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Riff Riders: Brain scans tune in to jazz improvisers

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12:14pm, March 5, 2008

It would come as no surprise to the late saxophonist and improvisational master John Coltrane, but when accomplished jazz musicians play free-form, their brain activity suggests a release of self-expression from conscious monitoring and self-censorship.

Such neural activity may lie at the heart of musical improvisation and perhaps other improvisational feats, propose auditory scientist Charles J. Limb of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and neurologist Allen R. Braun of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Md.

"What we think is happening is that when you're telling your own musical story, you're shutting down neural impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas," says Limb, himself a trained jazz saxophonist.

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