What happens when you put a jazz improviser in an MRI scanner?
I thought I would share this very interesting video with you today.
It’s a scientific study by medical researcher Charles Limb on what neurologically happens in the brain when you improvise, as opposed to playing pre-learned musical material from memory.
What was the scientific method for this study?
Putting experienced jazz improvisers in an MRI scanner to monitor their brain function, as they played jazz on a magnetically resistant MIDI keyboard lying down, whilst trying to keep their head as still as possible.
No easy task for a pianist. (Keith Jarrett comes to mind!)
Although it’s a preliminary study, I think it does shed light on what we could learn from an experienced improviser’s brain functioning.
This is a couple of big takeaways I got from the video:
1. When an experienced jazz musician improvises music (as opposed to playing pre-learned material), areas of the brain associated with self-expression become activated, whilst areas associated with self-inhibition reduce in function.
I found this fascinating as it correlates with my own and others anecdotal experience that improvised music flows best when you are able to transcend your own self-monitoring, be prepared to explore musically and to allow mistakes without inhibition.
2.Improvised music activates areas of the brain associated with language learning
The idea of jazz functioning as a spoken language is often used by jazz performers and teachers. In fact, this concept heavily influenced the way I designed my Fundamentals of Jazz Guitar Improvisation course that I’m currently taking students through at the moment. In the course, students learn a collection of often used jazz ‘words’ and phrases from general jazz vocabulary, and then learn how to string these basic musical words together in various ways as they improvise.
Anyway, over to you – what did you think about this video?
Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Let’s get the conversation started…
Founder, Fret Dojo
World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education