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Live from FEI 2013: Mashup - Improv & Neural Mechanisms of Musical Creativity

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I am now a few sessions into the second day of FEI 2013. Nearing saturation and looking forward to lunch, my mind is beginning to wander...and, in a good way.

This morning I joined an Improv workshop and learned a new creativity technique called the Random Word Generator. Working with my partner, we took turns building on a story using words the other person spontaneously offered up.

At first, the Random Word Generator activity felt awkward. I stumbled for words and had a bunch of "ah-s" and "umm-s." But once I got over the aim for perfection, the fact the story didn't have to follow a traditional storytelling format soon became liberating.

The nonverbal support from my partner (and knowing it would soon be his turn to build the story) helped me switch from "work mode" over to storytelling just for the fun of it. As I thought about the Random Word Generator, I reflected on how I'm better at reacting spontaneously when I'm not driving to a particular storyline or end.

With this thought in mind, I jumped into the Neural Mechanisms of Musical Creativity presentation. This scientific, well-researched presentation was a stark contrast to the Improv workshop, yet they were intrinsically linked.

In the conversation about neural mechanisms, we looked at fMRI scans of individuals who were being scanned while engaging in the creative process. One of the examples included a scan of a freestyle rapper. And, just in case you're not familiar with freestyle rap, it's similar to the Random Word Generator - only set to a beat and rhyme.

What the scientists found was that freestyle rapping requires heightened neural activity (i.e. more creative resources are required). They also found that prefrontal cortex was "turned on" when someone was freestyle rapping, just as it is during other creative acts.

Now for the surprise.

To freestyle rap, one must surpress some mechanisms so that they can make new connections among disparate words. Turns out, while this skill comes naturally to some, it is also a skill that can be learned.

Hmm...Improv folks, would you like to try a little freestyle rap?

Alicia Arnold holds a Master of Science in Creativity, Innovation and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College and an M.B.A in Marketing from Bentley University. She enjoys writing about creativity and innovation and is published with Bloomberg Businessweek, the Huffington Post, The National Association of Gifted Children, and iMedia Connection. In her role as an award winning, digital marketer, she uses her passion for creativity and innovation to develop breakthrough digital and social experiences. You can connect with Alicia on Twitter @alicarnold.

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