Many musicians are in awe of the ability to improvise in others and nervous at the prospect of being called upon to do it themselves. Many non-musicians find it bewildering that anyone can create on the hoof in solo or ensemble situations. Dr. Charles Limb, takes a look at the workings of the brain, comparing particularly memorised and improvised content in this TED video At the beginning of the talk, he stresses how he will be asking more questions than providing answers – the science is in its infancy, after all. But these are good questions:
- What is creative genius?
- Why does the brain seek creativity?
- How do we acquire creativity?
- What factors disrupt creativity?
- Can creative behaviour be learned?
The title of the talk, Your Brain on Improv is, I feel certain, a nod to Daniel Levitin‘s great book, This is Your Brain on Music (look inside it here).
If you’ve ever wondered what jazzers are referring to by the expression playing outside, then pay particular attention to what Keith Jarret does at 2:12 in the video within the video. As you lead up to this moment, try to focus on the key – the centre of gravity of the piece – and see if the outside playing threatens it. Then imagine how he feels!