The Science & Psychology of Music Performance: Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning

By Richard Parncutt; Gary E. McPherson | Go to book overview
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8
Improvisation
BARRY J. KENNY & MARTIN GELLRICH

Depending upon its sociocultural function, the term improvisation incorporates a multiplicity of musical meanings, behaviors, and practices. A feature common to all improvisation, however, is that the creative decisions of its performers are made within the real time restrictions of performance itself. Improvisation is therefore considered to be a performance art par excellence, requiring not only a lifetime of preparation across a broad range of musical and nonmusical formative experiences, but also a sophisticated and eclectic skills base. The chapter reflects on psychological models and their attempts to simulate improvising processes and constraints, the means by which improvisers acquire performance skills, improvisation as part of a larger, co-collaborative creative endeavor, recent studies highlighting the benefits of improvisation in a learning situation, and improvisation as a means of revitalizing Western education. Practical implications and an integrated model for learning to improvise are discussed in the final section.

When improvisers talk about their music, they often draw upon linguistic metaphors grounded in communication or rhetoric (Berliner, 1994; Monson, 1996). The culturally agreed upon constraints that make this spontaneous rhetoric possible distinguishes improvisation from most other forms of music making. Of these constraints, the most important is time itself, which determines that improvised creation must occur simultaneously with its performance (see Pressing, 1998). Such temporal constraints necessitate a series of efficient mechanisms designed to facilitate improvising in real time. From a psychological perspective, these constraints fall into two broad categories—internally (i.e., psychologically) and externally (i.e., socioculturally) generated.

Aside from the more obvious cognitive (i.e., memory) and physiological (i.e., motor skills) constraints that affect improvisation, the most important internal

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