Fortune 500 companies dependent on innovation to do business have learned a few essential tricks about innovation and it’s been hard wired into their culture.

Question: How can teachers create a trusted environment where students feel secure enough to take risks and ‘play’?Charles Limb, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins U. and self described music-addict was interested in discovering how musicians such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis could produce the work they did.


Miles Davis, Musician

Limb conducted an experiment in which he observed the brain activity of musicians while improvising. The process began with a surge of activity and the medial prefrontal cortex an area connected to self expression, suggesting that the subjects were engaged in a kind of ‘story telling’.

At the same time there was dramatic shift in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex DLPFC– an area associated with impulse control.  It is associated with censoring our behavior like grabbing at food, making embarrassing confessions, etc.

Before a single note was played, the brain deactivated the DLPFC.  In contrast this circuit remained active when musicians performed a memorized piece of prepared music!

Overcoming inhibitions is important for Jazz musicians but also for actors and comedians, who often rely on improvisation. Second City, which is a training ground for some of the greatest comedians in the world, utilize the method discovered by Viola Spolen, Theater educator, director, and actress recognized internationally for her “Theater Games” system of actor training. ‘The ability to not care what others think is one of the most important lessons taught at Second City.’  This same lesson has value for string players,whether it’s ones attitude towards a musical and technical challenge or string improv. It’s the same with improv on an instruments.   It takes years of dedication and years of learning to be non judgemental as one navigates the terrain of chords progressons, etc. One of the things they do at Second City are warm ups designed to get rid of the censor. It’s about getting people to the point where they can say the first thing that’s on their mind in these groups without a censor of good or bad. ‘Because that inner voice, that voice that tells you not to do something is the voice that kills improv.’

As a string teacher one of my goals is to help students be non-judgmental when practicing so their brains can fully process information so the body can discover the most natural and freeing way to play the instruments. It’s the challenge to help students do ‘difficult things’ easily.

How might some of these games and techniques be applied to teaching

  1. they become much more sensitive to the opinions of others,
  2. as a result they lose that freedom and they do start to become embarrassed.
  3. Kids who feel secure, who are in a kind of trusted environment are the ones that feel most free to play.
  4. What these things have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll try anyway because they haven’t yet learned to be afraid of being wrong.

  if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original because you won’t give your life the opportunity to let it emerge. Our budding idea, may not be perfect or even complete when it manifests, but if we can reawaken a childlike wide eyed approach to learning and discovery we are more likely to let those budding ideas and talents develop fully over time.Thomas Kelley with Jonathan Littman. “The Art of Innovation.”


Rozanna Weinberger



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