Charles Limb's Study On Music Creativity And Brain Functions

1888 words - 8 pages

Have you ever wondered how musicians can come up with melodies, rhythms, chords, and riffs off-the-top of their heads? Well, this type of spontaneous idea is called improvisation. Improvisation is the creative activity of an “in the moment” musical composition. Basically, it’s a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing where musicians simply make up a rhythm or melody without even thinking about it. Whatever or however a musician is feeling he could incorporate that feeling into a musical thought. But how does this imagination come about? Is there some type of magical feeling that comes over the musician? How can the mind create something on command? William James has labeled this innovative ...view middle of the document...

”(Musical Creativity and the Brain, 2012) He also came up with this hypothesis saying that, “Artistic creativity is a neurologic product that can be examined using rigorous scientific methods.” (Your brain on improv, video) A tool that he had used and was the only tool that he could use during this study was a functional MRI scanner. An fMRI scanner was based on the same machinery as a MRI scanner, but instead of looking at images of organs and tissues, this scanner looks at active areas of the brain which also helps doctors identify the way the brain functions. The way an fMRI scanner works is it has an imaging system called B.O.L.D. imaging, which stands for Blood Oxygen Level Dependent, which is a tool to study brain activation. When you’re in an fMRI scanner, there is a big magnet over your head that adjust the molecules around you which also allow the scanner to tell where and when the brain is active. When an area of the brain or a group of neurons becomes active, there is a sudden blood flow that is being pushed toward the area of the brain that has been activated. That same blood flow will also cause an increase in blood that is in area which causes a disruption of blood flow of oxyhemoglobin (Hemoglobin with oxygen). This disruption is used in the fMRI to detect the concentration of deoxyhemoglobin (Hemoglobin without oxygen) in the blood. The more the blood flow moves, means the more brain activity the fMRI scanner can pick up. The fMRI scanner can pick up deoxyhemoglobin in the area, however, it is not able to pick up the oxyhemoglobin. That is sort of how a functional MRI scanner works.

Dr. Limb and his colleague, Allen R. Braun, conducted a study on brain functions when a jazz musician is improvising and what exactly is going on in the brain. However, the challenge was how to view these “spikes of creativity”. So Dr. Limb and Dr. Braun met with an engineer from California to make a small piano out of plastic, so that the piano could fit on the players’ legs as they lied down in the fMRI scanner. The piano does not produce sound but it sends a mini-signal from the piano to a box hooked up to the computer in another room. He also designed an arrangement of mirrors to go on the inside of the scanner, so that the players could see where their hands and keys were on the keyboard. All they needed now were willing volunteers, which the found around the campus of the Peabody Institute. They began their first experiment research by bringing in six male jazz musicians who were right-handed to participate in the study. All of them were full-time professional musicians that either worked as performers or music professors, and that were highly skilled in jazz piano playing. The musicians were asked to perform four different pieces of music while lying in the fMRI machine. First, they were asked to play the C-major scale, so they played the scale. Then they were asked to improvise on the scale. Next, they played an original blues melody...

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