A growing body of research suggests that jazz musicians concatenate stored auditory and motor patterns during improvisation. We hypothesized that this mechanism allows musicians to focus attention more flexibly during improvisation; for example, on interaction with other ensemble members. We tested this idea by analyzing the frequency of repeated melodic patterns in improvisations by artist-level pianists forced to attend to a secondary unrelated counting task. Indeed, we found that compared to their own improvisations performed in a baseline control condition, participants used significantly more repeated patterns when their attention was focused on the secondary task. This main effect was independent of whether participants played in a familiar or unfamiliar key and held true using various measurements for pattern use.
Martin Norgaard, Samantha N. Emerson, Kimberly Dawn, James D. Fidlon. Creating Under Pressure: Effects of Divided Attention on the Improvised Output of Skilled Jazz Pianists. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 33 No. 5, June 2016; (pp. 561-570). DOI: 10.1525/mp.2016.33.5.561.