Natalia Copeland

Epiphany in a form of musical imagery – a new psychological concept 

Key words: Musical creativity, epiphany, musical composition, cognition in creative process, InMI.


The idea generation is a pivotal subject in creativity studies, as well as musical composition studies. It is related to such psychological phenomena as: epiphany, illumination, InMI, conscious elaboration.

According to Wallas’ theory, illumination is one of the four stages of creative process. The term describes an epiphany concerning a solution to a given artistic problem faced by the creator. It is preceded by incubation – the stage in which the individual does not consciously reflect upon the problem (Wallas, 1926).

Julius Bahle (1947) distinguished two types of composers: working and inspiration type. The latter is less regular in composing and relies mostly on sudden outbursts of ideas. In this case, epiphany occurs also when composer does not deliberately search for the idea.

Involuntary musical imagery (InMI) is a phenomenon that gained attention in music psychology. It describes the internal music that appears without conscious control (Williamson et al., 2012) and is often equated to “earworms”.


The current paper proposes to consider musical epiphany as a cognitive phenomenon based on disinhibition of previously existing patterns. The paper presents the conceptualization and provides arguments for inclusion of the construct in composition studies, cognitive sciences and creativity psychology. It also introduces the notion of potential innovativeness of involuntary musical imagery – the internal tunes can consist of new melodies.

Problem statement:

Epiphany can be defined as an episode of sudden appearance of innovative ideas. If the ideas are art-related, the epiphany can be potentially incorporated in an art work. Its content can be workable in composing. From this perspective epiphany is unexpected: not preceded by directed reflection. It is the moment when ideas, that are a result of unconscious processing, enter the awareness and become consciously available.

Importantly, it differs from insight (Aha! moment) and is incompatible with problem-solving approach because it does not have to be an answer to a pre-defined problem.

Composers’ involuntary musical imagery can go beyond “earworms” – it can consist of new melodies and can occur as a single event (does not need to be repetitive). Composers can make use of the internal music in their creative processes by transcribing it into external realm (musical notation, recording).


Musical epiphany as a psychological concept can be introduced into creative process tracking. It could be particularly useful in real-time studies. It would allow to analyze the circumstances and results of creative outbursts, providing knowledge crucial to understanding composers’ creativity.



Bahle, J. (1947). Der musikalische Schaffensprozess: Psychologie der schöpferischen Erlebnis-und Antriebsformen.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Problem solving. Encyclopedia of creativity, 2, 437-447.

Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought.

Williamson, V. J., Jilka, S. R., Fry, J., Finkel, S., Müllensiefen, D., & Stewart, L. (2012). How do “earworms” start? Classifying the everyday circumstances of Involuntary Musical Imagery. Psychology of Music, 40(3), 259-284.


University of Warsaw, Poland

Is a graduate of masters in psychology (University of Warsaw, Poland) and cultural studies (KU Leuven, Belgium). She is currently doing her PhD as a part of Nature-Culture interdisciplinary program on Artes Liberales faculty (University of Warsaw). Her research subject is “Study of composers’ involuntary musical imagery – illumination as a cognitive phenomenon”. Her research interests are creativity psychology, cognitive musicology and film music studies.