Theses Doctoral

The improviser and the improvised: The relationship between neural and musical structures, and the role of improvisation

Jackson, Tyreek

This paper investigates the intersection of well-formed structures in music with neurocognitive structures and responses in expert musicians. As musicology has explored musical structures to great length, and neuroscience has begun exploring the neural structures that underscore musical experiences, little research has been done to investigate how functional differences in music structure relate to neural structure. As the overwhelming majority of professional performing musicians have regular contact with music structures in applied and theoretical contexts, it is of interest to understand how the functions of these music structures correlate with neurocognitive structures when listening to or performing music. Furthermore, this work aims to explore how experience with improvisation drives the relationship between the function of musical structures and its neural correlates. This work is motivated by the idea that improvising musicians regularly employ techniques to change the prescribed music structure to fit the dynamics of the musical environment. This implies that expert improvising musicians may view the function of musical structures differently from musicians who do not interact with music structure in such a way. As such, an EEG experiment was conducted to investigate this relationship. Forty-one musicians performed an oddball task where they listened to 3-chord chord progressions, responding to any and all oddball chord progressions on a computer keyboard. The middle chord could be an exemplar oddball (an inversion of standard chord) or a functional oddball (a different class from the standard chord). The results found that musicians with more improvisational experience produced a greater response to functional deviants, indicating that improvisation experience plays a role in what category of structural information is more prevalent to the musician. These results were consistent across behavioral and neural measures, which were also correlated with one another. Chapters 1 and 2 provide background on music structure, improvisation, neuroscience, and the intersection of the three. Chapters 3 and 4 explain the experiment and the results. Chapter 5 integrates these results into the larger questions regarding improvisation, creativity research, and considers the pragmatic applications of improvisation training. Finally, this paper proposes another study that addresses deeper questions about neural and music structural correlations.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Interdisciplinary Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Custordero, Lori
Gordon, Peter
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2018