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A Different State of Mind: Improvising

Scientists from Johns Hopkins found that when jazz musicians improvise their brains completely turn off areas that are linked to self-censoring and inhibition. Researches also say that this explains musicians' distinctive, instinctive mimics during improvisation.

For the study, researchers called out six jazz musicians. The researchers, Limb, and Braun made the jazz musicians complete 4 unique exercises to activate their improvisation skills. After the first three exercises, which were trivial tasks to adapt to the musicians. In the last exercise, the musicians were asked to play an original jazz melody, while an arranged, pre-recorded jazz quartet accompanied the tune. The musicians were told to improvise their own tunes with the same recorded tune, varying their melodies based on basic C-major scales or too complex tunes.

The researches then analyzed brain MRI scans. They found a specific area which is highly active during the last exercise, where the improv sessions start. "With the brain activity unique to improvisation, the scientists saw strikingly similar patterns, regardless of whether the musicians were doing simple improvisation on the C-major scale or playing more complex tunes with the jazz quartet."

"The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex ... showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring ... Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests."

The researchers plan to similar techniques to see whether the improvisational activity of all artists that require improvisation -such as method acting, visual artists and so on- have the same part of the brain. Maybe, they will find out that this activity in the brain can only be seen in jazz musicians and jazz-lovers, like us! Stay tuned!

Credit: Johns Hopkins University. This is Your Brain on Jazz: Researchers Use MRI to Study Spontaneity, Creativity.

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