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In jazz improv, large portion of brain's prefrontal region 'takes 5' to let creativity flow
Date:2/26/2008

h. Authors on the study are Charles J. Limb, M.D., who was then a research fellow with NIDCD, and Allen R. Braun, M.D., chief of the divisions Language Section. Dr. Limb is now an otolaryngologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and faculty member at the universitys Peabody Conservatory of Music.

The first scenario, called the Scale paradigm, was based on a simple C major scale. Using only their right hand, the volunteers first played the scale up and down in quarter notes, an activity they, as accomplished musicians, had performed many times before. Next, they were asked to improvise, though they were limited to playing quarter notes within the C major scale. Although the musicians were indeed improvising, it was a relatively low-level form of improvisation, musically speaking, said Limb.

The second scenario, called the Jazz paradigm, addressed higher level musical improvisation. This paradigm was based on a novel blues melody written by Limb that the volunteers had memorized beforehand. Again, using only their right hand, the musicians would play the tune exactly as they had memorized it, only this time accompanied through headphones by a pre-recorded jazz quartet. When they were asked to improvise, the musicians listened to the same audio background, but they were free to spontaneously play whatever notes they wished.

All of this was accomplished while the musicians lay on their backs with their heads and torsos inside an fMRI scanner and their knees bent upward. The plastic keyboard, which was shortened to fit inside the scanner and which had its magnetic parts removed for safety, rested on the musicians knees. A mirror placed over the volunteers eyes, together with the headphones, helped the musicians see and hear what they were playing. The resulting fMRI scans recorded the amount of change in neural activityincreases and decreasesbetween the improvised and memorized versions.

Turning Off the Monitor
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Contact: Jennifer Wenger
jwenger@mail.nih.gov
301-496-7243
NIH/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Source:Eurekalert

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