The brain is “under jazz»
When jazz musicians improvise, their brains switch off the areas responsible for self-censorship and inhibition of nerve impulses, and instead turn on the areas that open the way for self-expression.
A related study conducted at Johns Hopkins University, which involved volunteer musicians from the Peabody Institute, and which used the method of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), shed light on the mechanism of creative improvisation that artists use in everyday life.
Jazz musicians improvise and create their own unique riffs by turning off the brakes and turning on creativity.
Scientists from the Medical University, the National Institute of deafness talk about their interest in the possible neurological basis of the state, close to the state of trance, in which jazzmen fall, starting spontaneous improvisation.
“When jazz musicians improvise, they often play with their eyes closed in their characteristic style, demonstrating the traditional rules of melody and rhythm,” says Charles J. Limb, Professor of medicine, assistant Professor of the Department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins school of medicine, who himself is an experienced jazz saxophonist.
“This is a special mood of the soul,” he adds, ” when suddenly, suddenly the musician creates music that he has never heard, never thought about it and never played anything like this before. What happens at the output – it turns out quite spontaneously.”
Many studies in recent years have focused on trying to understand which parts of the human brain are activated by listening to music, And limb Argues that too little attention has been paid to the study of brain activity in the process of spontaneous music composition.
Wanting to understand what happens to his own brain in a state of “under jazz”, he and his colleague Allen brown (Allen R. Braun), Professor of medicine, developed a plan to monitor the functioning of the brain in the process of musical improvisations in real time.
To participate in this study, they invited six experienced jazz pianists, three of them from the Peabody Institute, the music Conservatory, in which Limb concurrently holds a professorial position. Other volunteers became aware of this study, thanks to rumors spread in the local jazz community.
The researchers developed a special keyboard on which pianists could play inside the apparatus of functional magnetic resonance imaging; a brain scanner that highlights areas of the brain that respond to various stimuli, for example, identifying which areas are active when a person is involved in any kind of mental activity.
Since the functional magnetic resonance imaging device uses powerful magnets, scientists have developed a non-standard keyboard that does not contain metal parts that could be attracted by a magnet. They also used headphones compatible with the device, which allowed musicians to hear the music they created during the game.
Each musician participated in four different exercises designed to distinguish between brain activity while playing from the memory of simple piano pieces and brain activity observed during improvisation.
Being inside the fMRI device with a keyboard arranged on their knees, all pianists began the game with a scale in C major, a well-remembered series of notes that every novice musician learns. The metronome built into the headphones was designed to provide the same gamut play by all musicians – in the same order, with the same intervals of time.
To perform the second exercise, the pianists had to improvise. They had to play quarter notes of the scale, but they could play them in any order they wanted.
Further, the musicians had to play in the original Blues melody, which they learned in advance, while the background recording played a jazz Quartet, complementing the melody. In the last exercise, the musicians had to improvise with their own melodies, using the same recording of a jazz Quartet.
Then Limb and brown analyzed the records taken from the brain scanner. Since the areas of the brain that are activated by memory play are those parts of the brain that are normally active while playing any kind of piano, the researchers excluded them from the brain picture obtained during improvisation.
Working further only with areas of the brain that are unique to the process of improvisation, scientists saw strikingly similar patterns, regardless of whether the musicians performed a simple improvisation with a scale in C major, or performed a more complex melody, improvising with the performance of a jazz Quartet.
Scientists have found that the part of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the wide frontal area of the brain extending from the center to the periphery – has shown a slowdown in brain activity in the process of improvisation. This area was found to be responsible for planned actions and self-censorship, such as careful choice of words for interviews.
Disabling this area may lead to a reduction of inhibitory processes, concludes the Limb. Scientists also found increased activity in the middle prefrontal cortex, i.e. in the center of the frontal frontal part of the brain. This area is responsible for self-expression, activity, expressing individuality, such as a sincere story about yourself.
“Jazz is often described as an extremely individualistic form of art. You can easily identify the playing of a jazz musician, as the improvisation of each jazzman sounds like his own music,” limb Says. “As we see it now, when you ‘tell’ your own musical story, the following happens: you close the impulses that can suppress the flow of creative thought.”
Limb notes that this type of brain activity can occur in the process of other types of improvisation, which are an integral part of the life of both artists and ordinary people. For example, he notes, people constantly improvise, choosing words in conversation, how to improvise and with the solution of unexpected problems. “Without this type of creativity, man would not be able to develop as a species. This is an integral part of who we are,” Limb says.
He and brown plan to use similar techniques to determine whether the improvisational activity of the brain they identify corresponds to similar types of activity of other creative personalities, such as poets or masters of fine arts, as well as the activity of ordinary people in the process of improvisation.