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Jazz vs. Classical: Insights into the Way Our Brains Work

It’s what I’ve always suspected: jazz musicians and classical musicians are wired differently. A new study out of Leipzig found that jazz and classical pianists use their brains differently while playing the same music. “The reason could be due to the different demands these two styles pose on the musicians,” says lead researcher and neuroscientist Daniela Sammler, “Jazz pianists tend to improvise, while classical pianists analyze. These different styles translate into pianists’ brain activities.” It’s a little like the difference between the Socratic Method of teaching in which students are encouraged to think independently and creatively, and the more old-fashioned approach, (‘course what could be more old-fashioned than Ancient Greece?), of the nuns who taught me! They had us memorize a slew of useless things, like the prepositions in alphabetical order, the state capitols, and poems like “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “Casey at the Bat“. Was my young brain permanently stunted as a result of so much mindless ingestion and regurgitation? Hard to say, but my brain does much better playing classical music with the sheet music in front of me, rather than improvising, at which I am hopeless. I’m always impressed when a musician is equally at home in both jazz and classical: (Keith Jarrett, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the SF Symphony’s principal trumpet, Mark Inouye). Best of both worlds!

Written by:
Dianne Nicolini
Dianne Nicolini
Published on 04.01.2019