We study cognition behind improvisation in both artist-level and developing improvisers. For example, we asked advanced improvisers to either sing or imagine memorized or improvised music while in an MRI scanner. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) we were able to identify brain areas that were more active during improvisation (Dhakal, Norgaard, Adhikari, Yun, & Dhamala, 2019). We are currently using advanced techniques to investigate both static and dynamic connectivity throughout the entire brain during improvisation.
We also use qualitative methods to investigate how improvisers describe their own thinking. We are currently analyzing data from interviews with improvisers from different cultures including Carnatic Indian, American fiddling, Brazilian, Arab, Greek, Western Classical, and jazz. We are also analyzing data in which artist-level improvisers describe their own practicing.
Transfer in the context of learning refers to the phenomenon that learning one skill may affect abilities in another related (near-transfer) or unrelated (far-transfer) area. We are currently analyzing electroencephalography (EEG) data from developing improvisers as they complete a non-musical sequence learning task. We believe that domain general sequence learning may be related to improvisational thinking. Indeed our previous study showed a positive effect of improvisation training on aspects of executive function (Norgaard, Stambaugh, & McCranie, 2019).
The lab is collaborating with Occupational Therapy to design at-home piano therapy for stroke patients (Chen, Norgaard, Albright, Buchman, & Maitra, 2020). We are currently applying for funding to design our own therapeutic piano tablet app. We are also exploring other avenues related to music therapy which traditionally often incorporates musical improvisation.
The lab is collaborating with Fayette County who is piloting a new Community for Creativity program. We are currently analyzing data from divergent thinking tests to see if participation in the program affects students’ creative ability.
Lab members are engaged with research involving other faculty in Music Education including a current study investigating the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the student teaching experience. Another collaboration involves community outreach, an area in which GSU music education has been at the forefront through our Center for Educational Partnerships in Music.