OntmetaCO. Test page
- 1 Discussion
- 2 Is All Music Making Improvisational?
- 3 Differences Between Improvisations and Non-Improvised (Pre-Composed) Compositions
- 4 Aesthetic Differences Between Non-Improvised Compositions and Improvisations
- 5 Do Aesthetic Evaluations Standards Differ for Improvisations and Non-Improvised Compositions
- 6 Refutation of Myths and Falsehoods About Improvisation
- 7 Assessment of the Inherent Inferiority of Improvisations Over Pre-Composed Music
- 8 Are jazz improvisations an inferior art form?
- 9 Critique of Lukas Foss's arguments that improvisations are not compositions
- 10 Are All Successful Jazz Improvisations Compositions?
- 11 How long does a composition have to be to have been composed?
- 12 Could there be a one note composition?
- 13 NOTES
Is All Music Making Improvisational?
If a musical passage has been previously completely prepared as to what is going to be played, then it is not truly an improvisation. By its very nature a jazz improvisation is a spontaneous and specifically non-rehearsed creative act of music production.These points help to answer and address the question of whether all music making is improvisational. This claim has been made by Bruce Ellis Benson The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
In his book, Benson challenges the binary schema of “composing” versus “performing” music and argues that “this distinction does not describe very well what musicians actually do.”
Benson argues that musical works are improvisational both during composition and performance.
“that the process by which a work comes into existence is best described as improvisatory at its very core, not merely the act of composing but also the acts of performing and listening . . . [I]mprovisation is not something that precedes composition . . . or stands outside and opposed to composition. Instead, I think that the activities that we call ‘composing’ and ‘performing’ are essentially improvisatory in nature.”(bold and bold italic not in original)
“By his account, all the so-called musical works that, for [Lydia] Goehr and others, define the Werktreue ideal (Beethoven’s symphony no. 5 as the perennial paradigmatic exemplar), and are thus thought to be fundamentally opposed to the flexibility and performance-situatedness of improvisation, are only so in theory. In reality all music, scored or not, is partial, unfinished, and fundamentally constituted by improvisation.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Benson requires that “all music making is fundamentally improvisational” (his italics). This thesis is partially correct, but more wrong than right.
- While it is true that no musical score CAN precisely dictate in every possible respect what a performer of that music must do to produce the music from that score, it does not follow that all music making is improvisational in the sense used by jazz musicians.
- In his article “On Musical Improvisation,” Philip Alperson explains that “jazz musicians use the term ‘improvisation’ to refer specifically to the improvised choruses rather than to the whole musical work from first note(s) to last,” contrary to Benson’s view that all music is improvised.”
- What Benson seems not fully to appreciate is the need to make a distinction between an interpretation of a pre-composed score that contains improvisational aspects, such as how much vibrato to use when playing a note, versus a concurrently composed while performed musical production, a genuine full-blown improvisation.
- Many musical performers are incapable of improvising in the jazz sense as has been frequently discovered amongst classical musicians.
- A typical contemporary classical musician’s skill sets do not normally include improvisational skills since they are not expected to be able to make spontaneous compositions. The classical musician must be technically proficient at satisfactorily reproducing a musical composition to the conductor’s liking. If anything, a conductor would disallow any classical musician from improvising since then he or she would not be playing the music as intended by the composer.
World class saxophonist (especially on the soprano) Steve Lacy points out one of the flaws in equating composition with improvisation when he remarks:
“In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds.” (bold not in original)
A non-improvised composition can be created piecemeal, over extended periods of time, revised with parts rejected and never performed. This is impossible for an impromptu jazz improvisation because, unlike compositions, they cannot be altered after their initial establishment. Editing of immediately past live music cannot be done; it is impossible—a live improvised past musical phrase cannot be altered, deleted, or taken back. It is what it is and eternally remains as such.
Even this last point is not entirely true. An improvising musician who notices a mistake or a flaw while performing can use various techniques to either cover the flaw or mistake or make it seem like it is not one. Again, complex questions arise if recordings of improvised solos are taken into account concerning compositional credits, for example.
Suppose that Robert is a musician who can choose between four of his own improvised solos recorded at different times over the same song. Call them i1, i2, i3, and i4. He likes the opening of i2 better than i1 so Eddie Kramer the recording engineer seamlessly swaps out the opening of i1 and inserts in i2's beginning. Call this new piece i2i1. In the middle of i2i1 there is another section that the musician prefers be replaced by a similar section found in i4. The engineer now seamlessly inserts that snippet from i4 into i2i1 producing i2i4i1. Still not entirely satisfied about how the solo finishes the musician requests the engineer seamlessly integrate the ending of i3 into i2i4i1 thereby producing i2i4i1i3. Call now the sections seamlessly knit together in this work snippets with labels for each the i2, i4, i1, i3 snippets.
➢ Whose improvised solo is i2i4i1i3?
There are a finite number of possible answers to this question. These authors of improvised solo (AIS) answers include:
- (AIS1) No one composed i2i4i1i3.
- (AIS2) Robert, the performing musician, composed i2i4i1i3.
- (AIS3) Eddie Kramer, the recording engineer, composed i2i4i1i3.
- (AIS4) Robert and Eddie Kramer composed i2i4i1i3.
- (AIS1) No one composed i2i4i1i3.
Timbral Sonicists believe (AIS1) is true for all music. See objections to sonicism's positions at Ontmusic3. What is a song? Implications for sonicism.
Reasons to believe Robert composed or did not compose i2i4i1i3
Most people's intuitions are going to incline towards the musician Robert who intentionally caused the four improvised solos in the first place. Everyone, except Platonistic sonicists, agrees that Robert produced each of the four original improvised solos, i1 through i4. This is not in question. What remains in question is whether the musical work, i2i4i1i3, is an improvised solo of Robert's. Each of the four components were Robert's and each of them is an improvised solo, but none of any of them i1 through i4 is identical to i2i4i1i3 because there are large sections that differ between them.
Arguably, i2i4i1i3 is a new composition since it has its own identity and it is not identical to any of the other improvised solos i1 through i4.
➢ Is i2i4i1i3 itself as a new composition and improvised solo, or an improvised musical work?
- Yes, it is an improvised musical work. Each of the four individual components were improvised by Robert so therefore Robert composed each of them and should get credited with having produced this amalgamated musical work since he and only he is who made these four musical components that constitute the entire composition which is the i2i4i3i1 song.
- No, it is not an improvised musical work because it has been planned out from the start by the engineer. The engineer has previously planned to first use i2, then i4, then i1 and lastly i3 to compose a non-improvised work out of the four improvised segments or components. There is no spontaneous and unrehearsed situation since the engineer planned on amalgamating these four components into a song.
For example, when Charlie “Bird” Parker and Miles Davis were having a discussion as to whether one can play ANY note during an improvisation, Miles claimed that one could not play a D natural in the fifth bar of a Bb blues. Later, during an improvised solo by Lester Young that Parker and Davis were observing, Young played this inappropriate note. After Bird suggested to Miles that Miles’s position had been refuted because Young had played the impossible note, Miles replied that he still had had to bend or smear it to remain in the context of a blues performance.
➢ Another time when saxophonist David Sanborn said to Miles that he was embarrassed by what he perceived as a gaffe during one of his own improvisations and wished that he had played something differently, Miles, somewhat surprisingly, responded with his gruff voice with the advice that “You should have played it twice.”
➢ Presumably this advice suggests that what one considers a flaw may not be perceived as a “mistake” if one repeats an inadvertent passage a second time thereby making it look like it was done intentionally the first time as well.
➢ In these ways it is paradoxically even possible to approximate editing oneself during a spontaneous improvisational musical performance.
Differences Between Improvisations and Non-Improvised (Pre-Composed) Compositions
Distinctive Features of Non-Improvised Compositions and Composers
- In the next couple of sections the word “composition” is shorthand for non-improvised and pre-composed compositions, meaning a piece of music that was not composed concurrent with its performance by the same individual.
- A composition can be developed over extended periods of time and at different times.
- A composition can have parts changed or even deleted.
- A composition can be edited prior to performance.
- The intentions of the composer are typically not identical to those of a performer. A composer may write a piece of music with the intention that it never be performed. A composer need not concern himself or herself with whether an audience approves or disapproves or has any reaction whatsoever to a composition.
- A composer can write music as an exercise or for purely theoretical reasons. A possible example would be Ravel’s “Bolero” if it were not intended to be performed.
- A composer by definition is someone who “writes and arranges music.” A composer need not in any sense be a performer of music. Hence compositions are musical products that do not require any actual sound production to exist.
“What are the differences between composing and improvising, if any? Following are some of the suggested differences between composing and improvising: the availability of revising and editing, making/creating while performing, temporal dimensions of planning (how long and when), the content of planning, temporal dimensions of artistic decisions, and intentions about prescription and performance means. I shall consider these and others, and attempt to construct an adequate action theory of artistic composition and improvisation.
First, it is illuminating to understand whether and why the distinction between composing and improvising is important. Whenever concepts pick out ways in which artistic products are generated, our interests are varied. There are pedagogical, evaluative, metaphysical, and practical concerns. The practical and pedagogical interests concern how to continue artistic practices, how to teach, develop, and foster them for the future. This assumes that we want them to continue. This desire may or may not be motivated by evaluative concerns. The desire may result from low level interests in aesthetic play and variety and novelty. The evaluative concerns derive from the ancient period, when with the rise of writing and notation systems generative practices changed, and concomitantly their products. In the case of music, it makes a significant difference whether a useful notation system was at hand or not. Furthermore, the limits of human memory play a role especially before writing and notational technology. There are, of course, other reasons accounting for certain changes to artistic practices, such as purely aesthetic interests, but we cannot deny that technology, broadly understood, has had (and will have) a significant influence on artistic practices. Knowing whether an agent composed or improvised, or did something involving both, tells us things about the agent, the product (a composition or improvisation), the limitations and constraints under which the agent operated—all of which may be relevant to aesthetic understanding and appreciation, which in turn is necessary for proper evaluation. The fact that these distinctions were fuzzy or concealed in the past is not a reason for thinking that the distinction between composing and improvising is not important. Rather, fuzziness and concealment reveal reasons why the distinction has significance and merit in many cases, both to the audience and to artists.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
“Unless one defines a priori composition as the action-type that gives rise to works, then the fact that composition and improvisation are two different species will not hinder the conclusion that both of these generative processes can give rise to works of art (in fact, it may help establish that conclusion). In other words, this in and of itself will not show that works are necessarily produced or not produced through these action- types. Whatever the account of the action-types, an independent argument must be given to show whether works are produced through composing and improvising. In addition, there may be instantiations of the action-type “composing” that do not give rise to works, and there may be instantiations of the action-type “improvising” that do not give rise to works. For example, suppose a composer created a score with instructions that were impossible to follow. The action-type case may be counted as an instance of composing without the generation of a WOA. In the case of improvising, suppose a person “doodles” on her piano for two minutes. Such an improvising was instantiated, but it may be implausible to categorize the doodling as a WOA. Cases like these and others, however, will be classified according to the account of WOAs (or musical works) one adopts. Furthermore, I can discern no a priori reason for thinking that composition (action-type) must be defined as the generative process that gives rise to works, either exclusively or not. Additionally, it would be question begging to just assert that improvisation (action-type) is the (or an) artistic practice that does not generate WOAs. Most importantly, even if one did define composition in this way, it would still not entail that there was no other way (an action-type) for works to be generated.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Distinctive Features of Improvisations and Improvisers
Virtually nothing that has been said of compositions and composers is true for improvisations and improvisers.
- An improvisation is typically performed for the listening enjoyment of an audience and not for any theoretical reasons; rather for practical reasons.
- An improviser by definition is someone who “produces and makes music through sound production.” A composition is inert; an improvisation is active and dynamic.
- An improviser must be a performer of music and hence requires the existence of actual sound events to exist during the performance.
- Improvisations can only exist in real time and must be developed during a musical performance.
- At no time after the sound production event has occurred can any change or deletion or editing take place relative to the production of this part of the musical event. Of course, this ignores recording technology manipulations and substitutions.
- An improviser’s intentions will usually include an interest in producing a quality musical experience that can be enjoyed by a listening audience. This, of course, will often also be a composer’s intention as well, although as pointed out it need not be.
- No currently improvising musician could reasonably have the intention that the performance not occur.
- Even more telling, perhaps, is the differences in risk taking between a composer and an improviser. Because a composer can take his or her time and consider many possibilities for the production of a successful musical work a composer has a relatively lesser risk in the production of a musical score than an improviser.
- Composers can test out sound combinations and reject or incorporate a myriad number of possible musical events during the production of the composition. While an improviser during an improvisation can decide immediately beforehand not to play a particular way (this is the equivalent of the composer's rejection) he or she cannot reject something after it has been played. A composer can reject something after it has been played by rewriting his or her composition. Improvisers cannot test out different combinations and then reject them while actually performing these particular musical ideas at the moment. Anything played has not been ‘rejected’ and cannot be rejected because it already exists in the musical performance.
- An improviser must necessarily take enormous risks with a much greater chance of musical failure precisely because of the spontaneity involved during improvisations. Snap judgments are required. One cannot consider fifty different possibilities and then choose the best one.
- It is true that an improviser can make choices between musical passages that have been previously tested out in a past improvisation or prior performance or practice sessions.
Conclusions About Improvisations and Improvisers versus Non-Improvised Compositions and Their Composers
- Conclusion 1.
- Conclusion 2.
- Conclusion 3.
- Conclusion 4.
- Conclusion 5.
Aesthetic Differences Between Non-Improvised Compositions and Improvisations
These distinctive differences between improvisations and compositions entail a difference in aesthetic judgments regarding the evaluation of these two musical components.
- Because of the increased difficulty of needing to spontaneously compose during an improvisation, an improviser must be given extra credit for what results over that of the unhurried composer.
- The improviser can also be more easily forgiven any musical mistakes over that of the composer for similar reasons.
Steve Larson points out the immense amount of preparation required by any major jazz improviser.
“Thus, I feel confident in describing Evans's apparently "instantaneous" improvisations as the result of years of preparation. In fact, I suspect that any given mature Bill Evans recorded improvisation took him a great deal more time to produce than most twentieth-century compositions of comparable length cost their creators. The real work of producing such improvisations happens not on stage or in the recording studio, but in the practice room.” (bold not in original)
Do Aesthetic Evaluations Standards Differ for Improvisations and Non-Improvised Compositions
Ted Gioia on Jazz Improvisation's Imperfections
Ted Gioia, in The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture (1988), argues that improvisation requires a different set of aesthetic principles to evaluate the musical performance precisely because jazz music has the disadvantage of having to produce spontaneous improvisations rather than contemplative compositions developed over extended periods of time.
- In Gioia’s Chapter 3 “The Imperfect Art” he holds that ““If improvisation is the essential element in jazz, it may also be the most problematic.”
Gioia continues on the next page by asking several probing questions:
- “Yet does not jazz, by its reliance on spur-of-the-moment improvisation, relegate itself to being a second-rate, imperfect art form?”
- “Does not its almost total lack of structure make even the best jazz inferior to mediocre composed music?”
- ““Why, we ask, should the spontaneous prattle of an improvising musician interest us as much as the meticulously crafted masterpieces of the great composers?”
Gioia concludes this paragraph with what he takes to be an extremely telling point:
- “The dilemma jazz faces was stated with clarity by composer Elliott Carter, when he suggested that the musical score serves the essential role of preventing ‘the performer from playing what he already knows and leads him to explore other new ideas and techniques.’”
Notice that the very wording quoted above written by Gioia is intended to prejudice the reader with a negative appraisal of jazz improvisations. Gioia tries to put down improvisations by pointing out they are 'spur of the moment' implying some sort of inferiority because they are characterized as being rushed since they cannot have been planned. Yet this need not make them inferior in any way and depends on the context. Rafael Nadal's forehand down the line on the tennis court could be successfully described as having been 'spur of the moment' yet still a brilliant shot against his opponent nevertheless. Knowledgeable listeners marveled at Lennie Tristano's ability to extricate himself out of complicated solo improvisations and re-enter back into the structured tune the band was performing precisely because he accomplished it on the spur of the moment by fast musical thinking.
Do all jazz improvisations have a total lack of structure? Surely this is highly hyperbolic, not to mention false because most jazz improvisations are highly structured. And again revealing his overly hyperbolic rhetorical language when characterizing jazz improvisations as 'spontaneous prattle' ("prattle" is defined "to speak incessantly and in a childish manner; to babble") while contrasting this with the 'meticulously crafted masterpieces of great composers' where meticulous means "very precise, conscientious attention to details." What his argument ignores is that great improviser's improvisations can themselves be meticulously crafted containing plenty of musical structure that does not prattle!
Objections to Improvisation's Imperfections
One can object to both Gioia and Carter because quality improvisers strive to achieve precisely the goals which composer Carter claims is served by the pre-composed musical score when he states that a musical score prevents “the performer from playing what he already knows and leads him to explore other new ideas and techniques.” Exploring new ideas and techniques and not playing what one already knows is precisely what quality improvisers strive regularly to achieve. They explore musical avenues that they have not anticipated and test things out often with surprising outcomes.
Paul Rinzler's Response to Gioia's Complaints
“Improvised music has been evaluated sometimes as being the aesthetic inferior of composed music. The processes of improvisation and composition differ, and these differences create what have traditionally been considered disadvantages for improvisation.”
A primary motivation for regarding composition as a superior musical form than spontaneous improvisational composition concerns the formalist’s claims of the superior structural complexity of a pre-composed as compared to a spontaneously composed (improvised) piece of music. Rinzler claims that “structural complexity is a primary value in Western aesthetics. It is perhaps the single most important aspect of a Western composed music on which claims of a composer’s genius or a composition’s worth are founded, and it is the basis for much musical analysis.”
Rinzler explains the nature of structural complexity quoting Leonard Meyer and Judith Becker:
“Music must be evaluated syntactically . . . Western art music is structurally more complex than other music; its architectonic hierarchies, involved tonal relationships, and elaborated harmonic syntax not only defy complete analysis but have no parallel in the world.”
“Among Western musicologists, . . . musical complexity correlates with levels of hierarchical structures, to the number of musical ‘lines’ occurring simultaneously, to the relationships between similar musical elements found in different sections of the composition, and in some sense to the length of the composition.” (bold not in original)
Paul Rinzler’s response to the alleged advantages of composition over improvisation is sophisticated. He first points out the alleged advantage that composition has over improvisation.“It appears unlikely that improvisation can compare favorably with composition in terms of structural complexity, given the different situations in which the improviser and the composer are found. The primary difference is that the composer does not work in real time; that is, the compositional process does not occur when the performance of the composition does.” (bold not in original)
Rinzler next analyzes four specific advantages that composition enjoys following the work of Philip Alperson. These four advantages are:
1. Creating an Overall Plan: “The broad sweep of a composition can be carefully constructed. Each unit and subunit can be fit into place and coordinated within the entire hierarchy, allowing the composer to create a high degree of structural complexity.” (bold not in original)
Whereas a composer can review the entire blueprint of a composition, Rinzler notes, the improviser can only use the retrospective method of looking backward at what has just been improvised and shape the next phase of music relating to what has gone before.
2. Revision and Editing: “Because composition occurs before a performance, changes in any aspect of the composition may be made prior to its performance. Revision and editing confer a great advantage to composition.”
Whereas a composer can consider and then reject vast numbers of possible solutions until she finds one she settles upon, the improvising musician can only use the one actually performed.
3. Notation: “Notation is a powerful tool for conceiving, organizing, and documenting elements of a composition. For an improviser, notation might function as a mnemonic device that refers to some predetermined musical elements, but it does not function as a compositional tool as it does for the composer.”
4. Responsibility of Composition: Rinzler argues that because of the advantages of composition, the composer is “expected to produce a complete, final, and perfect . . . product (in principle). Complexity and (near-)perfection are reasonable standards because the conditions of composition enable the achievement of those standards.”
Whereas any perceived mistake can be expunged by a composer, an actual mistake made by an improviser during a performance is irreconcilable.
Rinzler defends an aesthetics for jazz that focuses not exclusively on the musical work produced, the product, which is the actual sounds made during the musical performance, or the music represented by the musical score, but rather he wishes to switch the emphasis on to the artist and the performance product in a dialectic.
“The key to an aesthetics of jazz does concern the artist as a person as well as the musical object itself, in a dialectic.” (bold not in original)
By switching from only considering the formalist considerations of structural complexity as the primary thing of aesthetic value found in a musical performance, Rinzler opens up a new area for aesthetic appreciation and investigation of the value of a concurrently performed composition created by a performing improviser.
In an interview with Miles Kington, jazz critic of the London Times, Fall 1967, André Previn (1929-2019), German–born U.S. classical musician explained a basic difference between classical music and jazz:
“The basic difference between classical music and jazz is that in the former the music is always greater than its performance—Beethoven's Violin Concerto, for instance, is always greater than its performance—whereas the way jazz is performed is always more important than what is being performed.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Surely, if Previn’s insight is correct this has profound implications for the critique of improvised jazz music over that which is a performance of a composed piece.
Russell Lynes (1910-1991), U.S. critic, and editor of Harper's Bazaar magazine for over two decades, stresses the significance of performance in jazz precisely because it was improvised.
“Improvisation was the blood and bone of jazz, and in the classic, New Orleans jazz it was collective improvisation in which each performer, seemingly going his own melodic way, played in harmony, dissonance, or counterpoint with the improvisations of his colleagues. Quite unlike ragtime, which was written down in many cases by its composers and could be repeated note for note . . . by others, jazz was a performer's not a composer's art.” (bold not in original)
Of course, it is a composer's art in that the improvisations are being composed on the spot. It is not a composer's art in the sense of taking an unlimited amount of time to produce a musical product.
Surely, if Previn’s and Lynes’s insights are correct this has profound implications for the critique, assessment, and evaluations of improvised jazz music over that which is a performance of a composed piece.
Aesthetic Standard Differences Between Pre-Composed Compositions versus Improvisational Compositions
➢ So what are the implications for assessing an improvised jazz performance versus assessing the straightforward performance of a composed piece of music?
One of the basic differences is that one can complain if a performer fails to play what is in the musical score, but this complaint is non-existent for an improvised piece.
- This makes for a fundamental difference in approaching basic assessments of the success of composed versus improvised musical performances.
- When assessing a successful jazz performance one will use the considerations discussed in Factors of Good Improvisations.
Furthermore, improvisation is a difficult skill to master and requires enormous amounts of effort on the student to end up producing consistently successful improvisations. Hal Crook, author of numerous textbooks teaching improvisational skills, advice, and knowledge remarks about the challenges involved when learning to and actually performing improvisations.
“Every musician who has seriously tried to improvise knows that (for an instrumentalist) the art of improvising is no less than the ultimate musical challenge, demanding one's total musicianship in every moment of the act.
Today the subject is so vast, so potentially complex, involving a myriad of topics, aspects, techniques and materials that even highly motivated students with comprehensive musical backgrounds have difficulty deciding where to begin or how to advance their study. The question often arises: "How will I ever learn to do all this?!"” (italics authors)
Refutation of Myths and Falsehoods About Improvisation
There are myths concerning both improvisations as a process and as a musical product. There are related myths regarding musicians who improvise. All of these myths regarding the nature of improvisations and improvising musicians have been recognized as such amongst contemporary knowledgeable commentators of the jazz scene. However, to explain why each of these improvisation myths are false or mistaken requires that one first delineate them prior to their refutation as is done next.
MYTH 1: Improvisers are primitive and unstudied musicians who naturally produce improvisations not based on memory.
- ➢ From the very beginning of jazz many musicians were highly accomplished and well trained in European musical conventions.
- ➢ Improvisers often know from memory what kinds of musical responses are appropriate for a given context and have studied them in great detail. Charlie Parker learned how to play the same tune in all twelve keys, etc.
- ➢ Many accomplished improvisers often use individually distinctive musical phrases and sounds typical of one of his or her own ways of playing. Individual musicians voices are often discernible in how that person makes his way through an improvisation. Charlie Parker has musical licks distinctive of how he plays, as does Stan Getz and Miles Davis, etc.
MYTH 2: The improvisations are not particularly governed by rules or conventions.
- ➢ Bill Evans in “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans” was at great pains to stress the importance of conforming one’s improvisation to the original melody. He believed that there were numerous constraints that one should follow to produce a quality improvisation.
- ➢ There are many musical rules that musicians often obey during an improvisation. For example, limiting one’s solo to a specific number of bars of music, or staying in the same musical key, or keeping in the same harmonic range, and using the appropriate notes for a pentatonic versus a diatonic musical scale.
- ➢ Playing in the appropriate style (Dixieland, modal, Latin, a blues, etc.).
- ➢ Playing in a conventional manner so that your fellow musicians know where you and the music are during a performance.
- ➢ Each of these is a rule governed activity.
MYTH 3: Improvisation cannot be taught.
- ➢ As jazz music schools from Maine to California know, improvisation is offered as a class from beginning to advanced improvisations.
- ➢ One can teach oneself how to improve one’s own improvisations and this is a kind of teaching. One learns from one’s own experiences and reflections upon what worked and did not work during one’s improvisations. Precisely because of this, more experienced improvisers can depart hard won knowledge on to their students. Therefore, improvisational techniques and approaches and actual licks and riffs, etc. can all be taught to students.
- ➢ Come to think about it, is there anything that cannot be taught? The burden of proof here is on the naysayers, so what is their argument?
MYTH 4: Free jazz improvisations not based on chord changes are easier to play than straight ahead jazz improvisations because they don't need to conform to any particular set of musical rules or conventions.
- ➢ On the contrary, improvising from chord changes supplies the musician with an obvious jumping off point. There is a place to start and a place to which one can return or dip back into.
- ➢ During a free improvisation, on the other hand, it remains a constant challenge how one will accomplish saying something musically interesting given that there is no starting point.
Assessment of the Inherent Inferiority of Improvisations Over Pre-Composed Music
Stepping back for a moment, let us consider the claim of the relative complexity of pre-composed music versus that of concurrently improvised music. Ted Gioia, at least in his role as devil's advocate for the claim that improvised music is inherently inferior to pre-composed music, claims that because improvised music is "spur-of-the-moment," "almost totally lacking in structure" and consists in "spontaneous prattle" resulting in an inherent inferiority to pre-composed music.
Let us assess each of these claims in turn.
Are all improvisations spur of the moment?
Is this bad? What are the consequences?
Of course it depends upon what is meant by "spur of the moment." The definition of "spur of the moment" is an activity done on impulse and without planning in advance. One obvious use of the phrase is in the case of making a sudden and surprising decision such as taking the afternoon off from work and going to a movie instead. For this action to count as "spur of the moment," it cannot be that you do this every Friday. If it is a repeated and therefore planned action, then it does not qualify as being spur of the moment. Hence spur of the moment actions do not involve pre-planning and must be spontaneous.
➢ But why must it be spontaneous and what does this imply?
What is the meaning of "spontaneous"? 
The term "spontaneous" has several different meanings and uses. It is an adjective meaning happening or arising without an apparent external cause. Call this the undetermined cause type of being spontaneous. The other use concerns activity that had not already been set down and was not planned or written in advance. Call this unplanned spontaneity.
Notice that the undetermined cause type may have actually been planned in advance. Imagine this scenario where intuitions support both properties in the imagined case. All that needs to be done is to have a scenario where an event is planned and written down ahead of time but appears, and to some extent is, arises without a shall we say 'full' external causation.
Here is such a scenario.
The promoter (Colonel Sanders) of a famous cellist named Pablo Costello wishes this concert to be enthusiastically enjoyed by all audience members. To encourage a successful concert where audience members have a wonderful and memorable experience, Colonel Sanders passes out to each audience member previously written and planned instructions stating that he would encourage the audience during Costello's performance to supply positive energy from the crowd in the form of applause and shouting at appropriate points during the show. He tells the audience in written and previously planned instructions that they will know the right time at which to have a large applause reaction, but that this could happen at any time after the first one minute of the performance. Unfortunately for Colonel Sanders, this is an audience that dislikes being told what to do or how to behave so many members in the audience resolve not to follow these instructions.
PABLO COSTELLO'S PERFORMANCE and the AUDIENCE'S REACTION:
Unfortunately for tonight's performance, Pablo begins with a piece that is not to the audiences liking or taste so there is tepid applause during it. Costello, sensing he has lost the crowd, jumps out of order and does his most popular tune next instead of as an encore. In the middle of this piece he does some amazing technical tricks on the cello that produces stunning and striking musical effects. The audience, so disappointed by the opening number, now feels relieved that they had made the right decision to attend the concert and recalling the instructions as well of the promoter breaks out in vigorous applause, yelling and cheering, jumping up onto their seats, and giving plenty of accolades to Costello with a cry of "More, more!"
➢ Was the audience's applause spontaneous (undetermined cause type) yet planned?
Reasons to think it was planned was the instructions given to audience members just prior to the show. Reasons to believe there was no apparent external cause was that the point in Costello's performance when the audience had such a strong reaction has no apparent external cause that fully accounts for why the audience reacted at precisely that time and in the way in which they did react.
Back to the topic at hand. Are jazz improvisations spur of the moment? Are they accomplished by being activities that are “done on impulse and without planning in advance?”
Well, they are done as concurrently composed and performed musical activities where the entire improvisational composition had not been entirely planned out in advance, as pre-composed compositions have been. However, it is a mistake to think that no prior planning in advance has been done to achieve improvisational success. All successful improvisers have spent considerable, not to say enormous, amounts of time working on his or her musical skills. There is no reason not to accept that all of this prior activity can count as planning in advance of the actual production of a successful improvisation.
➢ Are jazz improvisations spontaneous in either the apparently undetermined cause type or as unplanned spontaneity?
It has just been argued above that improvisations should not be thought of as entirely unplanned so they are not of the unplanned type of spontaneity. Additionally, neither are improvisations of an apparent undetermined cause type because we know precisely what the apparent cause is of the improvisation, namely, the musician herself or himself is the actual (not just apparent) cause.
- Jazz improvisations are not entirely unplanned, as full blown spur of the moment activities are, therefore improvisations are not spur of the moment activities.
- If jazz improvisations are not spur of the moment activities, then this is not a feature that Ted Gioia, or anyone else, can use to argue for the inferiority of improvisations versus pre-composed compositions.
- Neither are jazz improvisations entirely spontaneous activities in the sense that they are not “coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency;without effort or premeditation; natural and unconstrained.” In fact, successful jazz improvisations do not result from natural impulses because these skills are not innate and must be learned and practiced. No musician naturally with no training or knowledge whatsoever instantly is a master improviser, not even the young Indonesian pianist phenom, Joey Alexander.
“Does not its almost total lack of structure make even the best jazz inferior to mediocre composed music?” 
It appears Gunther Schuller may well believe that improvisations typically lack coordinated structure when he claims that “The average improvisation is mostly a stringing together of unrelated ideas.”
Challenging this picture is Gunther himself when he promotes Sonny Rollins's non-average improvisations as exhibiting thematic structures. Other scholars such as J. Tyler Friedman, associate curator of contemporary art for the Museum of Wisconsin Art at Marquette University, support that effective improvisations succeed in conveying what he terms 'narrative flavor' and that good improvisers often have a beginning, middle, and end structuring their improvisations.
“I use the term “narrative ﬂavor” to describe a listener’s perception of the form of a narrative in a piece of music. On the one hand the term indicates that the musical exemplars I have in mind do not in fact convey narratives proper. On the other hand, “ﬂavor” suggests a pre-reﬂective conspicuousness, which I believe that the phenomenon in question enjoys. Just as explaining the ﬂavor of, say, cinnamon is a surprisingly difﬁcult task, so too is narrative ﬂavor difﬁcult to describe. Nevertheless, experiencing the narrative ﬂavor of an exemplary improvisation no more requires that one be a connoisseur of jazz than experiencing the ﬂavor of cinnamon requires one to be a gourmand. And the difﬁculty of putting narrative ﬂavor into words does not prevent us from offering general descriptions of how music seems to tell a story that help us get a better grasp on narrative ﬂavor. Trumpeter Max Kaminsky provides a good point of departure: “The art of improvising lies in the sense of structure, in the ability to build a new story out of the bricks and mortar of the original song. Most so-called or would-be jazzmen can play a thousand ad-lib notes and not say a thing; not rearrange or conceive of them so that they tell a new story, with a beginning, middle, and end.” The experience of narrative ﬂavor, then, seems to be related to the perception of coherence in an improvisation – the impression that every element serves an indispensable role in the aesthetic success of a work. Such an impression is relatively rare since, as musician and theorist Gunther Schuller points out, “The average improvisation is mostly a stringing together of unrelated ideas.” Kaminsky’s reference to a beginning, middle, and end suggests that narrative ﬂavor involves an improvisation possessing a purposive structure not unlike that belonging to successful literary narratives. However, narrative ﬂavor involves more than a purposive structure. With reference to contemporary philosophical work on narrative, I will argue that in addition to a purposive structure there is also an affective element required for music to give the impression of telling a story. (bold not in original)
Are most jazz improvisations structureless? This claim just doesn't seem even in the right ballpark. Do typical jazz improvisations have a "total lack of structure"? Absolutely untrue. The improvisation based off of the chord changes of a particular tune have as much structure as the original tune's chord changes.
Do free jazz improvisations have musical structure? Yes, in fact they can have more structure than structured pieces of music if by structure is meant an architectonic matrix of interacting pieces.
First let us investigate what is meant by structure in general and then afterwards what likely is meant by musical structure.
What is structure?
Dictionary.com reports that the word "structure" can be used as a noun or as a verb.
As a verb it is used with an object, as in structured or structuring (something), as in to give a structure, organization, or arrangement to; construct or build a systematic framework for: [e.g.,] to structure a curriculum so well that a novice teacher can use it.
As a noun it has these definitions of general relevance:
- Mode of building, construction, or organization; arrangement of parts, elements, or constituents: a pyramidal structure.
- Something built or constructed, as a building, bridge, or dam.
- A complex system considered from the point of view of the whole rather than of any single part: the structure of modern science.
- Anything composed of parts arranged together in some way; an organization.
- The relationship or organization of the component parts of a work of art or literature: the structure of a poem.
- The pattern of organization of a language as a whole or of arrangements of linguistic units, as phonemes, morphemes or tagmemes, within larger units.
“Are all jazz improvisations "spontaneous prattle"? 
Are jazz improvisations an inferior art form? 
From another perspective, U.S. music critic, Henry Pleasants (1910-2000), complains in his "A Performer's Art," that:
“The jazz musician is denied the dignity accorded the composer because not everything he composes is first written down, or, necessarily, written down afterward, or, once written down, considered immutable. And he is denied the dignity accorded the Serious-music performer because the latter is an "interpreter" of presumably great music. The musician, in other words, who makes up his music as he goes along, or makes up a good deal of it, or who rarely plays the same music twice in the same way, is, we are given to understand, inferior to the musician who makes no music of his own. For all his undisputed virtuosity and inventive fancy, the jazz musician cannot, we are led to believe, be granted equality with the Serious musician who can read and play the notes written down for him by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner a century or so ago.” (bold not in original)
Critique of Lukas Foss's arguments that improvisations are not compositions
Lukas Foss (1922-2009) does not believe that improvisations should count as compositions. He doesn't merely claim that this is so, but strives to persuade all evaluators to concur with his positions based on his reasons given below in green font leading to his argument's conclusions. Persuasion, by itself, however, can be insufficient to prove anyone's position since the persuaded may have become convinced on an irrational, or perhaps better, an arational basis, i.e., inconsistent with reason, where one's best reasoning is understood as being based on decisions using western logical principles concerning sound arguments. Sound arguments are deductively valid arguments with all true premises. Reasons to believe that considerations and situations might be persuasive, yet people are persuaded on an arational basis, has been established in experiments conducted by Israeli behavioral psychologists/economists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.
Kahneman and Tversky established that human behavior, even behavior founded upon so-called 'common sense', can be prone to numerous irrational or arational influences leading to skewed judgments. These researchers have experimental trial data showing that merely by being exposed to a larger number or a smaller number highly influences speculative estimations of numerical answers to arbitrary next questions within naive subject groups of humans. That is, if subject group are exposed to a LARGE number they make bigger numerical estimates on average to any next question. If before asking for an estimation subjects see a rigged roulette wheel that always either lands on the number 874 or the number 6, regardless of the next speculative question, the subjects exposed to the bigger number made bigger numerical guesses compared to those who had seen the small number. When asked questions like "How many species are there of both giraffes and rhinoceros in total?" The Large number group averaged 13, say, while the Small number group guesses an average of 8. This is a made up example of the phenomenon known as anchoring.
Even odder from the rational point of view are a large group of phenomena collectively known as confirmation biases. Wikipedia: confirmation bias describes a confirmation bias as being a cognitive bias (i.e., not based on reason) that produces “tendenc[ies] to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one's prior personal beliefs or hypotheses. . . . People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply-entrenched beliefs.” These include such phenomena, described at Wikipedia: confirmation bias as attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), or the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlations.
“Improvisation is not composition. It relates to composition much in the way a sketch relates to the finished work of art. Interesting observation by Foss here so let's explore it in detail. The first thing that may come to mind is this. Mere sketches can sometimes qualify as 'finished' works of art. On this model, even on Foss's own assumptions, were a sketch ever to count as a finished/completed art work, it follows that some improvisations that satisfy the same criteria are themselves 'finished' and therefore are compositions (just produced spontaneously). This would make a particular improvisation when it counts as a completed sketched art work equivalent to a 'completed' composition. Second, on what presumptions does Foss's argument presume? Clearly, Foss has in mind is that a sketch (often) is preparatory to a future larger project. Sketches help by fixing and testing various parameters of such things as the orientation of objects in relationship to each other. Encyclopedia Brittanica explains that functional sketches can aid an artist by “reminding an artist of some scene or event she has seen and wishes to record in a more permanent form, or making a record of the atmospheric effects and general impressions found in a landscape, or (sometimes) portraying the look on a face, or the turn of a head, or other physical characteristics of a prospective sitter.” It appears that Foss presumes in his argument that sketches are (always) less than completed artworks. They are presumed in this argument to be unfinished, or incomplete, or under-developed, or preludes to a future more polished and finished art work and this is proven by his next sentence. But is not the very element of incompleteness, of the merely intimated, the momentarily beheld, the barely experienced what attracts us in the sketch? It is work in progress. But, third, is every sketch a work in progress? The Encyclopedia Brittanica explains how sketches have evolved from preparatory components of later art works into art works that can stand on their own and admired as finished or completed.
“Sketch, traditionally a rough drawing or painting in which an artist notes down his preliminary ideas for a work that will eventually be realized with greater precision and detail. The term also applies to brief creative pieces that per se may have artistic merit. In a traditional sketch, the emphasis usually is laid on the general design and composition of the work and on overall feeling. Such a sketch is often intended for the artist’s own guidance; but sometimes, in the context of a bottega (studio-shop) type of production, in which an artist would employ many assistants, sketches were made by the master for works to be completed by others . . . .
From the 18th century, however, sketch came to take on a new meaning, which has almost come to supersede the traditional one. The emphasis on freshness and spontaneity, which was an integral part of the Romantic attitude, the fact that there was a great increase in the number of amateur artists, and the growing appreciation of nature, accompanied by an expansion of facilities for travel, transformed the sketch into something regarded as an end in itself—a slight and unpretentious picture, in some simple medium (pen and ink, pencil, wash, or watercolour) recording a visual experience. This led to a revaluation of sketches that had originally been created for other works. Contemporary taste, for instance, tends to value John Constable’s sketches as highly as his finished works.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
No, so the argument is begging the question against improvisations counting as compositions when it makes this denial.
Let's look at the other side of Foss's coin here and ask, "Are all compositions themselves completed?" Imagine that Beethoven is working on a piece of music. He is two-thirds through its production. It is a work in three movements. He has completed to his own satisfaction the first two movements, but only has some rough ideas for what the final third movement will be. Now we ask whether the first two movements that are only parts of an unfinished three piece work should count as a composition? Beethoven is clearly responsible for their existence. He himself wrote down on a musical score paper everything an orchestra would need to perform the first two movements.
Consider dictionary.com's definition of a composition and let us see whether these first two movements by themselves (from an incompleted work involving a yet to be developed third and final movement) qualifies and meets the definition given for being a composition. As it turns out they do because the criteria for something counting as a composition are quite relaxed and easy to satisfy. Dictionary.com describes a composition as "the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole; the resulting state or product; manner of being composed; a piece of music; the art of composing music." Beethoven's first two movements meet all of these definitions/conceptions. He combined musical elements to produce the first two movements, each movement is a completed whole, each movement constitutes a product, each was composed/produced by their composer, namely Beethoven, and each is a piece of music (or score for performing such).Wikipedia: "Musical composition" makes it easy for anything written by a musical composer to qualify as a composition, even if only partial or incomplete:
“Musical composition can mean an original piece of music, the structure of a musical piece, or the process of making a new piece of music. A composition is a piece of music (the word "composition" means "putting together", so a composition is something where music notes have been put together). When a composer writes a piece of music he or she is making a musical composition.” (bold not in original)
Clearly, a composer need not even literally write anything down to have achieved the construction of a composition. Beethoven once he became profoundly deaf still composed successful musical compositions by using his previous knowledge of sounds, instruments, and being able to imagine/hear what a particular written down composition will sound like to a hearing audience.
Foss finds significant differences between the practices and techniques used when contrasting the processes involved when comparing improvising with non-spontaneous composing. He is correct that there are significant differences in the processes. Differences in processes, however, does not preclude the outcomes or products of these different processes from being identical in terms of final product output. To see this more clearly, consider the possibly different processes in making (more or less) identical Bowie knives. One bladesmith forges his metal only with a power hammer, which is mechanical, while a second bladesmith does all of his or her work only using a hand hammer, which requires muscle power from the smith. The two resulting knives can be the same type and quality of knife. Foss might argue hand hammered Bowie knives are more work, harder to achieve, take longer to produce than the equivalent knife made using a power hammer. Does the differences in the two processes force a difference in the ultimate products being different in type if both are fully functional and identical in shape Bowie knives? Hardly. Thus, just because improvisation takes place in real time during its performance whereas non-spontaneous compositions can occur over a much longer period of time nevertheless fails to rule out that each could produce a musical work of an equivalent type, i.e. both are musical compositions just made using different processes.
Perhaps Foss thinks that there remains an unreconcilable property difference between an improvisation versus a hand written composed piece of music. He might think that hand written compositions can be repeatedly performed while an improvisation can only ever occur once and so is non-repeatable, while hand written compositions are easily repeatable. In fact, Foss does think this as revealed in the next quoted sentence in green font.
And so is improvisation as we practise it; it is a spontaneous, sketch-like and—incidentally—un-repeatable expression, full of surprises for the listener and for the performer as well. Is the unrepeatability of an improvisation crucial to the argument of whether or not improvisations are compositions? Why so? Repeatability and unrepeatability would be a way, if true, to distinguish compositions from improvisations. The argument would be no improvisations are repeatable while all compositions are the opposite. i.e., repeatable. It would follow from this that no improvisations ever count as compositions because each has one of these opposing properties. Can improvisations be repeated? For arguments that challenge the impossibility of improvisational repeatability see Ontimpr9. How two substantial jazz improvisations could be identical and therefore to this extent repeatable.
Are all compositions repeatable? Not necessarily. Suppose that one lives in a universe that collapses to a big crunch at its end then ceases to exist. Were a performance of a composition to start now in such a big crunch universe (it is a very long performance, many orders of magnitude longer than John Cage's 639 year performance of his organ work "As Slow As Possible") and then continues on until the big crunch occurs, it could never be repeated in that universe since the universe has ceased to exist, therefore this would be a composition that cannot be repeated, in fact.The writers at Encyclopaedia Brittanica are sympathetic with Foss's distinction between composition versus improvisation regarding the issue of repeatability. Here is what they say:
“Musical composition, the act of conceiving a piece of music, the art of creating music, or the finished product. These meanings are interdependent and presume a tradition in which musical works exist as repeatable entities. In this sense, composition is necessarily distinct from improvisation.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
What is the reason for believing that composition is "necessarily distinct" from improvisation given here by Encyclopedia Brittanica? Obviously, the author's are presuming the truth of the assumption that all compositions are repeatable, while no improvisations are themselves repeatable. Should this assumption be false, as has been argued above both ways, improvisations could be repeated and a composition is possible that could not be repeated (or at least wasn't repeated), then this argument has been defeated. Notice, furthermore, the seeming requirement that a composition must be (1) a musical work that (2) can be repeated. Both of these requirements can be met by a recorded improvisation. Musicians have memorized famous improvised solos from listening to a recording of that improvisation. If a musician were then to repeat what has been memorized, then, while not an improvisation any longer, the two sonic events would be sufficiently the same where a repeatability requirement is concerned. Therefore, this way to distinguish non-spontaneous compositions from improvisations fails.
Next, consider whether surprisability can be used to distinguish between non-spontaneous compositions and spontaneous improvisations. Foss certainly is correct that improvisations can surprise both performers and listeners alike. Can non-spontaneous compositions ever cause surprise in the listeners? Certainly they can as in Joseph Hayden's "Surprise Symphony" where in the second movement the orchestra fires off a huge and unanticipated fortissimo G-chord at the end of an otherwise quiet dynamic piano opening then immediately returning to its original quiet dynamic as if nothing has happened. Hayden himself denied that he was trying to wake up the audience, but he was trying “to surprise the audience with something new.” Just as importantly, composers sometimes note that the music started to, so to speak, write itself, because the sounds involved 'naturally' tended to go in a particular direction. This might well have taken the composer back a step, or surprised her, when she no longer need to be thinking about what to do next at this stage of the composition. As noted at Wikipedia: "Surprise" “Surprise represents the difference between expectations and reality, the gap between our assumptions and expectations about worldly events and the way that those events actually turn out.” If a composer anticipates one thing and it turns out other than those expectations, then this can possibly cause a surprise response in that composer during the writing of a composition. Hence, surprises are not capable of distinguishing between improvisations and non-spontaneous compositions. Surprises may occur in either one.
Foss now returns to his theme of the unfinished aspects that he perceives occurs during acts of musical improvisation. It is a music in which even the choices of pitch and duration are part of the act of performance. Of course, pitch and duration choices equally well occur during the performance of non-spontaneously composed music too. See Carol S. Gould and Kenneth Keaton in their article, "The Essential Role of Improvisation in Musical Performance" where they argue that improvisation occurs to a degree even during the performance of a non-spontaneous composition. Foss now continues. It is performers' music. Viewed in terms of a composed piece, improvised music remains 'on the way', a mere hint, raw-material—‘exposed' rather than 'composed'. And so it should be. That is the virtue and that is the limitation of improvisation.
Foss here reveals a possible prejudice against the artfulness or quality of improvisation perhaps comparable to a position that has been supported by Ted Gioia in his book, The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture (1988). For an assessment and critique of the possible inferiority of improvisations over non-spontaneous compositions see "Ontimpr10. Improvisation and Composition--Ted Gioia on Improvisation's Imperfections".
Recently there have been efforts at blurring the dividing line between composition and improvisation. At this point in his argument this comment again begs the question and presumes that there is a difference between improvisation and non-spontaneous composition. As has been pointed out, the processes are certainly different so that there are differences that exist between the two. For an extensive list of these differences see "Ontimpr10. Improvisation and Composition: Differences Between Improvisations and Non-Improvised (Pre-Composed) Compositions". In this next section, Foss explains how his performances often seek to contrast the two. I would rather emphasize it. In our concerts I like to present the composed and the improvised side by side (but not mixed). The juxtaposition is revealing: composition can be said to be successful to the extent that it gives forth a sense of inevitability, of fate. There is no reason why improvisations can at the very least sometimes produce this same effect of 'inevitability.' In improvisation, even the most successful, it is not fate, but chance, hazard that reigns, but a hazard kept within boundaries by the performer's will [emphasis author's], a chance intelligently and alertly exploited; for talented, practised musicians learn to mould chance as if it were clay. Seldom do intentionally driven improvisations rely in any way on chance. It is true that a soloist may alter her improvisation because of input from other musicians or even from environmental conditions. Charlie Parker was infamous for inserting quotes from other songs indicative of what just happened in the room, such as a pretty woman has just entered the venue, etc. 
I confess that chance per se [emphasis author's] holds little interest for me (for the musician in me). Karlheinz Stockhausen challenged me on this once: 'Do not underrate chance.' he said, 'for chance is human and therefore it is also interesting.' Certainly it is human, but bad music, likewise, is human and perhaps of interest to some (psychologists, philosophers?), but scarcely to the composer. Not everything interesting is of interest to the composer. Chance, in my opinion, becomes musically interesting only when it rubs against the will, when musical selectivity enters into the picture correcting [emphasis author's] the chance formations.
Chance holds little interest Foss claims here. Why is he so disinterested? Because chance, Foss believes, is out of the control of any person. It is defined as “something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause.” This is why Foss has little interest in it as a musician who wishes to direct the musical situation with effective and good musical judgments. As Stanley Cavell (1926-2018) points out in his essay, "Music Discomposed," chance as used in music construction basically removes the composer from affecting a composition, when he writes “When a contemporary theorist appeals to chance, he obviously is not appealing to its associations with taking and seizing chances, with risks and opportunities. The point of the appeal is not to call attention to the act of composition, but to deny that act; to deny that what he offers is composed.” Still, can chance play a role during a musician's improvisations? Well, it certainly can to some extent as when Charlie Parker quotes a snippet from the song "Happy Days Are Here Again" (click for lyrics) when his drink gets delivered.
In order to make improvised chamber music feasible, I have endeavoured to evolve a system and technique in such a manner as to make quick control and correction of the chance element possible, To expound the elaborate basis for our improvisation technique here would be an imposition on the reader. Suffice it to clarify some fundamental principles.
In our improvised chamber music, system and chance act as partners: a musical vision (texture and formal development) is conceived and recorded on paper; not, however, in notes, rhythms. etc, but in the form of directions to the players, symbols, letters, numbers. One can call this a score, but it is actually a mere blueprint, a type of instruction sheet, an order. Instructions, free choices for the performer are nothing new. They are accepted procedure for all 'aleatory' music. But to me, the 'performer-freedoms' usually made available in this music seem naive and far too easily executed (they need be so, of necessity: our virtuosi, though masters of their instrument, hardly possess the knowledge for inventive manipulation within the music itself). It has been my experience that musicians find no cause for rejoicing in these morsels of free choice, distributed high-handedly, as to a child: 'Here, you may do this or that (because it matters little one way or the other): It would appear to be more far-sighted to subject the musician to a methodical study from which he emerges trained and practised to function creatively. A performer wishes to be more than a mere instrument in the hand of chance. If one desires a gratifying task for him, one must let him have a measure of power. He must be helped to develop initiative on his instrument. A talented instrumentalist, even though lacking the gift of composition, can achieve a certain 'inventive technique' on his instrument (This we know from jazz.) Indeed. improvisation is opening up a whole new field of study here, one which has its challenges and of course its limitations.
While some of Foss's remarks merely describe some of his band's musical practices others are open to comment. If we understand him correctly when he writes improvising musicians “hardly possess the knowledge for inventive manipulation within the music itself” this is surely false for the legions of masterful jazz improvisers, such as Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin and their many compatriots.
My three partners have worked with me toward this goal. Our improvisations are the result of collective planning and experimentation. Though we take advantage of the element of chance, we do not expect chance to throw interesting music into our laps, as it were. Nor do we expect our order, our pre-planning, to make all chance formations fall into place. System and chance are the basis, but the players hold the reins—no passive carrying out of instructions here. The player listens critically to his fellow players and to himself. His task is to find the correct note, phrasing, dynamics and register on his instrument at a moment's notice. Usually we record not only our concerts but also our rehearsals. Then we listen to ourselves and decide where certain results are worthy of remembrance and where we ought to proceed in a different manner. Often we alter the basic plan, the blueprint.
The emphasis in this paragraph stresses the importance of input from the musician's themselves both before an improvisation with its (“collective planning and experimentation”), listening closely during an improvisation (“listening critically to fellow players and himself”) by finding at a "moment's notice" the "correct notes, phrasing, and dynamics," but even afterwards following an improvisation using critical analysis that sometimes resulted in "altering the basic plan” for how best to perform a song. Certainly, these are all good things about effective improvisations that begin to make it seem not so inferior to non-spontaneous compositions after all.
One may ask: How do the successive improvisations on one and the same structure differ? Well, between the second and third attempt there may not be too much dissimilarity (excepting detail) but between the second and thirty-second version a new piece will have emerged, and one in which the first attempt may barely be recognizable. In short the piece finds its Gestalt through the process of improvisation. If after many attempts we begin to lapse into clichés and memory begins to displace all invention, then we lose interest in the piece, and it is, as it were, dropped from the repertory.
One can readily understand that musicians steeped in this type of music-making are—as far as the mastery of our complex new music is concerned —in a superior position. The performer thus trained can become again what he has not been for a long, long time: the confidant [emphasis authors] of the composer.
To the long conflict between composer and performer—partners who, ideally speaking, should complement one another in a relationship built on mutual need (and who are separated today by the widest gulf)—electronic music offers one solution: divorces. Ensemble improvisation offers another: it brings musical invention together with performance. (In fact, the two become an indistinguishable process. Good therapy for a distinct marital problem.) We propose this not in lieu of composition but in addition to it, as a serious, spirited form of music-making which, among other things, may exert a fertilizing influence on composition.
It is a music in which even the choices of pitch and duration are part of the act of performance. It is performers' music. Viewed in terms of a composed piece, improvised music remains 'on the way', a mere hint, raw-material--'exposed' rather than 'composed'. And so it should be. That is the virtue and that is the limitation of improvisation. (bold not in original)
Aili Bresnahan in her paper, "Improvisation in the Arts," supplies references of philosophers both sympathetic as well as antagonistic to the view that musical improvisations qualify as compositions done concurrently with their performances.
“The idea that there are limitations on spontaneity in artistic improvisation has led some philosophers to speculate that improvisation is just a fast kind of composition (see Hamilton 2000 and Alperson 1984 119). Against this idea is Stanley Cavell, who held that improvisations are not compositions because their ephemeral nature means that they cannot be evaluated and interpreted as such by critics (Hamilton 2000 127, citing Cavell 200-01). Hamilton further notes that sometimes a non-improvised jazz performance can feel improvised due to the performer’s skill at interpreting a composition (Hamilton 2000 169). (bold not in original)
Are All Successful Jazz Improvisations Compositions?
To the question, "Should musical improvisations ever count/qualify as compositions?" theorists have been of two minds with their binary answers of "Yes" or "No." Initially many philosophers believed the answer was "No" and only more recently has their been more of a turn to answering the question with a "Yes." Some theorists argue that there is not an all or nothing answer. For them, doodling improvisations don't count as compositions while well thought out one's are clearly compositions for them.
Proponents that Improvisations are NOT compositions
On the "No" side we find these philosophers:
♦️ Nicholas Wolterstorff (b. 1932) in Works and Worlds of Art.
♦️ Stephen Davies in Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration.
♦️ Paul Thom from For an Audience: A Philosophy of the Performing Arts, The Arts and Their Philosophies Series, (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1993), 62.
♦️ Andy Hamilton in “The Aesthetics of Imperfection,” Philosophy 65 (July 1990): 323-340 and “The Art of Improvisation and the Aesthetics of Imperfection,” The British Journal of Aesthetics, 40, no. 1 (January 2000): 168-185.
Proponents that improvisations ARE compositions
The following are all jazz theorists who appear supportive of the claim that effective jazz improvisations qualify as genuine compositions accomplished while performing them.
🔷 Prolific jazz textbook author Mark Gridley comes clearly down on accepting that improvisations can count as compositions when he comments on solo improvisations being simultaneously performed while being composed.
“To be a competent jazz improviser, a musician must understand theory and harmony, have a background of intensive ear training, and be highly proficient on his performing instrument. Furthermore, his mastery of compositional tools is appraised every time he performs because jazz improvisation consists of simultaneously composing and performing.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
🔷 Peter Kivy (to some extent) in Authenticities.
🔷 Philip Alperson, who believes that improvisations can be works of art (WOAs) in “On Musical Improvisation,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 43, no. 1 (Fall 1984): 17-29.
Challenge 1 (CH 1) Improvisations are performances (i.e., necessarily), and performances are not, and cannot be, artworks. This is the view of Paul Thom among others.
(CH 2) Improvisations are not strictly compositions (in other words there are differences between the two action-types), and only compositions are (or give rise to) MWs. Only the action-type of composing gives rise to MWs. There are other tough cases for this argument: are orchestrations, arrangements, and transcriptions separate MWs?
(CH 3) Recorded improvisations are documentations, and documentations are not WOAs or MWs. On some metaphysical views, all WOAs are documentations of the actions or action-types that created them.
I shall examine each of these views, and in so doing some aspects of my positive theory that improvisations are WOAs will be adumbrated.
Certainly, improvisations are performances, as established in 2.1. I think (CH 1) is false. Consider Premise 1. No WOAs are events (event-tokens).
“Performance art is a performance presented to an audience within a fine art context, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated, spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. It can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body or presence in a medium, and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any type of venue or setting and for any length of time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. . . . The ideal had been an ephemeral and authentic experience for performer and audience in an event that could not be repeated, captured or purchased.”
Stephen Davies, Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration (New York: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 2001); Andrew Kania, "All Play and No Work: The Ontology of Jazz," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 69, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 391-403; Andy Hamilton, “The Aesthetics of Imperfection,” Philosophy 65 (July 1990): 323-340; Andy Hamilton, “The Art of Improvisation and the Aesthetics of Imperfection,” The British Journal of Aesthetics 40, no. 1 (January 2000): 168-185; Paul Thom, For An Audience.
The "Yes" side that improvisations can qualify as compositions includes Philip Alperson.
“Nicholas Wolterstorff has argued for a strong and categorical distinction between composing and improvising. This distinction results from his formidable account of what constitutes a musical work. Wolterstorff says, A corollary to this understanding of the nature of composing is that to improvise is not to compose. That corollary is clearly correct. Suppose that someone has improvised on the organ. And suppose that he then goes home and scores a work of such a sort that his improvisation, judged by the requirements for correctness specified in the score, is at all points correct. In spite of that, the composer did not compose his work in performing his improvisation. In all likelihood, he did not even compose it while improvising. For in all likelihood, he did not, during his improvising, finish selecting that particular set of requirements for correctness of occurrence to be found in the score. Suppose, for example, that at a certain point in his improvisation he introduced a bit of rubato, with full consciousness of doing so. In so doing he has not yet decided whether to select rubato at that point as required for correctness of occurrence. (bold not in original)
“In the preface Larson writes: "I chose to study Schenkerian analysis of modern jazz because of my interest in the theories of Heinrich Schenker and because of my interest in jazz" (p. x). With this declaration, Larson sets a rather lofty—if not unattainable—objective, given the overall conceptual framework of Schenkerian theory. While Schenker was largely sympathetic toward improvisation (as his writings on C. P. E. Bach indicate) and did not consider written composition to be completely divorced from the act of improvisation, his theoretical construct was designed for a very specific musical repertory. And, as with any theory—be it scientific, literary or other—that has a consistent and coherent testing apparatus, Schenkerian theory is most accurate and fruitful when applied to the musical genres and styles approved by its creator himself', which consists almost entirely of masterworks by C. P. E. Bach, J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Domenico Scarlatti, Schubert, and Schumann. There is an apparent trap in trying to apply a specific theoretical model—especially one that had been so carefully designed— to a musical repertory that falls outside of the explanatory scope of that model. To put it more bluntly, employing a theory to analyze a repertory that the theory's author would have most likely detested seems risky at best and irrelevant at worse. (bold not in original)
Steve Larson (1955-2011) although a staunch supporter that many improvisations do qualify as compositions nevertheless finds that it is not universally the case so that not all jazz improvisations should always count as compositions. Here's what he concludes about improvisations and compositions:
“This study suggests a different definition of improvisation. I now understand improvisation as the real-time yet preheard—and even practiced—choice among possible paths that elaborate a preexisting structure, using familiar patterns and their familiar combinations and embellishments. And I now understand composition as putting together musical elements and storing them—whether in memory, notation, or sound-recording media—in a way that allows, but does not require, revision.
These definitions are not mutually exclusive. Music can be either, neither, or both of these things. Some improvisations are best regarded as compositions. Other improvisations are not. Some compositions are best regarded as recorded improvisations. Other compositions are not. Some aleatoric music, often cited as an example of music that is both composed and improvised, may be neither. And I suspect that all enduring music is created by improvisation, whether or not it is recorded in notation.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Larson in these two paragraphs concedes that some improvisations should count also as compositions, but not all of them should. He supplies here in these two paragraphs no reasons for believing that some improvisations are not compositions. Additionally, the definition provided for composition, namely, "the result of putting together musical elements and storing them" is consistent with all improvisations counting as compositions so long as they are stored in some way. All improvisations have certainly put together musical elements.
Is Larson correct that the definition of composition requires storage or storing? While it is true that most compositions get recorded in "memory, notation, or recording technology" is storage a necessary condition for something to count as a composition? There seems no theoretical reason why there could not exist a composition that does not get stored.
Here is an argument that a composition could exist that doesn't get stored in memory, notation, or recording technology. There are two considerations here—the first one concerns ontology versus epistemology. Beethoven is getting forgetful. Nevertheless, he continues to do the exact same mental activity he does when he does write it down using musical notation and produces what all would agree is a successful musical composition, if it were known about by having been written down. At the end of this process after having thought the entire piece through to his satisfaction he then forgets what he thought out. Did forgetful Beethoven produce or make a composition? Just because no one can know what this composition consists of is irrelevant as to whether forgetful Beethoven produced a composition from an ontological perspective.
Consider the same forgetful Beethoven scenario as before, but this time Beethoven succeeds in writing it all down on paper that then immediately all burns to ashes before anyone else ever sees it and forgetful Beethoven no longer can recall what he wrote down. If one accepts that in this second scenario where Beethoven succeeded in writing the score down and this then counts as a composition, then so should the exact same 'work composition,' musically speaking, count as a composition even if Beethoven failed to write it down. In neither case can anyone ever play the work, but if anyone could the two scenario's works of music would sound identical.
The other consideration concerns what is true given a possible world's scenario. Suppose that God is monitoring Beethoven's musical output. The day after Beethoven has forgotten his musical output of yesterday, he works on composing a musical work, but this time he writes down the score on paper. God remarks to himself that this written down notated composition is identical to the one Beethoven forgot that he thought up yesterday. If the non-remembered and non-stored musical production gets ruled out as counting as a composition, then God's remark would be mistaken. But can God make a mistake about this when the two musical productions generated by Beethoven are identical?
The second one has been written down in musical notation so counts as a composition according to the definition. If forgetful Beethoven had written down the first forgotten one he would have written down the same musical score. Hence the two musical productions would have been identical. The fact that the first one was not stored seems irrelevant to its now being identical to the second one musically. Storage is only required for knowledge and evidence, but not for existence of a composition in the first place.
Additionally, for a Platonist who believes all possible musical compositions have eternal status as abstract objects, then these existing abstract musical structures can count as a kind of 'storage' or permanence, indeed the best possible storage since they have eternal existence and cannot be destroyed (now that's storage!) and available for discovery by more than one person, or the same person could discover it twice.
Philosopher Tobyn C. DeMarco, in his CUNY dissertation (2012), "The Metaphysics of Improvisation" staunchly defends that improvisations can count as genuine compositions, or musical works, or works of art.
“"Work-hood," I submit, should be defined in such a way that it allows improvisations to be works.”
“In one common definition of improvisation, that it is “composing in the course of performance,” there is a potential implication that improvising is a species of composing. Philip Alperson seems to champion this view. But this idea is faulty because it fails to see that the way in which improvising is like composing is in the fact that both action-types share the same process but do so in a different manner, which Lee Brown calls “modal” considerations. According to my account, the issue of whether composing is a species of improvisation, or improvisation is a species of composition, is a nonsensical question because both practices share a fundamental process called selection. Selecting is where the agency is. Selecting itself is neither composition nor improvisation. Of course, selection by actual human agents always occurs in either composing or improvising, or in the continuum between them. Consequently, to posit a process called selection is a theoretical construct, an abstraction.
The distinction between composing and improvising is one of degree. There is a spectrum or continuum of actions having improvisation to one side and composition on the other. Whether any one action lies categorically to one side with a firm degree of confidence is yet to be seen. So, my view is that the composition-improvisation distinction is not hard and fast but a continuum or spectrum. Consequently, it is vague. This does not mean that the metaphysics of the work must be vague too. What I will do in the work section is build the theory based upon those actions that are on the end of the spectrum, the ones we know, or think at least more probable, are improvisations. (bold and bold italic not in original)
Nevertheless, there can be some instances where both compositions and improvisations fail to produce musical works and certainly need not become works of art. He provides two quick thought experiments where a composed musical happening fails to count as piece of work and another where an improvisation should not be thought of as having produced a composition. His text below is in green with comments by PoJ.fm inside square brackets in blue font.
“In addition, there may be instantiations of the action-type “composing” that do not give rise to works, and there may be instantiations of the action-type “improvising” that do not give rise to works. For example, suppose a composer created a score with instructions that were impossible to follow. Such a case may be counted as an instance of composing without the generation of a WOA. [DeMarco quickly footnotes that “in a clever way one may interpret the instructions for the impossible as a conceptual WOA.”] In the case of improvising, suppose a person “doodles” on her piano for two minutes. The action-type improvising was instantiated, but it may be implausible to categorize the doodling as a WOA [work of art]. [In a footnote, DeMarco quickly points out that such a doodling in the context of following the instructions for a WOA by John Cage is easily imagined).] Cases like these and others, however, will be classified according to the account of WOAs (or musical works) one adopts. Furthermore, I can discern no a priori reason for thinking that composition (action-type) must be defined as the generative process that gives rise to works, either exclusively or not. Additionally, it would be question begging to just assert that improvisation (action-type) is the (or an) artistic practice that does not generate WOAs. Most importantly, even if one did define composition in this way, it would still not entail that there was no other way (an action-type) for works to be generated.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Some theorists seem slightly confused about how to talk about the relationship between improvisations versus compositions. On one hand Craig Rusbult distinguishes between improvisations and compositions in terms of their relative permanence status. On the other hand, he repeats constantly that improvisations are compositions. First he requires compositions to be repeatable as the result of being recorded in some manner, including, written musical score, recording technology, or even human memory. After, he still maintains that improvisations are on-the-spot compositions. When he remarks that one can preserve a composition he refers to preserving an improvisation. Surely if all that is being done is recording of a musical improvisation this improvisation is already the composition that is being recorded.
“When you find something that "works well" during a musical improvisation, you may want to preserve the results of your creative discovery in a musical composition. Basically, an improvisation becomes a composition when it is repeated in the same form, so its status changes from temporary to permanent. Because improvisation is on-the-spot composition, in real time while the music is happening, all skilled improvisers are skilled composers. And some composers, continuing the tradition of J.S. Bach, are also skilled real-time improvisers, with an ability to perform well and produce pleasing music when they (and their listeners) do care about the quality of the music. You can preserve a composition—so it can be duplicated later by yourself or others—by writing it on a sheet of paper or, in modern times, by saving it in the memory of a computer or electronic instrument. Or your improvisation can be recorded on tape or digitally, and then transcribed into a musical composition. Or you can just remember what you did, and then play it (or something like it) later. (bold not in original)
What is meant by composition?
So, it is going to come down quite a bit on what one means by composition.
Dictionary.com gives these definitions for "composition" among which these are relevant to this discussion:
- The act of combining parts or elements to form a whole.
- The resulting state or product.
- Manner of being composed; structure, as in "this painting has an orderly composition."
- Makeup; constitution, as in "his moral composition was impeccable."
- A piece of music.
- The art of composing music.
None of these definitions strikes a reasonable person as inappropriate or wrong for how the word "composition" gets used in conversations. The definition that may end up being most relevant when addressing the question as to whether every musical improvisation (not counting interpretations of a musical score while sticking to and intending to play that very score as intended by a composer) can count as a composition is the fifth one stating a composition can be "a piece of music."
➢ What, though, is here meant by piece?
There are easily two standard readings that can be given and the dictionary does nothing to disambiguate between the two. The word "piece" has a part/whole ambiguity. A piece of music could conceivably refer to either just a part of a larger musical work, or it could refer to an entire musical work.
If "piece" means just a part, then since any improvised section of a jazz performance is clearly part of the larger whole, then on this conception and definition of composition all improvisations would count as compositions. To make reference easier to this conception we can label it as a part-piece.
If it means an entire piece of completed music, then not all improvisations are completed pieces of music. Call this conception of piece the whole-piece.
➢ Are there any arguments that can break this stalemate as to how the concept of improvisation relates to part-pieces or to whole-pieces?
A relevant consideration in favor of the part-piece use of composition concerns how we are prepared to talk about an improvisation within a tune that is less than the entire piece of performed music. We are certainly prepared to claim that even in this instance where the improvisation in question is a part-piece of a larger musical entity that the improviser is responsible for causing this part-piece of music to exist. Furthermore, no one should deny that the individual musician had produced this music. If someone were to deny that a musician had composed that particular improvisation we would be thunderstruck since if he or she did not compose it, then who did? Here we are using the first definition of composition, namely, "the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole" which an improviser most certainly has done in making the improvisation.
Furthermore, using all of the other definitions this improviser produced "a state or product" by making an improvisation and has produced "a structure" wherein this improvisation has a particular "makeup" and "constitution," and has "artfully" produced "music."
CONCLUSION: All of these considerations support the idea that improvisations can have been composed by the improviser who produced them resulting in a musical product that generally speaking qualifies as a composition.
Not every improvisation counts as a composition
An objection to every improvisation counting as a composition concerns the situation where an improviser has only added minor improvised embellishments while performing a previously pre-composed musical composition. It does not seem intuitively correct that the entire work with minor embellishments should count as a new composition. Rather we are inclined to describe the situation as one where it is the same composition but with minor additions and interpretations.
➢ What is an embellishment to a piece of music?
Wikipedia explains that embellishments, also often called ornamentations, are typically added notes that are not essential to the melody (or harmony) but add interest and variety to the performance of that particular tune:
“In music, ornaments or embellishments are musical flourishes—typically, added notes—that are not essential to carry the overall line of the melody (or harmony), but serve instead to decorate or "ornament" that line (or harmony), provide added interest and variety, and give the performer the opportunity to add expressiveness to a song or piece. Many ornaments are performed as "fast notes" around a central, main note.” (bold not in original)
On this line of reasoning the improviser is responsible for producing the ornaments and embellishments, but he or she is staying more or less within the confines of the original score. This counts as improvisational when these ornaments are added because they are not in the original musical score. Nevertheless, they don't affect the overall structure of the original musical work so are insufficient to count as a brand new composition.
How long does a composition have to be to have been composed?
Regarding lengths of musical works with regard to their being a completed composition, consider a composer who has not yet written any music, but who now begins to produce a piece of music that she intends to be 32 bars long. She writes the first two bars of music still with 30 more bars to go. Would anyone deny that these first two bars have been composed by this music writer? While it is true that these first two bars do not constitute a completed or finished work, it remains true that these first two bars have been composed and constitute part of a fuller composition. Could anything that is part of a composition not itself be a composition? It doesn't seem possible, does it? But for the part versus whole problem, everyone agrees that the person who wrote the first two bars did put them together and hence composed those two bars of music.
There is one way in which it is possible. Individual notes are parts of a larger composition so one note can be a part of a composition, yet the composer did not compose that specific particular note. It would seem correct that any one note could not be a composition. On the other hand, the composer who produces two bars of music has sequenced the notes in an original manner and so this would count as having been composed.
Could there be a one note composition?
While initially a single chosen note, say middle C on a piano, would not seem like it could be a composition there are several thought experiments that show it is possible.
THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #1: A composer uses only one note, but repeatedly over and over with varying rhythmic patterns. First a 3-2 clave rhythm for two bars and then a 2-3 rhythm for another two bars. Because the composer has indicated a more complex musical structure and this musical structure could be performed by a musician, then the person producing the music caused it to be in existence (or at least known about and can be performed by multiple musicians and by varying instruments). Imagine that a piano, violin, and saxophone perform the piece.
Arguably, this is a complex musical composition that uses only one note. However, the different rhythms and different mixes of rhythm, as well as the different timbres of the three musical instruments, makes this a playable piece of music and therefore counts as a composition. We want to credit the composer and give authorship of this piece of music to the person who caused it to exist and this is a composer who produced a composition using only one note.
THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #2: A musician writes down a score using only one note. The note is to be played on a violin first for one minute, then wait one second of rest, then played again for half of that time which is thirty seconds, wait one second, then half of that preceding time interval, which is 15 seconds, then one second pauses in between, then half of that repeatedly until the performer cannot keep to the time schedule. Presumably one can at least get down to a sixteenth note and perhaps a 32nd, or maybe even 64th, but unlikely to get much quicker and shorter than this. The name of the piece is "Zeno's Dichotomy # Infinity."
Does "Zeno's Dictomomy # Infinity" count as a musical composition using only one note (repeatedly)? Are there any non-question begging arguments that show it cannot have been composed and/or that it is not a composition? Hearing none, we conclude it is a musical composition using only one note (repeatedly).
THOUGHT EXPERIMENT #3: OK, you say, maybe THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS #1 & #2 show one can have musical compositions with only one repeated note, but how about only playing one note once?
➢ Could one note played only once possibly count as a musical composition?
To answer this question, first consider an assessment and evaluation of a famous musical piece discussed by Andrew Kania in his article, "Silent Music." In this article quoted below, Kania discusses a musical work by the famous artist Yves Klein. The piece in question consists of the playing of just one D major chord for 5-7 minutes followed by 44 minutes of silence. Apparently, in earlier versions of the symphony, the work consisted of one note played for twenty minutes followed by 20 minutes of silence. This sound project of Klein's was put together as a musical composition of a single tone — a work which was to sound what the monochrome was to painting.
“Yves Klein, much better known as a visual and performance artist, was also the composer of the Monotone-Silence Symphony. The final version of the work, scored for a small orchestra and choir, consists of a D-major chord, to be held for five to seven minutes, followed by forty-four minutes of silence. The history of the piece is rather obscure, particularly with respect to whether it was composed before or after Cage’s 4′33″. . . . It was orchestrated by Pierre Henry in 1957, and was certainly premièred in 1960 at Klein’s show “Anthropometries of the Blue Period.” It was also played at Klein’s wedding in 1962. (bold not in original)
➢ Does Klein's "Monotone-Silence Symphony" qualify as a musical composition?
- If it does, then simply modify this same composition by substituting one note for the D-major chord to be played once followed by the 44 minutes of rests and relative silence. Call the new work "PoJ's One Note Silent Samba."
CONCLUSION: This is then a different composition, but a composition apparently just as much as Klein's piece, and consists of only one note played once, thereby answering our question in the affirmative. One note played only once pieces of music can still qualify as a musical composition.
- Bruce Ellis Benson,The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 4.
- Melvin James Backstrom. Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation, Vol 9, No 2, (2013), Book Review of The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music, by Bruce Ellis Benson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), ISBN-10: 0521009324.
- Bruce Ellis Benson, The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 4.
- Philip Alperson, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 43, No. 1, (Autumn, 1984), fn. 28, p. 29.
- There is no published book that can be found on the internet attributing the quotation to Steve Lacy. Here are two websites that quote it from Lacy, but with no documentation—only attribution: Jazz-Quotes.com and Jazz Advice.com.
- This story is described in footnote 18 in Jeffrey Magee, “Kinds of Blue: Miles Davis, Afro‐Modernism, and the Blues,” Jazz Perspectives, Volume 1, Issue 1, (2007): 5-27. Published online: January 11, 2007. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17494060601061006.
“Considering that both musicians used the major seventh in their blues, it is interesting to note that Davis recalled arguing with Charlie Parker about whether it was possible to play a D natural in the fifth bar of a Bb blues (that is, the major seventh of the subdominant Eb). Davis said it should not be done; Parker insisted that it was acceptable. Later, Davis admitted hearing Lester Young play the note, “and it sounded good. But he bent it.” See Ian Carr, Miles Davis, p. 36.”
- DeMarco, Tobyn C., "The Metaphysics of Improvisation,", (Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 2012), 146-47. CUNY Academic Works.
- DeMarco, Tobyn C., "The Metaphysics of Improvisation,", (Ph.D. dissertation, City University of New York, 2012), 147-48. CUNY Academic Works.
- Steve Larson, "Composition versus Improvisation?," Journal of Music Theory, 49:2, published by Duke University Press on behalf of the Yale University Department of Music, (2008), 258. DOI 10.1215/00222909-008
- For an overview with critique of Gioia's themes in his book see Ted Gracyk's webpage "An Outline of Gioia's Imperfect Art."
- Ted Gioia, The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture, (Stanford Alumni Association, published in arrangement with Oxford University Press, NY, New York, 1988), 54.
- Ted Gioia, The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture, (Stanford Alumni Association, published in arrangement with Oxford University Press, NY, New York, 1988), 55-56.
- Ted Gioia, The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture, (Stanford Alumni Association, published in arrangement with Oxford University Press, NY, New York, 1988), 55.
- Paul Rinzler, The Contradictions of Jazz, (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 141.
- Paul Rinzler, The Contradictions of Jazz, (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 142.
- Paul Rinzler, The Contradictions of Jazz, (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 142-43.
- Paul Rinzler,The Contradictions of Jazz, (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 143.
- Paul Rinzler, The Contradictions of Jazz, (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 144.
- Paul Rinzler, The Contradictions of Jazz, (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 149.
- Quoted in Henry Pleasants, "A Performer's Art," Serious Music And All That Jazz, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969).
- Russell Lynes, "From Ragtime to Riches," The Lively Audience: A Social History of the Visual and Performing Arts in America, (New York: Harper & Row, 1985).
- Hal Crook, How To Improvise: An Approach to Practising Improvisation, (2010), 3.
- What is a riff? at ThoughtCo explains the differences between licks and riffs.
“In terms of the music itself, the series of notes, chord pattern or musical phrase that is repeated is called a "riff." Often, a riff is used as an introduction to a song, such as a guitar riff. Musical riffs are often found in genres like popular music, rock, and jazz. A riff is different from a lick in that, while a lick is a stock pattern or phrase, riffs may include repeated chord progressions.” (bold not in original)
- Ted Gioia, The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture, (Stanford Alumni Association, published in arrangement with Oxford University Press, NY, New York, 1988), 55.
- “Spur of the moment” is defined as meaning “occurring or done without advance preparation or deliberation; extemporaneous; unplanned.”
- Dictionary.com defines "spontaneous" five ways, but the first three are most relevant: 1. coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation; natural and unconstrained; unplanned, as in a spontaneous burst of applause.
2. (of a person) given to acting upon sudden impulses.
3. (of natural phenomena) arising from internal forces or causes; independent of external agencies; self-acting.
- Gunther Schuller,“Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation,” Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 87.
- J. Tyler Friedman,"On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation", Revista Portuguesa de Filosophia, Vol. 74 (4), (2018), 1401-1402. DOI 10.17990/RPF/2018_74_4_1399.
- Dictionary.com's definition of "structure."
- Dictionary.com's definition of "structure."
- Henry Pleasants, "A Performer's Art," Serious Music And All That Jazz, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1969).
- Lukas Foss, "Improvisation versus Composition," The Musical Times, Vol. 103, No. 1436, (Oct 1962), 684-685. Stable URL: http://www.istor.orgistable/948499.
- Encyclopedia Brittanica "sketch art," second paragraph.
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: "sketch art".
- See people's answers supportive of this viewpoint at Quora.com.
- Peter Crossley-Holland and Alexander L. Ringer, "Musical Composition," Encyclopaedia Brittanica, published September 6, 2013, accessed February 15, 2020.
- "Charlie Parker's Musical Quotes," December 9, 2011, at Peter Spitzer Music Blog: Reviews, Jazz Theory, Gig Stories, Anecdotes.
- Merriam-Webster dictionary: chance.
- Stanley Cavell, "Music Discomposed," in Must We Mean What We Say, Section VII, updated edition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), originally published 1969, 187.
- Also see these quotes found in Parker's solos at ChasinTheBird.com.
- Lukas Foss,"Improvisation versus Composition," The Musical Times, Vol. 103, No. 1436, (Oct 1962), pp. 684-685. Stable URL: http://www.istor.orgistable/948499.
- Aili Bresnahan, "Improvisation in the Arts," Philosophy Compass, 10(9), (September 2015,) 573-582. DOI: 10.1111/phc3.12251.
- Mark Gridley, "Is Jazz Popular Music?," February 12, 2019.
- Wikipedia: Performance art, first paragraph.
- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Works and Worlds of Art, Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, 1980), 70.
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- Steve Larson, "Improvisation versus Composition?," Journal of Music Theory, 49:2, (Yale University Press, 2008), 272. DOI 10.1215/00222909-008.
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- Craig Rusbult, "Musical Improvisation (using Creativity + Music Theory)."
- Wikipedia: "Ornament (music)," first paragraph.
- "Silent Music," Andrew Kania, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 68, 343-353. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6245.2010.01429.x.