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!
I’m continually indebted to Edinburgh University’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), and in particular to Dr. Katie Overy, for flagging up many interesting events. In the relatively recent past I have attended a fascinating conference entitled Communicative Musicality and a lecture on Musical Entrainment.
Two more promising events have been brought to my attention in the last couple of days.
The first of these, entitled The Musical Brain, concerns the growing field which links music and neuroscience.*
The second, entitled The Child’s Curriculum: ‘What is the Value of Early Childhood Education and Care?’ concentrates on “ the value of early childhood education and care, with a particular focus on the implications for future practice and policy in Scotland.” This event is, which takes place in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Physicians, is free but registration is required – details here.
* you can find write-ups of music/neuroscience events I attended in The Wellcome Collection – here, here and here.
Interest in this area has led me to some interesting books which I can recommend:
This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen
Communicative Musicality edited by Stephen Malloch and Colwyn Trevarthen
The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
I mentioned this as an aside yesterday but feel it deserves to be highlighted in its own right. A World Science Festival panel, chaired by John Schaeffer and featuring Jamshed Bharucha, Daniel Levitin, Lawrence Parsons and Bobby McFerrin discuss whether music is hard wired or culturally determined. The resulting output is five videos (featuring musical illustration) which can be accessed here.
Daniel Levitin (record producer/engineer turned neuroscientist) is the author of a very readable book entitled This Is Your Brain on Music. Both subjects are so jargon-heavy that the accessible writing is nothing short of miraculous.