Musical Creativity Versus Other Forms of Creativity While creativity shares features across fields, there are aspects of musical creativity that are relatively unique to it. 1. Speed. The act of creating music, particularly in the case of improvisation, is often extremely rapid. Such “real-time composition” (as improvisation is often called) requires not only a precise command of fine-grain musculature (e.g., the fingers, mouth, and/or larynx), but also the capacity to execute those commands at sub-second levels temporal precision. 2. Temporal extension. Like film, dance, and storytelling, but unlike painting, sculpture, and architecture, music is a temporal art, requiring time to unfold. Thus for both the composer/improviser and the listener, the working memory apparatus plays a critical role in assembling a mental representation of the whole of the musical work—since the whole does not really “exist” at any single point in time except in the form of memory (ignoring “prosthetic” memory representations such as written scores and audio recordings). 3. Symbolic structure. Just as spoken words and sentences are constructed from a limited set of phonemes, so too are musical melodies constructed from a limited set of notes and durations. In this sense they are both “symbolic,” i.e., composed of “symbols” (or “elements”) which in themselves have no meaning. However, an important distinction between speech and music is that phonemes, when combined in specific ways, do produce recognizable “words” which can refer to events and objects outside of the language system itself, and thereby take on meaning. In contrast, recombinations of musical elements only rarely refer to anything outside of the realm of music. The fact that these different combinations of musical elements can still feel “meaningful” to a listener, therefore, is a peculiarity of the art of music that is worthy of paying special attention to. Bashwiner, David, and Donna Bacon. “Neuroscience: Music and the Brain.” (2020).

Musical Creativity Versus Other Forms of Creativity

While creativity shares features across fields, there are aspects of musical creativity that are relatively unique to it.

1. Speed. The act of creating music, particularly in the case of improvisation, is often extremely rapid. Such “real-time composition” (as improvisation is often called) requires not only a precise command of fine-grain musculature (e.g., the fingers, mouth, and/or larynx), but also the capacity to execute those commands at sub-second levels temporal precision.

2. Temporal extension. Like film, dance, and storytelling, but unlike painting, sculpture, and architecture, music is a temporal art, requiring time to unfold. Thus for both the composer/improviser and the listener, the working memory apparatus plays a critical role in assembling a mental representation of the whole of the musical work—since the whole does not really “exist” at any single point in time except in the form of memory (ignoring “prosthetic” memory representations such as written scores and audio recordings).

3. Symbolic structure. Just as spoken words and sentences are constructed from a limited set of phonemes, so too are musical melodies constructed from a limited set of notes and durations. In this sense they are both “symbolic,” i.e., composed of “symbols” (or “elements”) which in themselves have no meaning. However, an important distinction between speech and music is that phonemes, when combined in specific ways, do produce recognizable “words” which can refer to events and objects outside of the language system itself, and thereby take on meaning. In contrast, recombinations of musical elements only rarely refer to anything outside of the realm of music. The fact that these different combinations of musical elements can still feel “meaningful” to a listener, therefore, is a peculiarity of the art of music that is worthy of paying special attention to.

Bashwiner, David, and Donna Bacon. “Neuroscience: Music and the Brain.” (2020).

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