July 9 Chat – The Science of Improv

mag_improvThis week Healthcare Leaders is once again exploring medicine and music. Tonight we’re going to explore the science of improv.

I’ve been interested in drumming circles since I first saw my friend @JordanEM LIVE tweeting from the @AMTAInc Conference last year. I’ll never forget the tweets and pictures I saw during an evening drumming circle.

My curiosity was further enhanced when I spent the day learning and collaborating with Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Engen @engenr Professor and Director of Music Therapy Queens University of Charlotte @QueensUniv. She shared more details about the therapeutic benefits of Music Therapy and her work concentrating within the scope of medicine. She also taught me about the therapeutic benefits of drumming circles.

As healthcare leaders, each of us is experiencing stress in our lives. Could therapeutic drumming be another option for managing our stress in a healthy manner? Both Becky and JoAnn explained there is a difference in the results that are obtained when drumming facilitators are also Music Therapist (See JoAnn’s Blog Drums in Therapy)

Christine Stevens was my first source for gathering more information about drumming and drumming circles.

Christine Stevens @ubdrumcircles MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy is an author, speaker and leads international drumming events.  http://www.ubdrumcircles.com/about_team.html

During her following @youtube clip Christine explores the healing power of drumming and drumming circles.

Beginning at 1:14 she describes how drumming benefits our mind, body, spirit and community.

Christine also made the following remarks in her video 1: 35

Drumming helps us get out of our mind.” “We lose our mind, it’s a good thing.

Many of the articles I’ve researched report a type of “zoning out” folks are able to achieve when they are involved in drumming and/or drumming circles.

As a clinician, having worked in both the field of addiction and mental health, I wanted to find out more information about how this type of “zoning out” happens within our brain. How could this experience be explained from a scientific medical model?

Charles Limb MD profile from his TED talk.


Dr. Limb is a fascinating person who has combined his knowledge, skill and abilities giving us a rich source to further explore medicine and music.

I hope you will invest time watching Dr. Limb’s TED Talk:

Charles Limb: Your brain on improv

I chose to tweet come of the lessons I learned after researching some of Dr. Limb’s work:

Lisa Music Tweet 1

Lisa Music Tweet 2

Lisa Music Tweet 3

Lisa Music Tweet 4

Lisa Music Tweet 5

Lisa Music Tweet 6

During improv, the brain deactivates the area involved in self-censoring, while cranking up the region linked with self-expression,” Limb explains. “Essentially, a musician shuts down his inhibitions and lets his inner voice shine through.


So it appears when musicians are improvising areas within the brain as shown in the fMRI view is shutting down and this helps keep you in the “here and now” state of being.

As Christine Stevens explained when you’re drumming you don’t worry about your  “to-do list.”

Topic Questions:

  • T1: @ubdrumcircles shares “Drumming helps us get out of our mind. We lose our mind, it’s a good thing.” Do you believe this is an accurate statement regarding drumming and if so why is it important?
  • T2: As healthcare leaders would you be comfortable prescribing therapeutic drumming/drumming circles? Please explain your answer.
  • T3: As funding for organizations like the National Institutes for Health is being slashed what benefit(s) do you think we gain by studying the science of human creativity?

Please join our wonderful #HCLDR community on Tuesday July 9th at 8:30pm Eastern Time (North America).

This blog and topic could not have taken place this week without help from a number of folks. Special thanks to:

Source Material:

Photo & Title Credit: Peabody Magazine Picture of Dr. Limb plays the Sax http://www.peabody.jhu.edu/past_issues/fall08/the_science_of_improv.html

One comment

  1. This is incredible! I’ve always LOVED playing in drum circles, and the “zoning out” has happened often at many of the classical concerts I’ve performed in or listened to. To see & hear some scientific & medical-related background makes it truly awesome. Thank you for sharing!

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