Seed magazine has a fascinating article describing some recent studies of what goes on in the brain of a musician who’s improvising–that is, composing and performing music on the fly.
There is something fascinating about the act of musical improvisation—that moment when a musician departs from the score, embarking on a thematically relevant, yet wholly spontaneous composition. We normally think of it as the province of jazz musicians, conjuring the iconic image of a sax player wailing through riffs in a smoky, dim-lit club. John Coltrane and Bill Evans were masters. Miles Davis was never much for rehearsal. He used to gather his band in the studio, rattle off a few suggestions for the broad shape each track should take, and hit record.
How do musicians do this? When he’s ready to begin a cadenza, Levin says, he doesn’t have a plan. As many other seasoned improvisers claim, he just starts playing. It’s intuitive. But, Levin admits, he didn’t always know how to improvise. He had to learn. So the question remains: how can a skill that in its truest form is innate be learned?
Turns out that learning musical improvisation has much in common with how we learn to use language, and that some of the same parts of the brain are involved.
Like I said, it’s a fascinating article, and it reinforces my belief that some forms of creativity can be learned–and taught–in the same way that language and improvisation is.
What do you think?