Washington: Turns out, training in musical improvisation may teach your brain to think differently.
In a new study, researchers from the Columbia University found that skilled improvisers are better than musicians with limited improvisational experience at distinguishing between chords that can be used interchangeably in a piece of music and chords that cannot.
Further, when the improvisers recognized a chord unsuitable for substitution, their brains showed a pattern of electrical activity distinct from non-improvising musicians.
“It turns out that the degree to which we can predict how musicians respond to different types of musical substitution has nothing to do with how much they practice, but the way they practice,” said Paul Sajda, a biomedical engineer at Columbia Engineering. She added, “Improvisational practice seems to reinforce how the brain represents different types of musical structures.”
The researchers asked 40 musicians to listen to a series of chord progressions interspersed with two types of chord variations: one from the same functional class (say, a similar chord with its notes inverted), and one from outside the class (say, a major chord juxtaposed against a minor chord).
The improvisers identified the oddball chords unsuitable for substitution faster and more accurately than the mostly classically-trained musicians with limited improvisational practice.
“Improvisation is hardly confined to music- it underlies much of daily life. Faced with a delayed train, you might decide to walk or take the bus; a missing ingredient, the closest alternative. With a flexible mindset, a creative solution is often at hand. With music, as with cooking, the trick is knowing the rules of substitution,” said the study’s lead author.
The findings are present in the Journal- Psychology of music.