Music improvisation and brain activity

This presentation on creativity, music improvisation, and brain activity is fascinating. Charles Limb is a doctor, musician, and researcher, and in this video, he shows some of his findings when analyzing the brain activity of a jazz musician and a rapper through a fMRI. The presentation took place in November 2010.

Charles Limb: Your brain on improv

There were two things that I found particularly interesting. One was that language areas of the brain were active during music creation, which show a relationship between language and music at a neurological level. I’ve always seen music as another language for me, and this shows a little more evidence of what I’ve had taken for granted. The other interesting finding came from the contrast between memorized and improvised music, and the activity in the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex–the area of the brain located right at our forehead–is responsible for self-control, reasoning, and more executive functions. In the experiment, Limb showed that there were more activity in this area when the musician played the memorized piece, and less when he improvised. Again, something we many times take for granted has in fact neurological evidence: less self-control and rationality is used in creative tasks, such as improvising music.

This is a nice presentation and Limb is quite engaging. It is worth watching this short, 16 minutes video. The original web page for it can be found at .


About paulomusic

I'm a musician at heart with a passion for playing and for musical instruments. I used to play the oboe professionally for many years but stopped when I started a PhD in educational psychology. Now, I want to bring the music back to my life and also share some ideas about it.
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