Researchers have recently begun to examine the neural basis of musical improvisation, one of the most complex forms of creative behavior. The emerging field of improvisation neuroscience has implications not only for the study of artistic expertise, but also for understanding the neural underpinnings of domain-general processes such as motor control and language production. This review synthesizes functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) studies of musical improvisation, including vocal and instrumental improvisation, with samples of jazz pianists, classical musicians, freestyle rap artists, and non-musicians. A network of prefrontal brain regions commonly linked to improvisatory behavior is highlighted, including the pre-supplementary motor area, medial prefrontal cortex, inferior frontal gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and dorsal premotor cortex. Activation of premotor and lateral prefrontal regions suggests that a seemingly unconstrained behavior may actually benefit from motor planning and cognitive control. Yet activation of cortical midline regions points to a role of spontaneous cognition characteristic of the default network. Together, such results may reflect cooperation between large-scale brain networks associated with cognitive control and spontaneous thought. The improvisation literature is integrated with Pressing's theoretical model, and discussed within the broader context of research on the brain basis of creative cognition.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience