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Pedagogical applications of cognitive research on musical improvisation (May 2015)

Michele Biasutti* Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Education and Applied Psychology, University of Padova, Padova, Italy



A seven-level sequential model has been theorized which is independent of age, and the musical features are indicative of a specific level of improvisational skill. The educational activities depend on the students’ level of knowledge and skills.

The first level, exploration, could be considered as a pre-improvisational activity and consists of making random sounds without audiate them. At this and at the following level the teacher’s role is to teach to audiate, providing students sufficient time and a variety of sound sources for exploration.

At the second level, process-oriented improvisation, “once a student begins to audiate the patterns played in exploration, the resulting music becomes more directed and pattern dominated” and some micro-structures emerge (Kratus, 1991, p. 38).

The third level, the product-oriented improvisation, is acquired when “the student’s improvisations begin to show such characteristics as the use of a consistent tonality or meter, the use of a steady beat, the use of phrases, or references to other musical pieces or stylistic traits” (Kratus, 1996, p. 33). At this level the teacher’s role is to provide students with different constraints on their improvisation, such as to give as certain rhythm patterns or set of chord changes to improvise on.

The fourth level, fluid improvisation, starts when the performer acquires adequate technical control of the instrument so that the technical manipulation becomes automatic, and the musical ideas are more easily transformed into sound. At this level the teacher’s role is “to focus on the technical facility by providing the student opportunities to improvise in a variety of modes, keys, meters, and tempos” (Kratus, 1991, pp. 38–39).

The fifth level, structural improvisation, emerges when the performer develops an awareness of the overall structure of the improvisation and can apply structural techniques for shaping an improvisation. At this level the teacher’s role is “to introduce the student to different musical and non-musical means for connecting musical ideas and structuring an improvisation” (Kratus, 1996, p. 35). Music analysis of other solos is used for deducing models of organization and strategies for developing musical ideas are provided.

The sixth level, stylistic improvisation, emerges when the improviser has mastered one or more improvisational styles and has learned the characteristics which define the style. At this level the teacher’s role is to help students to “develop a performance repertoire of the specific rhythms, melodic patterns, harmonic characteristics and timbral qualities that serve to identify a given style” (Kratus, 1996, p. 35).

The seventh level, personal improvisation, emerges when the improviser transcends current styles to develop a new and original style. At this level the teacher’s role is to encourage the student to acquire competency in a broader range of styles, because sometimes new styles of improvisation emerge when features of diverse styles are merged.


Title  of the document: Pedagogical applications of cognitive research on musical improvisation (May 2015)

Researched and brought to the attention of the improvisers online website by Russ Grant of Llanrwst: Wales


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