Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Dr. Mukesh Dhamala

Second Advisor

Dr. Martin Norgaard

Third Advisor

Dr. Brian D. Thoms

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Douglas R. Gies

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Vadym Apalkov


Musical improvisation is one of the most complex forms of creative behavior, which offers a realistic task paradigm for the investigation of real-time creativity. Despite previous studies on the topics of musical improvisation, brain activations, and creativity, the main questions about the neural mechanisms for musical improvisation in efforts to unlocking the mystery of human creativity remain unanswered. What are the brain regions that are activated during the improvised performances of music? How do these brain areas coordinate activity among themselves and others during such performances? Whether and how does the brain connectivity structure encapsulate such creative skills? In attempts to contribute to answering these questions, this dissertation examines the brain activity dynamics during musical improvisation, explores white matter fiber architecture in advanced jazz improvisers using functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques. A group of advanced jazz musicians underwent functional and structural magnetic resonance brain imaging. While the functional MRI (fMRI) of their brains were collected, these expert improvisers performed vocalization and imagery improvisation and pre-learned melody tasks. The activation and connectivity analysis of the fMRI data showed that musical improvisation is characterized by higher brain activity with less functional connectivity compared to pre-learned melody in the brain network consisting of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), supplementary motor area (SMA), lateral premotor cortex (lPMC), Cerebellum (Cb) and Broca’s Area (BCA). SMA received a dominant causal information flow from dlPFC during improvisation and prelearned melody tasks. The deterministic fiber tractography analysis also revealed that the underlying white matter structure and fiber pathways in advanced jazz improvisers were enhanced in advanced jazz improvisers compared to the control group of nonmusicians, specifically the dlPFC - SMA network. These results point to the notion that an expert's performance under real-time constraints is an internally directed behavior controlled primarily by a specific brain network, that has enhanced task-supportive structural connectivity. Overall, these findings suggest that a creative act of an expert is functionally controlled by a specific cortical network as in any internally directed attention and is encapsulated by the long-timescale brain structural network changes in support of the related cognitive underpinnings.


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