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Musical creativity and the brain

Dr. Charles Limb

Talk details

Talk abstract

Musical creativity has existed since the earliest days of human civilization. Until recently, how the brain actually produces musical ideas was poorly understood. Recent advances in brain imaging have allowed us to address questions of artistic significance that were previously felt to be inaccessible to scientific inquiry. Of the multiple creative processes that take place in music, improvisation—the spontaneous generation of musical material—provides an inspiring tool to study these processes. This presentation will highlight several functional neuroimaging studies that have examined the process of musical improvisation in expert jazz and hip-hop musicians, as a window into the complex neural processes that give rise to creativity. This talk is supported in part by the MSU Office of Research and Innovation.


Dr. Charles Limb

Dr. Charles Limb is the Francis A. Sooy Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the chief of the division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at University of California, San Francisco (USCF). He is also the director of the Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center at UCSF and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Dr. Limb received his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his medical training at Yale University School of Medicine, followed by surgical residency in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and fellowship in neurotology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in functional neuroimaging at the National Institutes of Health. He was at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1996 to 2015, where he was associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and a faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. In 2015, he joined the UCSF Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

Dr. Limb’s expertise covers the full scope of otology and neurotology, with a focus on the treatment of hearing loss and auditory disorders. His current areas of research focus on the study of the neural basis of musical creativity, as well as the study of music perception in deaf individuals with cochlear implants. He is the past editor-in-chief of Trends in Amplification and an editorial board member of the journals Otology and Neurotology, and Music and Medicine. His work has received international attention and has been featured by National Public Radio, TED, National Geographic, the New York Times, PBS, CNN, Scientific American, the British Broadcasting Company, the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress, the Sundance Film Festival, SFJAZZ, Canadian Broadcasting Company, the Kennedy Center, National Institutes of Health, San Diego Symphony, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the American Museum of Natural History.