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This is your brain on jazz: researchers use MRI to study spontaneity, creativity
Date:2/27/2008

A pair of Johns Hopkins and government scientists have discovered that when jazz musicians improvise, their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition, and turn on those that let self-expression flow.

The joint research, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, and musician volunteers from the Johns Hopkins Universitys Peabody Institute, sheds light on the creative improvisation that artists and non-artists use in everyday life, the investigators say.

It appears, they conclude, that jazz musicians create their unique improvised riffs by turning off inhibition and turning up creativity.

In a report published Feb. 27 in Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE, the scientists from the Universitys School of Medicine and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders describe their curiosity about the possible neurological underpinnings of the almost trance-like state jazz artists enter during spontaneous improvisation.

When jazz musicians improvise, they often play with eyes closed in a distinctive, personal style that transcends traditional rules of melody and rhythm, says Charles J. Limb, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a trained jazz saxophonist himself. Its a remarkable frame of mind, he adds, during which, all of a sudden, the musician is generating music that has never been heard, thought, practiced or played before. What comes out is completely spontaneous.

Though many recent studies have focused on understanding what parts of a persons brain are active when listening to music, Limb says few have delved into brain activity while music is being spontaneously composed.

Curious about his own brain on jazz, he and a colleague, Allen R. Braun, M.D., of NIDCD, devised a plan to view in real time the brain functions of musicians improvising.

For the stu
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Contact: Christen Brownlee
cbrownlee@jhmi.edu
410-955-7832
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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