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The Art of Becoming

At a time of unprecedented interest in improvisation across the arts,


The Art of Becoming boldly asserts that everyone can and should improvise. Drawing on emerging psychological literature as well as their own research with musicians, authors Raymond MacDonald and Graeme Wilson - both music psychologists and renowned performers in their own right - propose new ideas on what defines improvisation in music. MacDonald and Wilson explore the cognitive processes involved, the role of specialist skills or knowledge in improvised interaction, and the nature of understanding between improvisers. Their investigation lays out how we develop as improvisers, alongside health benefits derived from music participation.

The Art of Becoming is a vital resource for courses on improvisation in contemporary practice, and for those applying musical improvisation in community and therapeutic contexts, setting out a framework based on psychological findings for understanding improvisation as a universal capability and an essentially social behavior. With suggestions for approaching this practice in new ways at any level, it demonstrates how improvisation transcends musical genres and facilitates collaboration between practitioners from disciplines across the artistic spectrum. Putting forward important implications for contemporary artistic practices, pedagogy, music therapy and the psychology of social behavior, The Art of Becoming provides fresh and provocative insights for anyone interested in playing, studying, teaching, or listening to improvised music.



The Art of Becoming is a delightful and inquisitive whirl through the many layered worlds of improvisation. It offers keen insight on the limitless possibility of improvisation as a community and social practice. Highly recommended. ― Matana Roberts, Musician

Framed within a lifetime of professional practice, intellectual reflection, and rigorous research, this seminal volume explicates the mechanisms of group improvisation in ways that will inspire musicians for generations to come. ― Gary E. McPherson, Ormond Professor of Music, University of Melbourne

Like an undeveloped piece of real estate, The Art of Becoming beckons one to see the potential of improvised creativity in so many forms. The relay, mapping the pass and run encounter of improvisation, encourages and embraces the potentials of unique individuality in sonic creative expression. No wrong paths here, new arenas and happy accidents available to the keen listener and explorer. ― Renèe C. Baker, PhD, Director, Chicago Modern Orchestra Project

An in-depth, lovingly crafted book, thoroughly researched and accessible. ― Maggie Nicols, improvising vocalist

The Art of Becoming by MacDonald & Wilson presents a wide ranging discussion and analysis of the myriad ways in which improvisation is currently viewed and approached by practitioners. Academic and street wise by turns, this book makes a very brave attempt to document the all and everything of an activity that by its nature eludes systematic analysis. ― Evan Parker, improviser


About the author

Raymond MacDonald is Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation at Edinburgh University. His ongoing research focuses on issues relating to improvisation, musical communication, music health and wellbeing, music education and musical identities. He studies the processes and outcomes of music participation and music listening and has a particular interest in collaborative creativity. His work is informed by a view of improvisation as a social, collaborative and uniquely creative process that provides opportunities to develop new ways of working musically. Graeme Wilson is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He has research interests in the theory and practice of group improvisation, and in musical participation to improve wellbeing. He has published and lectured widely as a psychologist on improvisation as well as on health, identities and discourse. He leads the Concurrent network for the study of interdisciplinary improvisation, initiated through a Network Grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. A founding member of Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, he has toured internationally and his saxophone playing features on over 30 CDs including his own quartet releases.

Product details

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ OUP USA (23 Jun. 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0190840919
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0190840914
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 22.54 x 1.75 x 14.61 cm

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