Song production in song birds is controlled by an efferent pathway. Appended to this pathway is a “recursive loop” that is necessary for song acquisition but not for the production of learned song. Since zebra finches learn their song by imitating external models, we speculated that the importance of the recursive loop for learning might derive from its processing of auditory feedback during song acquisition. This hypothesis was tested by comparing the effects on song in birds deafened early in life and birds with early lesions in either of two nuclei--Area X and the lateral magnocellular nucleus of the anterior neostriatum (LMAN). These nuclei are part of the recursive loop. The three treatments affected song development differently, as reflected by various parameters of the adult song of these birds. Whereas LMAN lesions resulted in songs with monotonous repetitions of a single note complex, songs of Area X-lesioned birds consisted of rambling series of unusually long and variable notes. Furthermore, whereas song of LMAN lesioned birds stabilized early, song stability as seen in intact birds was never achieved in Area X-lesioned birds. Early deafness also resulted in poorly structured and unstable song. We conclude that Area X and LMAN contribute differently to song acquisition: the song variability that is typical of vocal development persists following early deafness or lesions of Area X but ends abruptly following removal of LMAN. Apparently, LMAN plays a crucial role in fostering the kinds of circuit plasticity necessary for learning.