February 27, 2021

Neural markers for Musical Creativity in Jazz Improvisation and Classical Interpretation

Two main types of musical creativity in the western canon are improvisation and interpretation. With improvisation, the fundamental structure of the melody, chords, rhythm and tempo of a piece can be modified, while with interpretation, the focus is on the emotional dynamics. Here we characterise electrical brain activity from professional jazz and classical pianists, whilst they were engaged in these different creative tasks with musical excerpts from both genres. Multivariate EEG was recorded during two phases of each task, mental planning and actual performance. Subsequently neuronal activity patterns were source localised with standardised low resolution electromagnetic tomography (sLORETA). For each musical performance, we obtained both subjective (self-rated) and objective (blind, expert-rated) measures of musical creativity. Across both tasks and genre backgrounds, within the first and middle four second segments of the performance phase, for musical performances that were judged highly creative objectively by external expert music assessors, we observed an increased activation in the anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex (Brodmann area, BA32), suggesting a maintenance of executive control, and integrating motoric and emotional communication during creativity. Across genre backgrounds, within the performance phase for the interpretation task compared to the improvisation task, there was an increased activity in the insula (BA 13), suggesting a convergent creative task from the linked goal-orientated conscious error-monitoring and audio-visual integration functions. Genre profession also gave rise to differences across phases; jazz pianists presented a decreased parietal (BA7) activity during improvisation tasks suggesting a role for defocussed attention and for classical pianists, both tasks were associated with occipitotemporal (BA 37) activity which is involved in semantic/metaphorical processing suggesting a close adherence to the visual score. These three areas relate the cognitive demands of the creative musical task to the demands of the corresponding genre of music.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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