Al Young title




Go directly to Charles Limb and Allen Braun’s paper as it appeared in the journal Nature (18 December 2008)


Jazz Improvisation

and Brain Changes


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Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation

MRI Beebop

The inside of an MRI scanner may not have the ambience of a jazz club, but Charles Limb and Allen Braun of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, think it brings out the process of improvisation in unprecedented detail.They watched six professional jazz pianists first playing a scale on a specially created keyboard, and then improvising using only the notes from that scale. In a second experiment, the musicians followed a given melody exactly and then made up new trills and transitions around it. A pre-recorded quartet occasionally provided accompaniment.

When the musicians improvised, their brains showed greater activity in the medial prefrontal cortical area — a region associated with self-expression. Lateral prefrontal areas, which are linked to self-monitoring, became less active. These changes (pictured as warm and cool colours, respectively) may occur in all types of spontaneous creativity, Limb and Braun say.

  B.B. Hanan


Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation

” … Creativity is a quintessential feature of human behavior, but the neural substrates that give rise to it remain largely unidentified. Spontaneous artistic creativity is often considered one of the most mysterious forms of creative behavior, frequently described as occurring in an altered state of mind beyond conscious awareness or control while its neurophysiological basis remains obscure. Here we use functional neuroimaging methods to examine musical improvisation as a prototypical form of spontaneous creative behavior, with the assumption that the process is neither mysterious nor obscure, but is instead predicated on novel combinations of ordinary mental processes … ”
— Charles J. Limb, Allen R. Braun, from the introduction



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Brain map

 © 2008 Nature


One Response to “NEURO BOP”

  1. Mark Cohen Says:

    It was quite a study. But with the subjects tied down to one hand and lying supine, how creative could they get?

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