Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Kevin J. Ryan



Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Shaun Gallagher

Committee Member

Deborah Tollefsen

Committee Member

Michael Monahan

Committee Member

Garry Hagberg


Watching highly-skilled experts in the midst of improvised performance can be a source of mystification and wonder. Understanding this mystery in more detail, especially for music, is a major motivation for my dissertation. Moreover, while there are multiple avenues through which one could explore improvisation, I will primarily utilize the tools of embodied cognitive science to help better understand it in general and bebop jazz improvisation in particular. I furthermore consider possible ways to define improvisation as an essential precondition of my project.In what follows, I will not defend one type of embodied approach over all alternatives. Instead, I will consider improvisation in light of three different strands of research: shared intentions, ecological psychology (especially in regards to a theory of affordances), and predictive processing. The focus on these strands, taken both as individual research programs and a single unit of analysis, closely mirrors the essential core commitment of embodiment by providing a dynamic account that spans brain, body, and world. It likewise does so in ways that reject any neat partition of inputs, cognition, and output.For shared intentions, the main issue I will explore concerns how to best account for the dynamic moment-to-moment engagement of musicians with each other, especially in light of improvisation as an intentional activity, and covering the differences from novices to experts in bebop performance. For a theory of affordances, the focus will be on the interplay between a skilled agent and a structured environment as an essential part of musical perception and action. Finally, for predictive processing, a picture of the brain as a predictive, anticipatory engine takes center stage to explain how musicians can respond to the extremely fast time constraints that are part of musical performance. I will also consider how novelty can be accounted for on predictive processing accounts. Through considerations of these different areas, the impacts of embodied approaches will be further clarified and help us to better model, understand, and appreciate the cognition of musicians-in-action.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest