Expert musical improvisations contain sequencing biases seen in language production

Language production involves action sequencing to produce fluent speech in real time, placing a computational burden on working memory that leads to sequencing biases in production. Here we examine whether these biases extend beyond language to constrain one of the most complex human behaviors: music improvisation. Using a large corpus of improvised solos from eminent jazz musicians, we test for a production bias observed in language termed easy first—a tendency for more accessible sequences to occur at the beginning of a phrase, allowing incremental planning later in the same phrase. Our analysis shows consistent evidence of easy first in improvised music, with the beginning of musical phrases containing both more frequent and less complex sequences. The findings indicate that expert jazz musicians, known for spontaneous creative performance, reliably retrieve easily accessed melodic sequences before creating more complex sequences, suggesting that a domain-general sequencing system may support multiple forms of complex human behavior, from language production to music improvisation.



Work Title Expert musical improvisations contain sequencing biases seen in language production
Open Access
  1. Roger E. Beaty
  2. Klaus Frieler
  3. Martin Norgaard
  4. Hannah M. Merseal
  5. Maryellen C. MacDonald
  6. Daniel J. Weiss
  1. Creativity
  2. Language
  3. Music
License In Copyright (Rights Reserved)
Work Type Article
  1. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Publication Date November 29, 2021
Publisher Identifier (DOI)
Deposited July 21, 2022




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Work History

Version 1

  • Created
  • Added EasyFirstImprov_Preprint.pdf
  • Added Creator Roger E. Beaty
  • Added Creator Klaus Frieler
  • Added Creator Martin Norgaard
  • Added Creator Hannah M. Merseal
  • Added Creator Maryellen C. MacDonald
  • Added Creator Daniel J. Weiss
  • Published
  • Updated Keyword Show Changes
    • Creativity, Language, Music
  • Updated