The Brain of a Musician, Music improvisation is an Art Trance State of the Brain


Playing and improvising music is a specific trance state of the brain, just as dreaming takes place in the REM trance state. Art trances are partial, since we have access to regular consciousness at the same time. Each art form uses different avenues of expressive image-ination (the making of images). Music differs from painting and theater in that it does not have a direct visual reference. So the visual parts of the brain are also diminished. Since music is feeling, the limbic is activated with the auditory centers. The feeling comes out of the Authentic Being of the musician. This is an early brain mapping which does not even include much frontal activity. All authentic art flow is given form by the expressive image-ination of our authenticity. Like in all trances it is alive in the living moment. The musician’s brain reflects the music creation and performing trance state. So diminished activity in the Frontal regions is but a part of the overall brain activation for composing music.

[If a classical violinist is playing Bach, he is expressing Bach’s image-ination through the symbolic codes of musical notation, black notes on a five barred line. He receptively takes in Bach’s authentic expression and gives his expressive capacity over to Bach’s creation. His own feeling is exercised in his performance modalities.]



2 replies
  1. Bernd Willimek
    Bernd Willimek says:

    Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can’t convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called “lead”, “leading tone” or “striving effects”. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change – but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book “Music and Emotion – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

    Enjoy reading

    Bernd Willimek

    • Robert Berezin
      Robert Berezin says:

      Interesting Comment. Let me add some considerations. All of the arts operate through highly developed symbolic codes in the brain. What is communicated between people through art is the contents of our consciousness. Simply put, consciousness is organized as a play in the theater of the brain. It is composed of personas, self and others, feeling relationships between them, plots, scenarios, landscapes and set designs. If you and I share a symbolic code then I express the contents of my imagination and you receptively take in my code and re-create my content through your imagination. If talking is my art form and my symbolic cortical codes are in English and yours are in French then you will not take in my content and you will receive gibberish.
      Music is, as you know, a very complex art form. For starters we need to share symbolic musical codes. This is composed of the musical scale. If you and I employ the Ionian scale and the minor scale, the codes for western music, then I can communicate through this code. If I utilize the scales of Chinese music, then you will hear gibberish or in this case dissonance or noise. Likewise for Indian music. Most westerners haven’t learned the symbolic codes for these scales which employ not just whole notes and half notes, but quarter tones and accidentals. So they sound like dissonance or noise. If you and I both share the symbolic codes for Indian music than we will have a huge array of scales, ascending and descending and communicate the time of day, seasons, scenarios of death, birth, sadness, ecstasy, etc. – The scale of a morning rage, is a springtime raga, is a rebirth raga, is a new love excitement raga. A Nighttime raga is a winter raga, is a tragedy raga, is a dark and dissonant raga. In fact the range of ragas encompass the whole range of human plays, the way our consciousness is organized. If you don’t have the code, then you will hear noise.
      It seems to me that what you are calling identifying with volitional processes has some similarity to the way ragas operate. And that level of the human story is communicated through music. Where I disagree is that what you are calling volitional process is but a part of the music communication.
      Your theory is cortical and excellent. I would add that it doesn’t encompass the body and subcortical communication that music is. Feeling itself is cortical and can be put into symbolic code. Music differs from the rest of the arts which do operate according to your theory. And most importantly, feeling is cortically organized and is communicable directly through symbolic auditory codes. Within that code, minor does convey sad or angry feeling directly. Major scales do convey the feeling of heroic. Unresolved notes convey suspended feeling. The blues scale embodies the pain of aloneness and loss. And in addition, music is body and subcortical as well as cortical. Rhythm is body. Drumming is body. People move together from the drums and become one dance organism, like a hive of bees operate as one organism. Music is more than the scale. It is a representation of subcortical feeling and body. Feeling – crying, laughing, fear, sex are body and subcortical. Music is a refined presentation through symbolic codes of feeling and body states.
      I don’t agree with the Indian theories of Raga, where they believe that each scale is attuned to vibrate a literal vertebrae which opens up a morning raga or an evening raga. They believe in a vibrational literalness. Your theory is more appropriate for the range of raga scales. But the feeling cortical and body and feeling subcortical also are communicated directly.


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