Monthly Archives: February 2008

•Leaper• 29 Feb 08

the Lengendary Roots Crew-75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)  

Study: Prefrontal Cortex In Jazz Musicians Winds Down When Improvising 


Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have found that, when jazz musicians are engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation, a large region of the brain involved in monitoring one’s performance is shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors is highly activated.The researchers propose that this and several related patterns are likely to be key indicators of a brain that is engaged in highly creative thought.During the study, six highly trained jazz musicians played the keyboard under two scenarios while in the functional MRI scanner. Functional MRI (fMRI) is an imaging tool that measures the amount of blood traveling to various regions of the brain as a means of assessing the amount of neural activity in those areas.

Three-dimensional surface projection of activations and deactivations associated with improvisation during the Jazz paradigm. Medial prefrontal cortex activation, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex deactivation, and sensorimotor activation can be seen. The scale bar shows the range of t-scores; the axes demonstrate anatomic orientation. Abbreviations: a, anterior; p, posterior; d, dorsal; v, ventral; R, right; L, left.


“The ability to study how the brain functions when it is thinking creatively has been difficult for scientists because of the many variables involved,” said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. “Through some creative thinking of their own, these researchers designed a protocol in which jazz musicians could play a keyboard while in the confines of a functional MRI scanner. And in doing so, they were able to pinpoint differences in how the brain functions when the musicians are improvising as opposed to playing a simple melody from memory.”

The study was conducted by researchers of NIDCD’s Division of Intramural Research. Authors on the study are Charles J. Limb, M.D., who was then a research fellow with NIDCD, and Allen R. Braun, M.D., chief of the division’s Language Section. Dr. Limb is now an otolaryngologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and faculty member at the university’s Peabody Conservatory of Music.

The first scenario, called the Scale paradigm, was based on a simple C major scale. Using only their right hand, the volunteers first played the scale up and down in quarter notes, an activity they, as accomplished musicians, had performed many times before. Next, they were asked to improvise, though they were limited to playing quarter notes within the C major scale. “Although the musicians were indeed improvising, it was a relatively low-level form of improvisation, musically speaking,” said Limb.

The second scenario, called the Jazz paradigm, addressed higher level musical improvisation. This paradigm was based on a novel blues melody written by Limb that the volunteers had memorized beforehand. Again, using only their right hand, the musicians would play the tune exactly as they had memorized it, only this time accompanied through headphones by a pre-recorded jazz quartet. When they were asked to improvise, the musicians listened to the same audio background, but they were free to spontaneously play whatever notes they wished.

All of this was accomplished while the musicians lay on their backs with their heads and torsos inside an fMRI scanner and their knees bent upward. The plastic keyboard, which was shortened to fit inside the scanner and which had its magnetic parts removed for safety, rested on the musicians’ knees. A mirror placed over the volunteers’ eyes, together with the headphones, helped the musicians see and hear what they were playing. The resulting fMRI scans recorded the amount of change in neural activity—increases and decreases—between the improvised and memorized versions.

Turning Off ‘the Monitor’

One notable finding was that the brain scans were nearly identical for the low-level and high-level forms of improvisation, thus supporting the researchers’ hypothesis that the change in neural activity was due to creativity and not the complexity of the task. If the latter were the case, there would have been a more noticeable difference between the Scale and Jazz paradigms, since the Jazz paradigm was significantly more complex.

Moreover, the researchers found that much of the change between improvisation and memorization occurred in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the frontal lobe of the brain that helps us think and problem-solve and that provides a sense of self. Interestingly, the large portion responsible for monitoring one’s performance (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) shuts down completely during improvisation, while the much smaller, centrally located region at the foremost part of the brain (medial prefrontal cortex) increases in activity. The medial prefrontal cortex is involved in self-initiated thoughts and behaviors, and is very active when a person describes an event that has happened to him or makes up a story. The researchers explain that, just as over-thinking a jump shot can cause a basketball player to fall out of the zone and perform poorly, the suppression of inhibitory, self-monitoring brain mechanisms helps to promote the free flow of novel ideas and impulses. While this brain pattern is unusual, it resembles the pattern seen in people when they are dreaming.

Another unusual finding was that there was increased neural activity in each of the sensory areas during improvisation, including those responsible for touch, hearing and vision, despite the fact that there were no significant differences in what individuals were hearing, touching and seeing during both memorized and improvised conditions. “It’s almost as if the brain ramps up its sensorimotor processing in order to be in a creative state,” said Limb. The systems that regulate emotion were also engaged during improvisation.

“One important thing we can conclude from this study is that there is no single creative area of the brain—no focal activation of a single area,” said Braun. “Rather, when you move from either of the control tasks to improvisation, you see a strong and consistent pattern of activity throughout the brain that enables creativity.”

Article: Limb CJ, Braun AR (2008), Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation, PLoS ONE 3(2): e1679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679 


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Dear Thunderdome, Please Chillout… 22 February 08



Well Gang, the cable is off (by choice)… so my access to the “Obamafication of America” is limited to NPR, CNN (online), various message boards, and the random conversation with the random stranger.

It usually goes like this:

Me: (minding own business, being a larger sized B.A.M. w/ very little “thug” overtone)

White Guy: (smiling & staring at me)

Me: (tips hat @ W.A.M. for I knoweth that you is starin’ at me and hearing feel good acoustic guitar arpeggios)

White Guy: (coming in for the thrill) Hey there…how’s it going? (Fiddles around a bit before he comes right out and says….) Whattayathink about Obama ? (As if “Soul Train” finally made sense)

Me: (knowing that this is either that new new schitt or some of that same ‘ol samo, I try to be indifferent first) “Oh yeah”, I say.

White Guy: He’s gonna “change things “, I can’t wait.

Me: (still unsure if  this is a trap or a lovefest) He’s already changed the game. Who’d have thought to run a seemingly clean campaign on fundamental principals?

It just always leads me back to one thought.

Tina Turner.

It takes me forever to get that damn “We Don’t Need Another Her (Thunderdome)” song out of my mind after one of these exchanges. Don’t get me wrong, that song is a jam, and Tina Turner is definately a bridge ambassador at America’s Happy Hour, so it’s fitting.

But jeez, let’s all collect ourselves for a moment and watch this:

(here are the lyrics,sing along church)

Out of the ruinsOut from the wreckageCan’t make the same mistake this timeWe are the childrenthe last generationWe are the ones they left behindAnd I wonder when we are ever gonna change itLiving under the fear till nothing else remainsWe don’t need another heroWe don’t need to know the way homeAll we want is life beyond the thunderdomeLooking for something we can rely onThere’s got to be something better out thereLove and compassion, their day is comingAll else are castles built in the airAnd I wonder when we are ever gonna change itLiving under the fear till nothing else remainsAll the children sayWe don’t need another heroWe don’t need to know the way homeAll we want is life beyond the thunderdomeSo what do we do with our livesWe leave only a markWill our story shine like a lifeOr end in the dark

Give it all or nothing 

 (now run out and find a copy of “The Jackie Robinson Story”, starring Jackie Robinson.

I was telling a friend of mine about these recent random political think tanks, I’ve been having. Stressing the point that, random W.A.M.’s usually don’t give a rat’s ass about my politics, and that they probably don’t know how I really feel. He pointed out to me that these folks are probably geeked that they can “finally” have a dialogue with a random young B.A.M.

For this I’m happy and sort of weirded out… I mean, talk to me about NAFTA ten years ago, talk to me about the cocaine/crack sentencing differences, talk to me about race goddammit…jeez,schitt. I’ve been waiting for dialogue.

But now that we’re hellbent on moving as quickly away from the past 7 years, will we “finally” be able to talk about the last 500 plus years?

Or will Obama have to prove to (clears throat) “us” first, that he is indeed the magic negro…I mean,man?

 I like the guy…Compared to the rest of those decepticons. But this is still politics we’re talking about. It would be great to get someone in the white house who apparently just payed off his student loans three years ago, a president that can relate to the people and vice versa. But don’t let this “hero” schitt blow up in your face, is all I’m saying.

Honestly, I’m still shocked that Black America changed it’s tune so quickly about the brother, because as late as early January ’08 I was still hearing “He Ain’t Black Enoughs” from the “let the choir say Amen” and ‘nem.

I’m still registering the results from Utah, Wyoming,Missouri,Idaho,Maine…all them lilly white places & faces. ‘Tis amazing indeed.

But it’s still politics we’re talking about people. Don’t rely on politics to feel good, is all I’m saying.

Or to put it better & quote the songbook, “All we want is life beyond the thunderdome”.

I’ll leave you with a new voice, doing an old favorite…since we’re all invested in “change” and/or down to our last bit of it.


Keep hope alive & let’s “Supaman” dat “lady”  

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