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Brain “under the jazz”

When jazz musicians improvise, areas that are responsible for self-censorship and inhibition of nerve impulses are turned off in their brain, and instead, areas that open the way for self-expression are turned on.

A companion study at Johns Hopkins University, which was attended by volunteer musicians from the Peabody Institute, and which used the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) method, shed light on the mechanism of creative improvisation that artists use in everyday life.

Jazz musicians, improvising, create their own unique riffs by turning off braking and turning on creativity.

Scientists from the Medical University, National Institute of Deafness speak about their interest in a possible neurological basis of a state close to the state of trance, into which jazzmen fall, starting spontaneous improvisations.

“When jazz musicians improvise, they often play with their eyes closed in their characteristic style that demonstrates the traditional rules of melody and rhythm,” says Charles J. Limb, a professor of medicine, an assistant professor at the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Cervical Medical Johns Hopkins School, who himself is also an experienced jazz saxophonist.

“This is a special mood of the soul,” he adds, “when suddenly, suddenly, a musician creates music that he had never heard, never thought about it, and had never played anything like it before. What comes out of the output is completely spontaneous. ”

Many studies of recent years have focused on trying to understand which parts of the human brain are activated when listening to music, and, as Limb says, little attention has been paid to studying brain activity in the process of spontaneous composing music.

Wanting to understand what is happening with his own brain in the “under jazz” state, he and his colleague Allen R. Braun, a professor of medicine, developed a plan for observing brain function in the process of real-time musical improvisation.

To participate in this study, they invited six experienced jazz pianists, three of them from the Peabody Institute, a music conservatory in which Limb part-time holds a professorship. 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 a functional magnetic resonance image; a brain scanner that highlights areas of the brain that respond to different stimuli, for example, identifying which areas are active when a person is involved in some 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 this unit, which allowed musicians to hear the music they create as they play.

Each musician participated in four different exercises designed to distinguish brain activity while playing the memory of simple piano pieces and the brain activity observed during improvisation.

Being inside the fMRI instrument with a keyboard arranged on their lap, all pianists started 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 intended to ensure that all musicians play the same gamma in the same order, with equal intervals of time.

To perform the second exercise, pianists had to improvise. They were supposed to play quarter notes of the scale, but could play them in any order they wished.

Further, the musicians had to play the original blues melody, which they learned in advance, while the background recording played a jazz quartet that complements the melody. In the last exercise, the musicians had to improvise with their own melodies using the same recording of the jazz quartet.

Then Limb and Brown analyzed the records taken from the brain with a scanner. Since the areas of the brain that are activated during the memory play are parts of it that are usually active when playing any kind of piano, the researchers excluded them from the picture of the brain obtained during improvisation.

Working further only with brain regions characteristic exclusively for the process of improvisation, the scientists saw strikingly similar patterns, regardless of whether the musicians performed simple improvisation with a scale in C major, or performed a more complex melody, improvising with the performance of a jazz quartet.

Scientists have discovered that the part of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the wide frontal area of ​​the brain that expands from the center to the periphery, showed a slowdown in brain activity.

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