Dr. Charles Limb's groundbreaking research on the brain during improvisation will be presented on stage at this year's TED Active Conference.

In his TEDTalk (watch now), Charles Limb reviews his groundbreaking work studying creativity and the brain — by putting musicians inside an fMRI and watching as they improvise. For the past decade, he’s been working with jazz piano players, revealing astonishing new data about the way the brain creates art. And his research has recently branched into a new genre: hip-hop. He spoke to the TED Blog about his new study, and about his day job …

How did you decide to study hip-hop?

It kind of happened very naturally. I’m not somebody who’s listened to a ton of hip-hop; I was much more of a jazz guy, and I listened to a lot of classical music. But I work in Baltimore, grew up around New York and went to medical school in New Haven, and I always did feel that hip-hop is very much a street music, from the people, a grassroots kind of music exactly the same as jazz once as, a kind of iconoclastic music. In some ways, rap has replaced or assumed a lot of the same sociological functions to urban youth. There are a lot of interesting musical parallels between hip-hop and jazz: the rhythmic emphasis, the improvisation, the fact that the musicians are often formally untrained yet they’re incredible. The more I started thinking about jazz and the brain, rap seemed like a natural transition.

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