When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

12 March 2008

This is your brain on jazz

It would come as no surprise to the late saxophonist and improvisational master John Coltrane, but when accomplished jazz musicians play free-form, their brain activity suggests a release of self-expression from conscious monitoring and self-censorship.

Such neural activity may lie at the heart of musical improvisation and perhaps other improvisational feats, propose auditory scientist Charles J. Limb of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and neurologist Allen R. Braun of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Md.

"What we think is happening is that when you're telling your own musical story, you're shutting down neural impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas," says Limb, himself a trained jazz saxophonist.
Riff Riders: Brain scans tune in to jazz improvisers (Science News, 8 March 2008)

Fascinating article. They had to design a foldable, nonmetallic keyboard that would fit into an MRI machine, and then they did live brainscans of musicians as they played improvisationally:
The part of the frontal brain that has been linked to planning and self-censorship saw a marked decline in activity. At the same time, activity spiked in a small frontal structure that has been linked to being able to tell a story about oneself.

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