How Emotions Affect A Musician’s Creativity When Improvising

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Psychologists argue that music is far more powerful than language. This is because, in addition to its commonality across borders of culture, race, and nationality, it also has the ability to arouse out feelings and emotions.

An increased interest in how the brain processes musical emotion can be attributed to the way in which it is described as a “language of emotion” across cultures. Be it within films, live orchestras, concerts or a simple home stereo, music can be so evocative and overwhelming that it can only be described as standing halfway between thought and phenomenon. Via Psych Central

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It also gives us a way to express our emotions in ways that language never could.

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent,” author Victor Hugo once said. Via Huffington Post

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Scientists have further discovered that when attempting to express their emotions through music, the brains of musicians work in a very odd but interesting way. A brain-scanning study published in the Scientific Reports journal was carried out that examined jazz pianists as they played. The researchers found that strong emotions have the ability to alter how the brain networks responsible for creativity work.

“It seems that the link between emotion and creativity is truly fundamental, and we suspect, ultimately responsible for the perseverance of creativity throughout human history,” Dr. Charles Limb, a University of California, San Francisco, neuroscientist and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email. “Humans seem to need creativity in order to understand and examine the human experience, which is (in our opinion) a deeply emotional one. For these reasons, we wanted to understand how emotion modulates brain networks for creativity, during real time spontaneous creativity in expert musicians.” Via Huffington Post

Creative processes involve different networks, regions, and processes in the brain, so they cannot even be attributed to any one network. The researchers found that when musicians attempt to express their emotions during the creative process, parts of their brains involved in emotional expression are also activated.

Limb, who is also a jazz saxophonist, has previously conducted research that found that musical improvisation deactivates a key brain region involved in planning and monitoring behavior — the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). This suggested that the silencing of the DLPFC may be responsible for the artist’s ability to enter a “flow state” of deep absorption and free-flowing creativity. Via Huffington Post

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Building on this discovery, the researchers wanted to find out what effect emotions had on a musician’s ability to enter a flow state. Jazz pianists were asked to improvise a melody on a small keyboard as a brain-scanning machine observed their brain activity. The melodies were to express a positive emotion or a negative one.

The fMRI scans revealed that DLPFC deactivation was significantly greater when the musicians were trying to convey a positive emotion in their improvisations. When trying to express negative emotions, on the other hand, there was greater activation of the reward systems of the brain. Via Huffington Post

These findings suggested that getting into the zone was easier when a musician is creating happy music. The researchers also concluded that musicians seemingly enjoyed creating sad music, but this was different from that of creating happy music. The study revealed that the way the brain works during creativity is influenced by the emotions a person is experiencing at the time, and this applies to both positive and negative emotions.

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