The question of whether singing may be helpful for stroke patients with non-fluent aphasia has been debated for many years. However, the role of rhythm in speech recovery appears to have been neglected. In the current lesion study, we aimed to assess the relative importance of melody and rhythm for speech production in 17 non-fluent aphasics. Furthermore, we systematically alternated the lyrics to test for the influence of long-term memory and preserved motor automaticity in formulaic expressions. We controlled for vocal frequency variability, pitch accuracy, rhythmicity, syllable duration, phonetic complexity and other relevant factors, such as learning effects or the acoustic setting. Contrary to some opinion, our data suggest that singing may not be decisive for speech production in non-fluent aphasics. Instead, our results indicate that rhythm may be crucial, particularly for patients with lesions including the basal ganglia. Among the patients we studied, basal ganglia lesions accounted for more than 50 % of the variance related to rhythmicity. Our findings therefore suggest that benefits typically attributed to melodic intoning in the past could actually have their roots in rhythm. Moreover, our data indicate that lyric production in non-fluent aphasics may be strongly mediated by long-term memory and motor automaticity, irrespective of whether lyrics are sung or spoken
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