'Brain, Movement, and Song' with Michel Belyk - Thursday 4th March 2021 at 5pm (UK time for 2 hours)

Course Details

This workshop will provide a gross overview of brain anatomy with a focus on how the brain controls movement, and the voice in particular.

Motivating case

  • Meet the Chimpanzees: Viki and Washoe
  • Why can Apes use sing language, but not speak or sing?
  • Is there something special about the way that the human brain controls the voice?

Gross brain primer

  • The four lobes
  • Grey matter vs white matter
  • Networks

Neuroscience of movement

  • Primary motor cortex
    • Somatotopy
    • Descending motor pathways
    • Movement from electrical stimulation
    • Paresis from damage, e.g., stroke
  • Cortico-striatal loop
    • Functions
      • Executing motor plans
      • Learning new motor plans
    • Anatomical components & their connections
      • Supplementary Motor Area
      • Basal Ganglia
      • Thalamus
    • Relevant disorders
      • Parkinson’s disease
      • Huntington’s disease
  • Cortico-Cerebellar Loop
    • Functions
      • Correcting movement errors
      • Sensory feedback
    • Anatomical components
      • Cerebellum
      • Thalamus
  • An example from Dance: fMRI Tango!
    • Lead with your cortico-striatal loop
    • Follow with your cortico-cerebellar loop

Neuroscience of song

  • Specialisation for voice motor control
    • Uniqueness to humans
    • Electrical stimulation & Lesions
    • Brain imaging studies
      • Song
      • Speech
      • Emotions


  • Avian song production system
    • Analogy with human primary motor cortex
  • Avian song learning system
    • Analogy with human cortico-striatal loop
  • Brain imaging evidence
    • Vocal imitation fMRI


  • Humans share a motor system with other mammals
  • But with some voice specialisation
  • Similar specialisation also appear in songbirds

About Dr Michel Belyk

Dr Michel Belyk studies the vocal system of the human brain.

Humans have a degree of control over the larynx that is unparalleled among primates. Acquiring flexible and volitional control over the larynx was a key step in the evolution of our singular capacity for verbal communication, without which speech and song would be impossible.

From an ancestor that communicated only through pre-programmed emotional vocalizations, humans evolved the ability to learn novel vocal patterns. Dr Belyk’s research focuses on exploring the evolutionarily novel neural system that gives humans flexible control over the larynx and how the vocal system coordinates pre-programmed and learned vocal motor patterns to produce vocalizations that simultaneously encode emotional tone of voice and speech.

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