I know what you’re thinking. How can one scientifically analyze a concept that, by its very nature, is capricious and unpredictable? Dr. Charles Limb, a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, has done a fascinating study on the activity of the brain when engaged in a musical activity.
Using a Functional MRI machine, which not only takes pictures but also monitors blood flow to the different areas of the brain, Dr. Limb put jazz musicians and rappers through a series of exercises to see what goes on neurologically when we play music. From what he has found, our brains react very differently when performing a memorized piece of music versus improvising. During improvisation, areas of our frontal lobe which are thought to be responsible for self-monitoring (self-reflection, introspection and memory) were turned off, while other areas that are thought to be responsible for self-expression turned on. There seems to be an interesting shift in dynamic that occurs when your brain transitions from being inhibited and assigned limitations versus given the freedom to be creative.
Perhaps even more fascinating was Dr. Limb’s second experiment, during which he and renowned jazz musician and composer Mike Pope took turns improvising back and forth with one another. Results show that areas of Mike’s brain which are thought to be responsible for language and expressive communication suddenly began lighting up on the FMRI monitor. Similar results were found when rappers were monitored during freestyling. Could it be that there is a neurological basis for the sentiment that music is indeed a language of its own?
To watch the presentation Dr. Limb introduced at the TED Conference this past November which details the process involved in obtaining these results, click here.