Cortical Regions Involved in the Generation of Musical Structures During Improvisation in Pianists



Studies on simple pseudorandom motor and cognitive tasks have shown that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and rostral premotor areas are involved in free response selection. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate whether these brain regions are also involved in free generation of responses in a more complex creative behavior: musical improvisation. Eleven professional pianists participated in the study. In one condition, Improvise, the pianist improvised on the basis of a visually displayed melody. In the control condition, Reproduce, the participant reproduced his previous improvisation from memory. Participants were able to reproduce their improvisations with a high level of accuracy, and the contrast Improvise versus Reproduce was thus essentially matched in terms.


Musical Structure Rostral Premotor Areas Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC) Musical Improvisation Creative Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Lea Foreman, Hans Forssberg, Guy Madison, and Jeanne Nakamura for comments on the manuscript. This work was funded by the Swedish Research Council; the Freemasons in Stockholm Foundation for Children’s Welfare, Sweden the Medici II symposia on positive psychology; the Templeton Foundation; and Linnea och Josef Carlssons Stiftelse, Sweden. The present address of S. L. B. is Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, Institute of Neurology, London, UK.

Reprint requests should be sent to Dr. Fredrik Ullén, Stockholm Brain Institute, Neuropediatric Research Unit Q2; 07, Department of Women and Child Health, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden, or via e-mail:


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Karolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Claremont Graduate UniversityClaremontUSA

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