The Improvisational Brain — better than most of these sorts of articles
Yes on the comparison of music to learning a language.
Illuminates why Montero is so good at it — it’s not a second language for her. It’s her first. She began at 7 months, before she started babbling Spanish. This is her native tongue. No wonder she can do it like she does.
Also interesting are the comments about the right temporo-parietal junction needs to be turned off to do it. I’d say that this isn’t the part of the brain that “powers up when a new stimulus occurs in our environment, stealing our attention.” I’d say that it’s the region that fires up when a potential threat is sighted. It’s the Startle Cortex. That’s why our focus zooms in on unexpected stimuli — they could be dangerous.
And this is why improvisation is so scary to classical music students, and so hard. Fear is a dominant emotion when those kids are performing. You tense up, you feel fear. Fight-or-flight and improv don’t coexist comfortably, and most classical training will put a person into fight-or-flight, or at the very least get them so tensed up that improv is out of the question. I can’t improv; that juror might throw a knife at me. Improv can only be released when you stop worrying so much about how it’s going to turn out. But when you are auditioning and for most of your training, your life has been governed by how it’s turned out to the finest millimeter … of course improv is directly at odds with that culture!