Have you ever been at a concert and seen a musician or rapper start to improvise? It can often seem effortless or even magical. Few people can freestyle like Kendrick Lamar and Notorious BIG, or improvise like jazz greats Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. What is going on in the brain during these acts of creative genius?
In recent years, several neuroscience studies have examined what is happening in the brain while jazz musicians and freestyle rappers are improvising. These studies provide a window into what is going on, more generally, in the brains of people while they are being creative.
Some types of creativity, such as figuring out how to solve a hard maths problem or devising a novel way to get around a traffic jam, require deliberation and concentration. Other types, such as artistic expression, appear to rely on parts of the brain becoming “quieter” than usual. When they are improvising, key portions of professional musicians’ brains appear to be remarkably quiet.