason.  Finally, we perhaps hear more
about the survival of musical skill in aphasia, than survival of
language skills in amusia, because aphasia is so staggeringly obvious
and debilitating when it occurs.  None of this disputes that in other
patients with brain damage, the reverse pattern of deficits is seen,
i.e., musical skills are impaired while language function is
relatively preserved.  As examples, please see:

Peretz, Belleville & Fontaine
Dissociations between music and language functions after cerebral
resection: A new case of amusia without aphasia.
Can J Exp Psychol. (1997) 51: 354-68 (in French).

Piccirilli, Sciarma & Luzzi
Modularity of music: evidence from a case of pure amusia.
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry (2000) 69: 541-545.

Peretz & Zatorre (Eds.)
The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music
Oxford University Press, 2003.

I hope that this helps. All good wishes,

Dennis P. Phillips
Killam Professor in Psychology
Dalhousie University