Composition and Improvisation
When you are writing, editing, or rephrasing an e-mail, a card, or a short poem for a festive occasion, you are in fact composing. When chatting with a classmate in the hall, doodling on a notepad, or dancing at a party, you are really improvising. Hence, improvisation and composition are common behaviors in our daily lives, activities we generally enjoy doing, as can be seen in children's spontaneous vocal improvisations during play. They happily make up songs as they go along or modify existing ones in clever and funny ways. If we are comfortable and able to improvise and compose with words and art, why are many adults not able to do so with music? Many classically trained musicians cringe when asked to improvise or compose, whereas for jazz and rock musicians these skills are common.
We often associate great musicians of the past with the term creative and are reluctant to use it in reference to our own activities. A more neutral term to use would be generative to indicate that new material is being generated in the process of improvising or composing. However, we sometimes forget that composers in J. S. Bach's times were also performers and improvisers. Considering the thousands of small churches with their musicians whose names we will never know, we can estimate that the existing musical inheritance is but a minuscule fraction of what was actually produced. What has come down to us are works by composers highly esteemed in their own time, or chance discoveries of works that only later became known.
Gardner (1997; see also Sternberg, 1999) distinguishes between persons who master or perfect certain domains (e.g., Mozart), those who make new domains (e.g., Freud), those who influence others (e.g., Gandhi), and finally those who reflect on their own psyches (e.g., Virginia Woolf). The really famous ones among them are often referred to as “geniuses.” The focus of this chapter is not on the genius type of accomplishment but rather on everyday musical generativity