Improvised Drumming K-9: with Lucas Coffey

Improvised Music and the Brain

Charles Limb and your brain on improv:

Charles is a head and neck surgeon and professor with an interest on the neurology behind improvised

music. In a study about how the brain functions when playing a written piece of music vs how it

functions when playing an improvised piece, they made some interesting discoveries. Here is a small

portion on what they’ve derived from their study; “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.” They also

found, counter to their hypothesis, that non musicians and highly trained musicians had a similar brain

response. Showing that the benefits of improvised music were felt by musicians and non-musicians


Working backwards from self-censoring to letting the inner voice shine

This study works backwards from what my colleagues and I have known intuitively for a long time; when

students are judgemental and self-censoring their creativity can’t flourish and the music won’t sustain

itself. When students are excited, self-confident and empowered the possibilities for any age group is


This is one way to turn anxiety into improvised success

This study looks at the idea of “Anxious Reappraisal” which focuses on positively reframing anxiety into

excitement. Anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions, in both, the heart beats faster, cortisol

surges, and the body prepares for action. In an experiment, they took two groups of participants and

gave them three tasks, singing a song, delivering a two minute speech and doing a math test. One group

was told to say “I’m anxious” before they performed and the other was told to say “I’m excited”. “I’m

excited” group performed better on all three tasks.


A circle with no spaces is the optimal setting for hearing, seeing and interacting during group improvised

music (not so closed that people can’t get out).


K-3: Rumble & Move your body

4-6: Call & Response body percussion version

7-9: The 2 bar 2 bar call and response (just bells, blocks & Shakers) Videos and follow up to this session

can be found at


K-3 Rumble & Clap

Grade 4-6 Body Percussion



Grade 7-9 Improvised Music Game