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Health Team

Researchers study the musical mind

Posted June 9, 2008 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2008 10:37 p.m. EDT

A study into the improvisational way jazz artists create music is giving researchers a new understanding of the brain.

“The goal of the jazz improviser is to dispense with thinking as much as possible,” jazz pianist Bill Charlap said.

This creative approach got Dr. Allen Braun, of the National Institutes of Health, interested in how the jazz musician's brain works.

Doctors took brain scans while jazz musicians played a keyboard. When the pianists would improvise, monitors spotted changes in the scans. Areas associated with self-monitoring and inhibition turn off, while self-expression turns on.

The brain activity is similar to what happens when we dream. Researchers hope this new window into creativity will provide clues into the brain's wiring.

“This may help us understand some of the ways music and language and some of these other systems interact,” Braun said.

The new information could one day lead to new treatments for stuttering and even help stroke victims regain speech.

Many studies have shown that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

Researchers also say music can reduce stress and alleviate depression.