Could jazz music training help young people to develop enhanced creativity?

A small-scale study in Connecticut has added evidence to the idea that jazz music training requires or can develop creative thinking – but also so can general music training. Jazz students were found to be more likely to respond favourably to unexpected sounds, however all music students scored higher in tests for originality than non-music students.

The study by a Wesleyan University research team led by Assistant Professor Psyche Loui (published in the journal Brain and Cognition)featured 36 students from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Connecticut. Twelve were studying jazz (with improvisation training), 12 classical music (without improvisation training), and the final 12 were non-musicians. The classical and jazz students all had at least five years of musical training.

While their brain activity was monitored, all listened to a series of chord progressions, which were “either of high, medium, or low expectation, as predicted by musical theory.” After each, the students indicated how much they liked or disliked it on a scale of one to four.

Non-musicians strongly preferred the expected sounds, classical musicians liked those in both the medium and high-expectation categories, and jazz players “were undifferentiated between the high and low expectation conditions.” In other words, the young musical improvisers were uniquely receptive to unexpected sounds.

“The improvisatory and experimental nature of jazz training can encourage musicians to take notes and chords that are out of place, and use them as a pivot to transition to new tonal and musical ideas,” Loui and her colleagues write. “This could lead to the increased cognitive flexibility in jazz musicians.”

“Results show that creativity is tied to how our brains process expectancy,” says Loui on the University website. “I think it’s an instrumental step towards understanding what creativity means, and how we can encourage it more in the classroom.”

The participants also completed a short version of a well-known creative thinking test. They were scored on both the number and originality of the answers they gave.

The musicians – jazz and classical alike – scored higher in originality than their non-musical peers.This suggests that creativity may be stimulated by music study even without improvisation.

Sources:
Pacific Standard: https://psmag.com/news/there-are-no-wrong-notes
Science Direct: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278262617300994
Wesleyan University: http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2017/10/13/loui-co-authors-article-on-human-creativity-and-the-brain/

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT AND CREATIVE THINKING
TARGET GROUP: YOUNG ADULTS
AGE: 18-21 YEARS-OLD
MUSIC TYPE: CHORD PROGRESSION
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 36
PERIOD OF STUDY: UNKNOWN
DATE: 2017
PLACE: USA

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