Unit 20: Improvisation in Music
Improvisation is the mainstay of many types of musical activity from jazz, through samba, to dance and MC’ing via composition and world music to classical and baroque cadenzas. Improvisation is often regarded as one of music’s difficult areas and that you need virtuoso-like skills. But, just like many other techniques, the skills required to improvise can be learned and the route to improvisation can be seen as a series of steps.
Confidence comes from a number of sources – understanding the musical elements over which improvisation is to occur, the musical devices available to the performer, increasing ability on one’s own chosen instrument, exposure to a range of styles (including analysis of the work of seminal figures) and a system of practice and rehearsal. Improvisation can become a major tool within a musician’s arsenal to sustain and develop their horizons and employment base. This involves stepped learning, passing through a stage where melodic lines are ‘prepared’ before arriving at the level where improvised performances can be tackled with minimum preparation. This unit provides access to these stages on the way to confident improvisation within a range of performance opportunities.
The use of other musicians during this developmental stage provides students with valuable experience in both giving and receiving musical direction during practice sessions. Improvisation should be encouraged across as broad a range of musical styles and genres as is possible and every opportunity to step outside the norm should be encouraged.