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Jazz – a creative brain activity

Today is International Jazz Day – a day to celebrate the beauty of this improvisational art form.  But besides being and auditory delight, it turns out that jazz also has scientific significance.

Dr. Charles Limb, a hearing and ear surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and an accomplished saxophonist, has invested more than a decade in the study of the brain activity of improvising musicians.  As part of his research, the brains of jazz players were studied in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to see how their brain activity changes during a jam session.

Dr Limb’s research showed that, when jazz musicians were improvising, activity in their brains’ inhibition centers slowed down.  There was also  increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe – an area linked with self-expression and individuality.

“Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form. You can figure out which jazz musician is playing because one person’s improvisation sounds only like him or her,” says Limb. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”

Dr Limb’s research paper on the fMRI study of jazz improvisation can be found here.

(Source: TIME Healthland)

A jazz musician giving his medial prefrontal cortex a workout.
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