Another Avenue to Improving Intelligence: Improvisation

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 91 (July 2006)

Is there anyone reading this now who has had much experience with improvisation, who did not feel that process sharpening his or her wits?

Is there anyone reading this now who has had much experience with improvisation, whose experience would contradict the hypothesis that practice of improvisation increases one’s “I.Q.” and intelligence?

Not only from personal experience but for reasons explained in Feeding the Loop, we have some basis for proposing that practice of some forms of improvisation improves one’s level of intelligence. No formal study has been rendered of the matter, nor are we in imminent prospect of any such study’s being responsibly conducted anywhere as yet, despite what happens when you go to Google Search and type in “Brain Plasticity.” Nonetheless, I suggest that the one is probably a means to the other, and that, pending formal studies of the matter, you, Gentle Reader, can make your own informal test and draw — and hopefully report — your own conclusions.

Of course, some improvisation forms may boost “I.Q.” more than they do intelligence, as might be the case with some of the various improv word games. Some improvisation forms may boost intelligence more than “I.Q.”, as may be the case with improvisation forms in various of the arts.

Of course, some improvisation may be more productive of intelligence than other kinds. There already is considerable scientific weight of findings pertaining to relationships between academic and scientific intelligence and music.

Not least of these is the series of studies initiated some years ago by Herr Prof. Schlaug and his colleagues at Dusseldorf University, which produced the remarkable fact that the left plenum temporales, part of Broca’s Speech area in the left temporal lobe, in people with perfect musical pitch is by volume twice the physical size and however many times the development of that organ in people without perfect musical pitch.

Music — but as far into the word/conscious geography of the brain as one can get by physical location. Music — but the closest to the core of intellect that one can get with a brain organ. The left plenum temporales is also our organ for discriminating fine shadings of word meanings.

I propose, therefore, that one of the best improvisation forms for improving one’s level of intelligence is probably the one on “Improvitaping” described in Winsights, Part 13 (July 1997): In 900 Minutes, YOU Can Be Composing Very Fine Music in Your Own Genre. (This is also the form best, by reasons of feedback and brain structure, for composing good original music even though other forms currently predominate in that use.) One does not need be a musician, or skilled with a musical instrument, in order to rapidly begin getting good results with this form, musically speaking, and our impression is that this is true also for obtaining good improvements in intellect and in intellectual ability.

Another advantage of the improvisational form proposed in that article is that this may be one of the fastest and strongest ways possible for gaining proficiency and musical skill, whether for rawest of beginners or for advanced professional musicians. This is also the likeliest strong and most rapid way to develop a fine ear for the nuances of the musical instrument involved.

All of these benefits will be highly visible/audible, intelligence gains may well have already started to become noticeable, and entire new original and high-quality musical pieces in your own preferred musical idiom will already be emerging well before the 900th minute of the recommended 900 minutes’ program, if you follow its instructions.

Possible Remedy to Part of a Problem

Starting in 1981, economy moves all across the United States stripped music and the arts mostly out of public education. The intellectual performance of our children has declined ever since. Music and art societies across the country have desperately struggled, mostly to no avail, to restore the arts to public education and to restore a capacity for our cultural (and intellectual) heritage to our young. I propose —

That you try out the music improv form at “In 900 Minutes…”, examine what it does for you, and if you like the results, report them to musicians, artists and arts societies in your area as one element in a larger strategy by means of which I think it may become possible to restore the arts to public education.

— And meanwhile, you get to enjoy for yourself such benefits of this “Improvitaping” process as may pertain.