NPR

How The Brain Helps You Sing Or Say What You Mean

The richness of human vocal communication turns partly on our ability to control pitch, scientists say. Consider the difference you hear between "Let's eat, Grandma" and "Let's eat Grandma."
Jazz legend Billie Holiday at a recording session in 1957. Holiday's pioneering vocal style played with tempo, phrasing and pitch to stir hearts. Source: Michael Ochs Archives

Read these sentences aloud:

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

Emphasizing any one of the words over the others makes the string of words mean something completely different. "Pitch change" — the vocal quality we use to emphasize words — is a crucial part of human communication, whether spoken or sung.

Recent research from 's lab at the University of California, San Francisco's epilepsy center has narrowed down which part of the brain controls our ability to when we speak or sing— the part that enables us to differentiate between the utterances "Let's , Grandma" and "Let's eat ."

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