Ontimpr1*. What is improvisation
“The genius of our country [the United States] is improvisation and Jazz reflects that. It's our great contribution to the arts.”
Ken Burns (b. 1953)
“The connections between jazz musicians, classical music, and music theory are far too numerous to catalogue. Jazz musicians are vitally interested in the "how" and "why" of music. Since this is the realm of music theory, they have availed themselves of its study, in order to acquire knowledge indispensable to the improviser, regardless of genre. (Remember, that many of the most important classical masters like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Scriabin, and Ravel, to name a few, were also fantastic improvisers.) In short, a jazz musician who is not interested in the "how" and "why" of music is virtually a contradiction in terms.” (bold italic not in original)
Kurt Johann Ellenburger (b. 1962)
- 1 Discussion
- 2 Resistance to Defining Improvisation
- 3 Problems with Defining Improvisation
- 4 The Etymology of the word "Improvisation"
- 5 The Definition of Improvisation
- 5.1 What is the Definition for Improvisation in Jazz?
- 5.2 How jazz improvisations are and are not spontaneous
- 5.3 Evaluation of this definition for improvisation
- 6 The Paradox of Improvisation
- 7 Are There Different Kinds of Improvisations?
- 8 Improvisation and Surprise
- 9 The Theory of Improvisation
- 10 Improvisation and Musical Works
- 11 Technique & Improvisation
- 12 Internet Resources on the Theory of Improvisation
- 13 Internet Resources on Techniques of Improvisation
- 14 The Science of Improvisation
- 15 Improvisation Bibliography
- 16 NOTES
Resistance to Defining Improvisation
Curiously, just like with defining jazz, there is sometimes a pushback on whether jazz improvisation can be defined. It is curious because it shirks a philosopher's responsibility to clarify and motivate foundational conceptions as those for jazz or improvisation. Philosophers should strive to define these things, or the resisters may not have an appropriate appreciation for just what is required for an adequate definition to exist. To read more about what it takes to have useful definitions see Ontdef1. What is a definition?.
Problems with Defining Improvisation
It is a fact that the word "improvisation" has many, many different and distinct meanings. In his The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music, Bruce Ellis Benson establishes at least eleven different meanings and usages for "improvisation."
To complicate matters, the word "improvisation" can also refer either to the process or to the resulting product of musical improvisations. The process includes the techniques and skills needed by practicing musicians to make music while the product is the music that results from these processes.
The opening paragraph of Wikipedia: Musical improvisation provides several possible definitions for improvisation quoted in green below with PoJ.fm commentary in blue. Let's consider their adequacy in turn and see the extreme difficulty when defining improvisation in avoiding words, ideas, and concepts to which no one could object. So, before developing a definition for jazz improvisation in the following sections, first consider these five attempts (Wiki-Imrov1 through Wiki-Improv5) for defining or characterizing improvisation quoted from Wikipedia: Musical improvisation.
Wiki-Improv1: “Musical improvisation (also known as musical extemporization) is the creative activity of immediate ("in the moment") musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as a spontaneous response to other musicians. (italics not in original)
Notice first that all of the listed items, namely, performance, communication of emotions, instrumental technique, and spontaneous response, are things musicians can do when not improvising. Hence, none of the items in the list accounts for the nature of improvisation. The requirement that improvisation is "immediate musical composition" requires one to specify how immediate it is, and the definition does this by adding the phrase "in the moment." This added clarification for immediacy in the moment and concurrently as musicians perform the music is crucial for genuine full-blown improvisations because the musical production and musical composition must be simultaneous so that the spontaneous production causes the content of the performance. Suppose a musical piece had been previously composed so when the music is performed, it predated its performance, and the performer(s) are following the dictates of this prior composition. In that case, the musicians are not producing a full-blown improvisation during the performance because they are following a previously established work of music.
➢ What then must be doing all of the work to get to improvisation itself?
It must be the production of a concurrently composed music made during its performance. These are the crucial features and not the other items listed: performance, communication of emotions, instrumental technique, and spontaneous response. Even a 'spontaneous' response that uses a pre-determined score, or previously prepared sequencing of notes, could count as spontaneous without having been an improvised spontaneous sequencing of notes.
Wiki-Improv2: “Sometimes musical ideas in improvisation are spontaneous, but may be based on chord changes . . . .” (italics not in original)
To say improvisations are "sometimes" improvisations sounds wrong, doesn't it? To prove its falsity, consider what would happen if one had a non-spontaneous improvisation. What would make it non-spontaneous? Well, it wouldn't be spontaneous if it was all planned out way ahead of time, and if so, then it would not be an improvisation, where the composing and performing need to be concurrent.
This passage (Wiki-Improv2) contrasts "musical spontaneity" with "playing based on chord changes." These remarks are rather odd since there is no such contrast. Spontaneity can mean “happening or done in a natural, often sudden way, without being forced.” Such a kind of spontaneity can still occur when an improvising musician improvises relative to a tune's chord changes? Hence, this is a false dichotomy.
Furthermore, spontaneity has several associations that are false regarding how improvising musicians succeed when accomplishing their improvisations. The concept of spontaneity is associated with a lack of planning and preparation.
- “Happening naturally, without planning or encouragement.”
- “Spontaneous acts are not planned or arranged, but are done because someone suddenly wants to do them.”
However, all influential and accomplished jazz improvisers have spent many, many hours (typical expertise requires 10,000 hours of practicing an art) and usually many years, if not decades, in working on perfecting improvisational skills, so it is false that there had been no planning or preparation as the improvisation was produced 'spontaneously.'
Wiki-Improv3: “One definition is a "performance given extempore without planning or preparation." (italics not in original)
When put so baldfaced, such a claim is just false, as was pointed out above. Still, this definition has a point to it, if we better qualify what it says. An improvisation from start to finish cannot have been thoroughly planned out as to exactly what notes and chords, etc. a musician might play during that improvisation. A genuine improvisation must be determined when it is performed regarding just which notes are played. These decisions are concurrent with performing what is played and cannot have been thoroughly mapped out before a performance (such as the day before) to count as a genuine improvisation.
It is these decisions concurrent with the performing of what is played that cannot be entirely mapped out significantly before its performance (such as the day before) if it counts as a genuine improvisation.
Wiki-Improv4: “Another definition is to "play or sing (music) extemporaneously, by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies, rhythms, and harmonies." (italics and bold italics not in original)
This definition of improvisation has perhaps the least objectionable wording, although one can challenge using the word "inventing." Do improvisers invent the variations?
➢ What does invent mean and imply?
Standard dictionaries, such as Harper-Collins, define "invent" to mean “to think out or produce a new device, process, etc.; originate, as by experiment; devise for the first time.”
Generally speaking, whatever an improviser plays has not been devised for the first time. Indeed, the notes, etc. have not been created for the first time, and in many, many instances, the musical phrases played could easily have been utilized by this very improviser, or even by other improvisers. So, improvisers should not be credited with inventing every part of music, but instead they receive accolades for spontaneously sequencing notes and chords into something original and different making for new music.
Wiki-Improv5: Encyclopaedia Brittanica defines improvisation as "the extemporaneous composition or free performance of a musical passage, usually in a manner conforming to certain stylistic norms but unfettered by the prescriptive features of a specific musical text. Improvisation is often done within (or based on) a pre-existing harmonic framework or chord progression. Improvisation is a major part of some 20th-century music, such as blues, jazz, and jazz fusion, in which instrumental performers improvise solos, melody lines, and accompaniment parts.” (bold italics not in original)
Even here in the Brittanica passage, there are problems. Most improvisers develop an improvisation relative to the song structures within which this improvisation occurs. That means that many improvisations are not "unfettered by the prescriptive features of a musical text," but rather are 'fettered' in the sense that the improvisation relates to that specific musical score.
The Etymology of the word "Improvisation"
- The etymology of the word “improvisation” reveals the nature and purpose of jazz improvisations.
- The word “improvisation” is compounded by two Latin roots: “in,” meaning “not” and “provisus,” meaning “foreseen,” so improvisation is something unforeseen. The word “improvisation” also relates to cognates in both French (“improviser,” meaning “compose or say extemporaneously” from 1786) and from Italian (“improvvisare,” meaning “unprepared”). The Latin word “provisus” besides expressing “foreseen” can also mean “provided,” so improvisation is something that no one provides beforehand. This reading is consistent with the contemporary meaning of a jazz improvisation where a musician concurrently performs as he or she composes new music.
Alessandro Bertinetto begins his Aesthetics of Improvisation in Chapter One by providing the historical etymology of "improvisation" in other languages leading up to its adoption in the English language.
“Chapter One: The Birth of Art from the Spirit of Improvisation — 1.1 Historical Background
Derived from the Latin improvises (mentioned by Cicero); which literally means "unforeseen" (imprevisto), "not seen before," the substantive improvisation becomes widespread in the sixteenth century, first in Italian, and subsequently in other romance languages. Originally, as part of the semantic field defined in classical rhetoric as "ex tempore dicendi facultas" it referred to the art of inventing verses in the course of their declamation before the public: the Italian and Spanish dictionary of Lorenzo Franciosini (1707) defines improvisation as the practice of "composing verses without thinking about them." Subsequently, the term comes to indicate composition in the moment of dialogue, so that in 1750 Goldoni adopts the concept in his Teatro comico, calling the Commedia dell'Arte "improvised comedy" (commedia all'improviso). Since the improvised recitation of verses was usually accompanied by music, the term thus came to signify, even in other languages (such as English), the composing of music while playing.” (bold not in original)
The Definition of Improvisation
Improvisation is an aspect of everyday life and a significant aspect of artistic creativity and aesthetic productions. An important writer on improvisation and its many aspects and implications is philosopher Philip Alperson (b. 1947) who informs us of these facts.
“To improvise is to do or produce something on the spur of the moment. There is a sense in which all human action is improvisatory, and in that sense, all art, as the result of human action, has some improvisatory element.” (bold not in original)
“Beyond that general point, improvisation has a special place in aesthetic theory and in artistic practice. For a start, improvisation may be assigned an originative role . . . in a more fundamental sense . . . [as] the primal core of artistic creative activity. Artists know well the importance of improvisation in their creative endeavors . . . ” (bold not in original)
Musical improvisation is concurrent composition during a musical performance. Jazz improvisation typically is the process of creating fresh melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of chord changes in a song. An effective and standard improvisation typically bases itself off of the established musical systems of a pre-composed tune, but introduces new elements thereby producing thematically appropriate musical variety. While often related to the melody, improvisations can also deviate from it and musicians may improvise on modes, chord or rhythm changes, or may even play totally freely.
One must be careful here not to place too much weight upon the notion of "without previous preparation." An improvising jazz musician has obviously done a lot of studying and practicing of playing music and this certainly can count as preparations for improvising. Hence, what Palmer means is that the improvised solo has been produced spontaneously, but it need not have been produced without any preparation concerning the performance of the solo.
Dictionaries give as a synonym for "spontaneous" that of "unpremeditated." To produce music spontaneously means not to repeat precisely during one's improvised solo a previously decided section of music. The decisions as to what to play must be made concurrently to the playing for it to count as a legitimate improvisation. Just as when you are driving a car there is a lot of more or less simultaneous analysis, evaluations, and judgments being made and at different levels of generalities and organization. As you drive, you know your ultimate destination, you judge the situation is currently safe, you see the tree, you follow the road, you make a left turn. The mental processing to accomplish these things is not instantaneous, but it is still accomplished with remarkable speed and in seconds and microseconds. This is what is meant by concurrent and the jazz improviser is no different. She knows the song beforehand, knows the chord changes and melody, knows where the bass player and drummer are going/doing, and then improvises relative to all of these factors that the brain is monitoring, evaluating, and judging.
Playing spontaneously does not require that what one plays has never been played before by the performer or that its parts have never been practiced. All that is required for the improvisation to count as legitimate is that the decisions as to what to play now are made and committed to at the moment of the musical performance and have not been previously decided upon.
Mark C. Gridley (and his co-authors, Robert Maxham and Robert Hoff) agree with the assessment that improvisers are permitted to repeat previously used patterns during an improvisation because “it would be unfair to expect that jazz musicians create not only fresh "paragraphs" and "sentences," but even the "phrases" and "words" they use.” They conclude that “the frequent recurrence of standard patterns should not by itself DISQUALIFY a passage as [an] improvisation” . . . and “an improvisation CAN be constructed from pre-existing elements, only IF these elements are REORGANIZED, and they are reorganized at the very moment they are performed.”
“In a general sense improvisation is spontaneous, unplanned or otherwise free-ranging creativity. Besides denoting an activity improvisation is also used to denote a product of improvisational activity. Thus certain performances or products of artistic activity are referred to as improvisations when they have been produced in a spontaneous, originative way.” (bold not in original)
Paul F. Berliner notes that not only are improvisers permitted to repeat previously used musical elements, but that they are expected to use them.
“There is no objection to musicians borrowing discrete patterns or phrase fragments from other improvisers, however; indeed, it is expected. Many students begin acquiring an expansive collection of improvisational building blocks by extracting those shapes they perceive as discrete components from the larger solos they have already mastered and practicing them as independent figures. They acquire others selectively by studying numerous performances of their idols. For some musicians, this is the entire focus of their early learning programs.” (bold not in original)
Craig Rustbult points out a flaw in a FreeDictionary.com definition for improvisation were it to be applied to jazz improvisations (amongst others). Jazz improvisations are not disqualified from being improvisations even if a lot of preparations have taken place preparing for the improvisation through extensive practice. It is just that this preparation cannot consist of preparation and then presentation of a pre-composed composition as one's 'improvisation.'
“In the FreeDictionary the first two definitions of improvising are: 1) To invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation. 2) To play or sing (music) extemporaneously, especially by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies in accordance with a set progression of chords.
Definition (1) is sufficient for low-quality unskilled improvisation, and is necessary if you are forced to “do the best you can” to cope with an unexpected situation, although in these situations you typically must do something besides "invent, compose, or perform." High-quality improvisation, in music or in other areas of life, requires long-term preparation to build a solid foundation of skills and experiences. When you are well prepared, you will never have to face an unexpected situation "with little or no preparation," at least in the areas for which you have prepared. Definition (2), by contrast, accurately describes the kind of improvisation that is the focus of this page.” (bold not in original)
Definition (2) does have a similar problem to definition (1) depending upon your understanding of the term "extemporaneously." Two out of the first three definitions given for extemporaneous have the same problem as Definition (1) concerning the falsity of lack of preparation.
- 1. Done, spoken, performed, etc., without special advance preparation; impromptu, [as in] an extemporaneous speech.
- 2. Previously planned but delivered with the help of few or no notes, [as in] extemporaneous lectures.
- 3. Speaking or performing with little or no advance preparation. (bold not in original)
So we need to be clear that some extemporaneous activities can be prepared or not.
Also in agreement that improvisation in jazz need not be entirely and completely spontaneous are Young and Matheson in their "The Metaphysics of Jazz" (2000). They write that “improvisation has sometimes been defined as completely spontaneous performance,” but that this is a bad definition and conception for jazz improvisations since it is both false and incorrectly conceptualized. Their argument is that improvisations need not and are not completely spontaneous.
“However, a definition of improvisation that is completely spontaneous is far too restrictive. The harpsichordist who realizes a figured bass is not, on this account, improvising. Neither is the violinist who extemporaneously performs a cadenza that incorporates a theme from the concerto she or he is performing. Most importantly, for present purposes, most jazz performances are not improvisations in the sense of being completely spontaneous.”
What do Young and Matheson propose as a richer, fuller conception of the nature of actual jazz improvisations?
“We suggest that an improvised performance is one in which the structural properties of a performance are not completely determined by decisions made prior to the time of performance.”
What is the Definition for Improvisation in Jazz?
DEFINITION OF IMPROVISATION: Music concurrently composed while performed by its composer.
➢ What requirements does this definition impose on improvisers and what does it permit?
Let's consider each word in the definition and reasons why they are being used.
- (1) "Music" is required for improvisations to occur because this is the type of subject matter, or object/practice, that a musical improviser aims to produce.
- (2) "concurrency" is a necessary condition for genuine improvisations because what must be taking place at the same time is the performance of this improvised composition. To reveal this as required consider some examples where the performance and the composition being performed were not concurrent by the same person.
- Time delay scenarios. Suppose that Fred composes a tune then plays that tune later in time. Is Fred now improvising his own tune? Of course he is not because he is merely playing a pre-composed tune that he had already determined previously so this doesn't count as an improvisation.
The proposed definition for improvisation as used by jazz musicians can be found being used in R. K. Sawyer's scientific article, "Improvisation."
“Improvisation is music or theater performance in which the performers are not following a script or score, but are spontaneously creating their material as it is performed.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Extensively published music and jazz educator, David J. Elliott, concurs with PoJ.fm's definition for jazz improvisations in the passages quoted below from his article "Improvisation and Jazz: Implications for International Practice." Furthermore, in the quotation below, Elliott agrees with PoJ.fm that jazz improvisations can be both spontaneous and practiced, as well as being thoughtful, premeditated, and consciously developed.
“Some sources suggest that improvising is simply a matter of performing without musical notation. Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians endorses this view. It defines improvisation as "the art of thinking and performing music simultaneously" and, therefore, "the primitive act of music-making" (Blom, 1973, p. 991). Other sources use the term ’improvisation’ to mean a kind of composing-on-the-spot.
These perspectives are as crude as they are common. For one thing, the distinction in Grove between thinking and performing is a distinction without a difference. For there can be no doubt that performing is a rich form of thinking in itself (cf. Elliott, 1993). In addition, both perspectives neglect the fact that composing and performing are not mutually exclusive. Composers often perform what they compose either before, after, or in the process of notating their ideas. And performers sometimes engage in such composition-like tasks as generating and notating cadenzas, ornamenting melodies, realizing figured bass parts, and ’comping’ jazz accompaniments from chord symbols. Moreover, the compositional aspect of improvising varies with the musical practice in question. It can include everything from embellishing given rhythms and melodies while performing, to developing complex and extended variations on musical themes, or to creating entirely new works.
From an artistic perspective, then, it seems clear at the outset that the processes and products of musical improvising combine the essential characteristics of performing and composing in several intricate ways. At the very least, improvising is a complex form of musicing in which one or more people simultaneously compose, interpret and perform a musical work. Another preliminary observation concerns the issue of ’spontaneity’ in musical improvising. Some writers locate the essence of improvising in the conjecture that to improvise music is to produce any type of sound in an impulsive, off-the-cuff, or unstudied manner. But consider one of the most revered improvisations in the history of jazz: John Coltrane’s improvisation on ’Giant Steps’(1960).
The originality, complexity and speed of Coltrane’s doing and making is astonishing. This is clearly not ’spontaneous’ music-making in the sense of thoughtless, unpremeditated, or unconscious activity. It is the opposite. Coltrane’s solo is thoughtfull, premeditated, studied and conscious. What Coltrane achieves in ’Giant Steps’ is firmly rooted in Western tonal music generally and the bebop jazz tradition specifically. Moreover, to think musically at such a rapid tempo, Coltrane had to develop an extraordinarily high level of musicianship. Indeed, as part of his musical preparation and practice, Coltrane reproduced and studied the improvisations of his predecessors in great detail. He worked hard at his ability to produce complex melodic patterns over rapid chord changes (Gridley, 1988, pp. 283-84). Coltrane not only understood complex harmonic theory; more importantly, he learned how to put his harmonic knowledge into action. In sum, although Coltrane did not know (and could not say) precisely what he would compose and perform on-the-spot, he knew everything he needed to know in advance of creating this brilliant improvisation ’spontaneously’.” (bold not in original)
How jazz improvisations are and are not spontaneous
How jazz improvisations are NOT spontaneous
Part of the meaning used when applying the term "spontaneous"' can include a lack of planning. Because improvisers have had to practice and woodshed their instruments and have executed and then analyzed past improvisations this work can count as a form of preparation thereby making future improvisations having had significant past planning in terms of the work put in to master her or his instrument.
Thomas Owens (1938–2021) (Professor of Music at El Camino College, Torrance, CA), in his dissertation on Charlie Parker, explains why master improvisers at high speed must use previously practiced elements during a jazz improvisation.
“Every mature jazz musician develops a repertory of motives and phrases which he uses in the course of his improvisations. His "spontaneous" performances are actually precomposed to some extent. Yet the master player will seldom, if ever, repeat a solo verbatim; instead he will continually find new ways to reshape, combine, and phrase his well-practiced ideas. An awareness of these melodic ideas allows the listener to follow a solo with great insight into the creative process taking place.
Each new chorus provided him an opportunity, which he invariably took, to arrange his stock of motives in a different order, or to modify a motive by augmenting or diminishing it, by displacing it metrically, or by adding or subtracting notes. Such was the nature of improvisation to Parker, just as it probably has been to every mature improvising artist in any musical tradition around the world. Certainly in Parker's case it could not have been otherwise; the average tempo of his transcribed pieces is about J = 200. At this tempo, six-and-one-half eighth notes (or thirteen sixteenth notes) occur each second. No one could create totally new phrases at that speed. Many of the components of those phrases must be at the fingertips of the player before he begins if he is to play coherent music.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
How jazz improvisations are INDEED spontaneous
Another aspect of the meaning of spontaneous is that such acts are impromptu and the specific actions resulting in a musical performance had not been previously planned as having that particular musical content in that sequencing so that in this sense the content and structuring given to this particular performance had not been previously planned.
Are jazz improvisations spontaneous or not?
Solo jazz improvisations are not spontaneous if this requires no prior preparation in executing an event since improvisers have gone to great pains to practice and learn their craft. Improvisations are spontaneous to the extent that precisely the overall order and sequencing of musical components has not previously been determined. The improvising soloist is truly generating an unplanned musical score while intentionally directing where and how the music will be performed.
Evaluation of this definition for improvisation
The Paradox of Improvisation
- “Work on the ontology of jazz has centered around the nature of improvisation, particularly the relation between improvisation and composition.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
If any non-scripted musical event counted as an improvisation, then every aspect of music would qualify as improvisatory. This conclusion is false because when a composition is played with no changes from the musical score, then this by definition cannot count as having been a full-blown improvisation (concurrently composed and performed by the same musician) since the music musicians play note-wise was previously determined. No previously written music when intentionally performed by a musician that it be this prior music qualifies as a full-blown improvised performance as jazz musicians use the term. There needs to be a distinction made between interpretative choices done by a musician while playing a pre-composed composition (often termed "embellishments" or "ornamentations") versus when a musician is not only making such interpretive choices but also generating the very musical composition being performed on the spot. This is not only a matter of degree, but a different kind of musical practice.
This crucial point just made about full-blown improvisations not occurring during the performance of a previously composed piece of music when the musicians are intentionally attempting to follow the musical score has been disputed by Carol S. Gould and Kenneth Keaton in their article, "The Essential Role of Improvisation in Musical Performance" (2000). Here the authors argue that:
- (1) Improvisation is only a matter of degree, not of kind.
“We submit that jazz and classical performances differ more in degree than in kind.
- (2) Every musical performance, even previously scripted ones where performers faithfully follow a previously composed musical score involves improvisation.
“In this discussion, however, we shall argue that all musical performance, no matter how meticulously interpreted and no matter how specific the inscribed score, requires improvisation. Interpretation is the player's conceptual realization of the musical score in performance, and, by necessity, interpretation involves improvisation. (bold not in original)
These are genuinely two significant claims, and their paper attempts to provide reasons and arguments for why anyone should believe them. Let's consider and critique their arguments supporting these two claims.
Undoubtedly, Gould and Keaton claim that all musical performances involve improvisation in the sense of interpretations of a pre-composed musical score. Does it follow from merely this that all musical performances are also concurrently composing the music they perform? Certainly not, and this is clear because Gould and Keaton mention the musical score the musicians are following during their interpretations. Can one be interpreting something that doesn't exist? It would seem not. Therefore, when concurrently performing an improvised composition, jazz musicians are definitely doing something other than and in addition to merely interpreting a pre-composed score. Hence, Gould and Keaton appear confused when they claim all musical performances are only a matter of different degrees of improvisation.
How are Degrees and Kinds Related?
Before anyone determines how degrees and kinds relate, consider when things are of different types versus just a matter of degrees. What things come in degrees, and what items come as different kinds? Obviously, at first, one might believe that gold and lead are not the same kind and do not differ merely by degrees. When things come in degrees, each particular must have the very same property at all times, but the only difference is the amount or the scalar features that vary.
However, there are problems. Using modern-day particle accelerators, modern-day physicists can transform lead into gold through nuclear transmutation by knocking off protons from lead to transmute it from atomic number 82 (lead) into atomic number 79 (gold), although it is easier to turn gold into lead. Hence, when physicists turn lead into gold, does it follow that lead is just a matter of degrees from becoming gold? The correct answer is that lead molecules and gold molecules are different types of things because they have distinctive sets of properties that make the individual molecules of that type. Also, no chemical process can achieve nuclear transmutation, so from a chemical point of view, lead and gold remain distinct non-transformable kinds. Lead will react to hydrochloric acid (HCl) to form hydrogen, while gold will not, proving that the two elements are of different kinds since they don't react chemically in the same way.
Degrees are usually thought of in terms of the amount, level, or extent to which something happens or is present. They are positions on a scale of intensity, amount, or quality. Synonyms for degrees include grade, intensity, quality, caliber, measure, level, or amount, quantity, rate, scale, scope, size, strength, dimension, division, gradation, interval, proportion, range, space, stage, magnitude, or qualification.
“On assumptions that have become the de-facto standard in linguistic semantics, a degree is a relatively impoverished thing. It is simply a representation of measurement, perhaps a point or an interval on an abstract scale. We will argue, building on Landman & Morzycki (2003), that this understanding must be enriched at least enough to construe degrees as a particular species of kind (Carlson 1977b), and that this is part of a larger pattern of parallels between kinds, manners, and degrees.” (bold not in original)
At the end of their paper, Anderson and Morzycki conclude that “a variety of constructions in a variety of languages point to a deep connection between kinds, manners, and degrees, and [they have] articulated a way of thinking about degrees as kinds of states (and following previous work, manners as kinds of events). This enabled us to provide a cross-categorial semantics for both kind modifiers and for their clausal complements, which involve abstraction over degree state-kinds. . . . [and] that the relatively simple ontology of degrees typically assumed should be enriched. (bold not in original)
Carol S. Gould and Kenneth Keaton on Improvisation
To see how far off Gould and Keaton are from a proper way of understanding jazz improvisations from how jazz musicians and the vast majority of jazz theorists use the term, consider one of their opening remarks on the subject:
“We offer here an analysis of improvisation that will show how jazz and classical performers alike interpret their pieces and improvise in doing so. The jazz performer may do so to a greater extent; a classical performer may use it more restrictively.”
Two quick points. If a musician claimed to be improvising because she or he played a tune strictly to the musical score, then jazz musicians would laugh them out of the room. Second, according to Gould and Keaton, classical musicians improvise, so therefore, they are improvisers. Indeed, most classical musicians cannot improvise where this means simultaneously composing and performing a musical composition, i. e., authentic improvisations in the fullest sense and not the wimpy version of improvisation Gould and Keaton defend that amounts to what any musician must accomplish to interpretively play a piece of music according to an antecedently composed score.
It is crystal clear that Gould and Keaton claim that classical performers, whenever they are playing classical music, are improvising. But what exactly are Gould and Keaton claiming these improvising classical musicians are doing? Are they playing music that they are spontaneously composing while performing it? Of course, they are not. If any classical musician were to do this contrary to the musical score, they would be fired by their conductor and concertmaster. Generally speaking, classical musicians are forbidden to stray away from whatever classical material the orchestra performs.
➢ What then are Gould and Keaton talking about when they claim that all musicians are continually improvising whenever they play any musical score?
They are not referring to concurrently composed and performed music; rather, they are only talking about choices a musician must make when following a musical score. Following somewhat standard musical practice, let's call this aspect interpretation of a musical score. Of course, Gould and Keaton are correct that no musical score determines every aspect of a musical performance, so this requires the musicians to make choices about how they will perform a particular piece of music. Nevertheless, these choices could have either been previously thought through or even determined due to practicing a specific tune. These interpretative choices do not constitute anything like an entirely new melody or musical work.
This contrasts sharply with authentic full-blown improvisations. If you have already determined how and precisely what you are going to play long beforehand and then perform these antecedently selected musical passages, you are immediately disqualified from having improvised in the standard jazz usage of the term. Authentic full-blown improvisations require not playing a tune where all decisions about what is played play has already been determined long beforehand. Full-blown improvisations require the improviser to choose new notes, chords, and musical expressions not already selected to be played in that order.
And it isn't like Gould and Keaton are unfamiliar with a distinction between genuine full-blown improvising versus mere improvisational interpretations. They quote Philip Alperson, who recognizes this distinction and fully embraces it. Here's what Alperson says is the proper conception of a full blown improvisation.
“It will probably be agreed by all that improvising music, is in some sense, a spontaneous kind of music-making.” (bold not in original)
The authors appear to focus their attention on the wrong concept when critiquing Alperson's account. They find a problem with the idea of improvisations in the full-blown sense being conceptually connected to needing spontaneity.
Helping to correct this misappropriate over-generalization that all music is improvised in the sense of concurrently composing and performing it is Eric F. Clarke at the opening of his article, "Improvisation, Cognition, and Education."
“Every performance art contains an element of improvisation since a degree of indeterminacy at some level of the performance, requiring 'invention' by the performer, must always exist.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
From the fact that all musical performances have aspects where performers add elements to the music requiring concurrent decisions on how to play it does not carry over into what to play when following a musical score. In full-blown improvisations what to play is that which an improviser determines. In following a pre-composed composition, only aspects of how to play it require some improvisational components, as agreed upon by everybody, including Bruce Ellis Benson (b. 1960), Carol S. Gould, and Kenneth Keaton.
“At the other end lie those more obviously improvised performances where one or more performers appear before an audience with no written, memorized or otherwise predetermined musical structures, and play music that is assembled, developed and realized in the course of the performance itself.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Are There Different Kinds of Improvisations?
➢ Do these two areas of improvisation (interpretive improvisations versus compositional improvisations) differ only in matters of degree, or are they different kinds of improvisation? What reasons could one supply that they are of different kinds?
That numerous scholars have asserted that all improvisations are on the same scale and only differ in matters of degrees of improvisation does not make this claim accurate.
“By claiming that music-making will always contain elements of improvisation, I’m (also) making a “political” statement. What I’m proposing is a shift of perspective in order to make clear that improvisation is “always already” taking place and that thinking within and through these dogmata leaves an important aspect of every music-making unattended and concealed, namely that certain decisions must be taken during a performance. In my opinion, the opposition you seem to create – between (free) improvisation on the one hand and composed music on the other – needs more refinement: as Bruno Nettl already stated in the mid-1970s, these two concepts should be regarded as poles on a continuum instead of as mutually exclusive quantities, and that’s exactly what I try to do in my writings.” (bold not in original)
There is a lot packed into the above quotation and what has been said is subject to misinterpretation, or at least requires qualifications. Start with the first point made that “music-making will always contain elements of improvisation.” This claim needs qualification, if interpretative improvisations are of a different kind from compositional interpretations. Merely because all music-making produced by strictly following a score has musicians making some choices regarding expressive elements does not entail that all music-making involves compositional improvisation. It doesn't.
Again, Cobussen asserts that “improvisation is “always already taking place” may be using the term "improvisation" in some third sense differing from interpretive improvisation and compositional improvisation. It remains false that these two types of improvisation are on a continuum precisely because interpretive improvisations are embellishing from a pre-composed score while compositional improvisations are not just doing this. Compositional improvisations diverge from the specific structural features of pre-composed music so are different kinds since they have other properties and are not just matters of amount or degree.
Why interpretive improvisations are not on a continuum with compositional improvisations
Giving names of interpretive improvisations versus compositional improvisations renders the question moot as to a possible continuum if these are distinct improvisational types. Composing is a different kind of activity from an interpretation or embellishment of something already written. In this latter situation, the composition pre-exists prior to its interpretation. In compositional improvisations, the musical work results from concurrently composing while performing. Therefore, these are different types of activities and not just separated by matters of degree.
Would anyone claim that composing music is on a continuum and differs only by degrees from performing music?
Let's think this through. Thelonious Monk can compose music and write down the musical score. Has Monk composed a piece of music? Yes, yes, he has. Has that music yet been performed? No, no, it hasn't. Where is the continuum to which there could be comparable scalar phenomena? Every item in a continuum is always of the same type. When it is just a matter of degree, then there can be differences in quantity, number, or other scalar features, such as temperature, which comes by way of degrees.
It doesn't seem reasonable that embellishing a pre-composed piece of music is on the same continuum as composing music? Is painting your house's trim a brighter color on a continuum with building the entire house in terms of activity types? Certainly not. Similarly, playing a passage in a higher frequency than intended initially during an interpretive improvisation is not on a continuum with composing an entire piece of music. Yet this is what all theorists who claim that interpretive improvisations are on a continuum with compositional improvisations require.
Once one concedes that composing music can occur without performing it, these are different activity types. However, it does not mean that the performing and the composing could not be done during the same activity concurrently since this is just what improvising jazz musicians achieve regularly.
One of the reasons and advantages of playing pre-composed music lies precisely in the fact that a musician does not need to be composing anything—it has already been done for them. This is not the case with full-blown compositional improvisations where there is no prior pre-composed music. Riffs and licks by themselves don't count as whole compositions; it is how musicians sequence them that makes them a compositional improvisation.
Suppose we bite the bullet and see if any argument can support the conclusion that performing music is on a continuum with that of composing it. How would this go?
For a continuum to exist, there needs to be a range, often with ends at both ends, although this is not necessary for a continuum to exist. The negative and positive number line has a continuum with no stops at either end like so: . . . -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 . . . .
A continuum with ends, for example, is complete baldness with a full head of hair at the other end, or a more ambiguous continuum of poor at one end and rich at the other.
Notice that in the bald/hairy continuum, every position on that scale differs by degrees in the amount of hair, bald having no or very few hairs, while a full head of hair has a lot. Same thing on the poor/rich continuum each item there differs by amounts of money and resources.
➢ So, what do interpretive improvisations versus compositional improvisations share by degrees?
Presumably, the answer might concern the amount of improvisation. However, this won't work, and here is why. You can start at the low end and give poor people more and more money and resources until they go up the scale from poor to middle class to wealthy and rich. You could take affluent persons and make them spend all of their money and resources until they became destitute. Similarly, one could slowly lose hair over time and go from having a full head of hair to none and becoming completely bald. If we could grow hair on a bald person, we could slowly increase the number of hairs on his or her bald head until there is a full head of hair.
➢ What could be done by analogy with the rich/poor or bald/hairy continuum to take an interpretive improviser and turn them into a compositional improviser? What does the interpretive improviser currently have that giving more of that would turn them into a compositional improviser?
The answer is nothing. No amount of embellishment, or added growls to a note, or deciding upon tone color, or style of music, etc. will enable a superbly trained interpreter of music when still a poorly trained compositional improviser to be capable of going from one end of the alleged improvising continuum to the other end. It just ain't gonna happen.
CONCLUSION: The above argument establishes the falsity of any claim that all musical improvisations are on a continuum or that all improvisations differ merely by degrees.
Lee B. Brown, Theodore Gracyk, and David Goldblatt on different kinds of jazz improvisations
In their masterwork in the philosophy of jazz, Jazz & The Philosophy of Art, authors Lee B. Brown, Theodore Gracyk, and David Goldblatt address issues about jazz and improvisation in the third and final part of their book. The Routledge Publisher describes the author's positions in answering what is an improvisation. The Routledge publisher reports that they defend “a pluralistic framework in which distinctive performance intentions distinguish distinctive kinds of jazz improvisation.”
Young and Matheson on expressive versus structural features improvisations
After explaining what they mean by structural features (primarily: melody, harmony, and rhythm), James O. Young and Carl Matheson contrast these structural features with their term expressive qualities.
A structural property is to be understood in contrast to an expressive or interpretive property. The expressive properties of a performance include tempo, the use of rubato, dynamics, and so on. We believe that the line between expressive and structural properties is a fuzzy one, but it must be drawn if we are to avoid the conclusion that virtually every musical performance involves improvisation. (bold not author's)
Suppose we concede that idiosyncratic manipulation of a musical work's expressive properties by a performing musician counts as a form of improvisation. This type of improvising can be called an expressive or interpretive improvisation. However, as we have repeatedly seen, this type of improvisation is not what jazz musicians mean by improvising. In their article, whenever Young and Matheson deny that a performing musician is improvising, have in mind that this musician is not producing a structural feature improvisation because they intend to follow and conform to the musical structural features already determined by a previous composer. These musicians do not need to be producing structural feature improvisations since they are mirroring ones already written into a musical score. What we might call an improvisation in the full-blown sense requires such a structural feature improvisation that causes the peculiar structural features of the work she or he is performing. When this happens, Young and Matheson call that an improvisation.
We can see how Young and Matheson clarify their thinking on this point by offering examples of what jazz musicians themselves intend to mean by what they term a (genuine) improvisation. Both Young and Matheson, and all jazz musicians, maintain that anything they deem an improvisation must be a structural feature improvisation and not only an expressive property one. We see this confirmed in the following quotation.
“A few examples can clarify this point. A concert pianist who performs a Beethoven sonata does not improvise. The pianist creates a performance with the structural properties demanded by Beethoven's score. The pianist is not improvising since she or he follows Beethoven's score, and even if a few mistakes creep in, the performance closely approximates what the score demands. Even if the player spontaneously adds rubato or varies the tempo, she or he is not improvising. No one is improvising since they are simply varying the work's expressive properties. (The structural properties of the pianist's performance may vary from those specified in the score as a result of mistakes without the performance being an improvisation. Such inadvertent departures do not make a performance an improvisation since the performer was attempting to follow a score. An improvisation only occurs when performers do not attempt to make the structural properties of a work conform to a score.”  (bold not in original)
Thus their denial of any improvisation having taken place requires them to mean by improvisation a structural features manipulation and not just manipulating the expressive features of a work. As seen in the next quotation, whenever a structural feature manipulation occurs, only then do Young and Matheson deem this to qualify as an improvisation.
“A performer who spontaneously chooses structural properties is improvising. For example, a lutenist who extemporises a repeat while playing a pavan by Dowland is improvising. The structural properties of the lutenist's performance were not completely determined by an attempt to follow a score. Decisions she or he made while playing affected more than just the expressive properties of the performance. Still, the performance was not completely spontaneous. Given that the lutenist is performing, say, the Lachrimae Pavan, the varied repeat cannot assume just any form. This example demonstrates that an improvisation need not be completely spontaneous.”
“Many jazz performances are similarly improvised even though they are not completely spontaneous. For example, when Miles Davis played " Round Midnight" the performance was not completely spontaneous. Davis would begin with a statement of a standard melody. Before he began to perform, Davis was aware of this melody and made a successful effort to stale it. To this extent, his performance was not completely spontaneous. After playing a statement of the melody, Davis would play improvised variations. His accompanists knew they were expected to play certain standard chord progressions, over which Davis could improvise. The accompanists could play what jazz musicians call "alternate" chords. For example, a C ninth chord (C. E. G. B-flat. D) is an alternate for a G minor seventh chord (G, B-flat, D. F). Nevertheless, given that they were performing "Round Midnight" rather than another number, only certain chords could be played. The musicians knew what these chords were before they began to play. So their performance was not completely spontaneous, any more than was Davis's. Nevertheless, the performance was improvised.” (bold not in original)
No one should rule out an activity as spontaneous just because some prior knowledge of the situation influences one's choices in the here and now. Because an agent's knowledge during intentional activities always comes into play because conscious, deliberate actions require applying what one already believes even during an extemporized execution of an action or activity. Suppose you want a peanut butter sandwich and know the jar of peanut butter is in the kitchen. In that case, your actions can nevertheless remain spontaneous when you decide on the spur of the moment to make a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Peanut butter sandwich-making can be unexpected and therefore spontaneous. One does not eliminate spontaneity even if one already knows a lot about the situation, is constrained by knife-smearing choices, and even had previously practiced the relevant sandwich-making activity.
Similarly, Young and Matheson are adamant that Davis can perform an alternate structural features improvisation even if he already knew the original tune's features. His knowledge of the originally composed structural features (melody, harmony, and rhythm) does not prevent him from producing new alternative musical elements (melody, harmony, or rhythm) influenced by the previously known ones.
They then explain how manipulating expressive properties does not constitute an improvisation unless it alters a musical work's structural properties. Additionally, they point out a significant point that requires more emphasis, namely, the relevance of the performing musician's intentions. When attempting and succeeding in reproducing the structural features of an antecedently existing musical work by playing the tune as written, musicians are not improvising, as jazz musicians use this term.
Such inadvertent departures do not make a performance an improvisation since the performer was attempting to follow a score. Improvisation occurs only when performers do not attempt to make the structural properties of a work conform to a score. A performer who spontaneously chooses structural properties is improvising. For example, a lutenist who extemporises a repeat while playing a pavan by Dowland is improvising. The structural properties of the lutenist's performance were not completely determined by an attempt to follow a score. Decisions she or he made while playing affected more than just the expressive properties of the performance. Still, the performance was not completely spontaneous. Given that the lutenist is performing, say, the Lachrimae Pavan, the varied repeat cannot assume just any form. This example demonstrates that an improvisation need not be completely spontaneous. (bold and bold italic not author's)
There are two ways to go here, and Young and Matheson have chosen to claim that being constrained by a musical form forces non-spontaneity. The alternative is to hold that one can remain within a musical form and still be spontaneous because one has not decided until immediately playing the music which notes and chords one will play. One can spontaneously play new notes while staying within a musical form.
To see this clearly, consider driving a car. One needs to obey the rules of the road, etc., but one can still spontaneously swerve the vehicle while staying within one's lane. Constraint does not prevent nor preclude spontaneity. When a lutenist's performance of a repeat that lies outside of a score counts as a structural feature improvisation, there is no reason why we cannot consider these choices to be entirely spontaneous since the musician chose them at the time they were performing and were not determined beforehand.
Improvisation and Surprise
Theorists have had contrasting positions regarding surprises during improvisations. American sociologist Howard S. Becker (b. 1928) dreaded too many repetitive-ish improvisations during jam sessions with multiple soloists giving credence to the claim that not every act where genuine improvisations occur must always include surprises.
“When I used to play piano in Chicago taverns for a living, I dreaded the nights when guys who had been playing dances would come in, after their jobs had ended, to sit in with our quartet. In a traditional jam session, we would play well-known tunes, and everyone would have a turn to solo, improvising on the chords of the song. Why did I dread it? If there were, say, four horn players sitting in, in addition to our own, every one of them would play the same number of choruses. If the first player played seven choruses of “I Got Rhythm,” the other four would all play seven; I would have to play seven, whether I felt like it or not; the bass player, if his fingers held up, might play seven, and the drummer too; then people might start trading four-bar phrases ad infinitum. That could easily add up to sixty thirty-two bar choruses of a song whose harmonies are not very rich (I was fond of songs, like “How High the Moon,” that had what we called “interesting changes,” harmonies that changed frequently and departed from the original tonality). Remember that the pianist mainly plays accompaniment for all these choruses. You can see how someone who had already played for several hours might feel like falling asleep as the procession of choruses—not very interesting ones, usually—went on interminably. (bold not in original)
In the same journal issue of Mind, Culture, and Activity, Debra Cash, (b. 1958) (executive director of the Boston Dance Alliance, dance critic of the Boston Globe for seventeen years, and a co-founder of the Boston Globe Freelancers Association) writes her "Response to Becker's "The Etiquette of Improvisation" finding his skepticism unfounded because improvisation inherently has surprise possibilities.
“Improvisation is all about surprise. As a mode of expression, improvisation is a technique designed for increasing alertness and is dependent on it. It is a way to escape the creative ruts of personal taste or disciplinary habit: its goal is to swerve away from the familiar, the ready-made, the cliché. But such an escape is rarely an end in itself. In the arts, at least, the most gratifying improvisation sets a foundation for new directions and possibilities. It refreshes the wellspring of the performer's repertoire and abilities by making the latent real: visible, audible, retrievable. At its most powerful, it may even refresh the art form itself, so that music, dancing, theatre, and the rest are never presumed to be limited within quite the same familiar technical or stylistic parameters. Ephemeral and momentary, improvisation paradoxically sets its sights on the future. What isn't a surprise is that, given our human need for comprehensibility and order and the activity theorist's focus on agency and intention, Howard Becker (this issue) ends up discussing the way improvisation really isn't such a surprise after all, that it has its etiquette, its form, its learned, canonical manner (italics are author's) of swerving.” (bold not in original)
“Howard Becker starts his analysis from personal experience. In his article, he offers a funny image of himself as a modestly talented piano player groaning as four—count them, four—horn players come along to jam on a midnight performance that would have dismayed poor Mr. Gershwin, who deserved better. He is appealingly self-deprecating as he notices that Durkheim's theories are being demonstrated by people who have no reason to be aware of his own highfalutin' sociological associations. But it is tricky, and intellectually suspect, to build an entire argument about the nature of improvisation that implies that Becker's semiprofessional experience was and is paradigmatic of improvisatory art in general.” (bold not in original)
Take this last point first. Becker is not complaining that improvisational activity in jazz is never surprising or thrillingly creative. Instead, he wishes to at the very least point out that genuine improvisations taking place in a jazz context can fail to surprise or be (thrillingly) creative. Surprise is not intrinsic to every improvisation event. There can be tedious, boring, or rote improvisations without that being any sort of contradiction since it is not contradictory.
The Theory of Improvisation
Four methods of jazz improvisation are melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and motivic improvisations
- ➢ A melodic improvisation can be produced by using alternate notes and new syncopations (different emphases on the off beat) from the original melody so a new melody gets created.
- Melodic improvisation can occur because the melody of a song is only one of many possible similar melodies. Any melody can be modified by producing changes to some of the original notes in the melody by adding or eliminating notes. One possibility is to make wider leaps from one note to another, or, one can use closely spaced notes in a scale-notes sequence with notes ascending or descending, or (with narrower spacing) a chromatic sequence, or (with wider spacing) a chord-note sequence called an arpeggio. You can use these possibilities, and others, in any blending you want. Notes can be used in creative new combinations.
- Marc Sabatella, in his A Jazz Improvisation Primer, stresses the importance during melodic improvisations and musical development of maintaining a sense of continuity of the musical lines used during the improvisation.
- The contour or shape of the solo often will be modeled on that of a story.
- The structure of a story can start simply (introduction), then “build through a series of smaller peaks to a climax” and often finishes with a coda, which is an independent passage at the end of a composition used to provide a satisfactory close.
- The coda can serve as an extension and/or a re-elaboration of preceding themes or motifs heard during the main melody.
- ➢ Harmonic improvisation occurs by harmonizing with the main melody by including non-melody notes that sound harmonious when played at the same time as the melody notes. Another type of harmonizing can be by providing a bass line, counter-melody, or alternative chord structures simultaneously and/or sequentially using chord progressions and music theory and by experimenting with harmony-and-melody.
- ➢ A harmonic improvisation works by substituting a new melody over the established chord changes and alternate tonal centers.
- ➢ Rhythmic Improvisation occurs by varying rhythmic structure experimenting with different rhythms. One can make some notes shorter or longer as when replacing eighth-notes with dotted-eighths, or with triplets to make it "swing," or play more notes or fewer notes, or “do things” for the on-beats (1 & 3) and off-beats (2 & 4), make the tempo slower or faster or even change the time-structure from 4/4 to 12/8 or 3/4 and so on.
- ➢ Changing aspects of the original arrangement of a tune through embellishments of the original melody or through introducing and then developing a new theme produces a motivic improvisation, as Sonny Rollins, the saxophone player, often performs.
The Nature and Methods of Improvisation: Common Form
- There are two common forms found in much jazz music: the blues form and the AABA song form.
- The blues form typically has twelve bars of music based on three four bar phrases. In its original form, the second phrase repeats the first phrase while the third phrase supplies an answer or response to the first two. It is AAB in form.
- * Because of the simplicity of the basic blues form it is rarely strictly followed in modern jazz playing.
- * The basic blues form uses only three chords: The I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord.
- * Simple blues consisted of three vocal phrases (AAB) and eight musical measures (each four pulses or beats long). Musical measures varied between eight, twelve, and sixteen, but twelve measures became the standard.
- * A standardized blues form consists of twelve measures with the harmonic progression of I, I, I, I7, IV, IV, I, I, V7, V7, I. I. Each roman numeral indicates a chord built on a specific tone in the scale to be played for one measure.
- * One characteristic found in the blues are blue tonalities, notes not found on any one key of the piano. To produce a blue tonality on a piano requires hitting two notes simultaneously, for example, E-flat (black key to the left of E) and E-natural or B-flat and B-natural.
- Marc Sabatella provides a general description with specific examples relating to the playing of an F-blues.
- Marc Sabatella's jazz blog recommends how to address challenges of improvisation and how to improve them through listening practices and feedback loops.
Melodic versus harmonic improvisations.
“An improvised performance differs from a composition in that it occurs in real time, with no opportunity for the performer to go back and revise. The problems of maintaining interest and balance, of creating a sense of inevitability and forward motion are constant for the improviser. An analysis may choose to look at a transcription of a performance as if it were a composed score, moving backward and forward through it, collecting items for comparison that originally came into being for different local reasons. In contrast, the present study will move through the performance from beginning to end, just as Evans did, in an attempt to follow his ongoing solutions to the problems of "composing in the moment."”
- See also Chapter 8 "Composing In The Moment" of Paul F. Berliner's Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
In "Descriptions of Improvisational Thinking by Developing Jazz Improvisers," Martin Norgaard (b. 1963) reports on the work of Kratus who has found that learning improvisers pass through seven stages of improvisational mastery to become expert improvisers when the seventh stage gets reached.
“Kratus (1991, 1996) suggested that improvisers pass through seven different stages. In the initial exploratory stage, students develop connections between motor movements and the sounds they produce on an instrument. Moving to the process-oriented stage, occasional melodic patterns emerge within students’ improvisations, showing their thinking is becoming more intentional; patterns are increasingly being stored in working memory for later use. Yet, student focus is still on the process of improvisation without considering the audience. In the product-oriented stage that follows, students become aware of their role in a larger context and begin to shape their improvisations according to what they hear and how it is perceived. According to Kratus (1996), improvisations at this stage “begin to show such characteristics as the use of a consistent tonality or metre, the use of a steady beat, the use of phrases, or references to other musical pieces or stylistic traits.” (p. 33). By the fourth stage, fluid improvisation, students have developed enough technical skill on the instrument that their movements become more automatized. Students reaching the subsequent structural improvisation stage use a variety of strategies to shape the overall structure of their improvisations. In the sixth stage, students move to stylistic improvisation in which they develop a personal voice within a given stylistic constraint. The seventh level, personal improvisation, is rarely reached. Only artist-level performers who develop an innovative style reach this point. Students must pass the previous level to get to the next stage (Kratus, 1996). “Students cannot skip levels, but they may revert to earlier levels” (p. 36) if they are learning new styles or other novel elements. According to Kratus, each level serves as “a doorway to the next” (p. 36) and as “a foundation for later learning” (p. 36). It follows that students on the third product-oriented level would not be able to incorporate stylistic constraints and architectural strategies as they have yet to acquire the technical facility necessary to move to the fluid improvisation level.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Improvisation and Musical Works
In his article on "Improvisation" in The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Philip Alperson (b. 1946) expertly characterizes some standard practices of improvising jazz musicians. Alperson stresses that jazz musician's standard musical practices demand variation and constant modifications of the musical material being performed resulting in never playing the same song the same way twice. Although Alperson doesn't mention this, this constant variation results from the inability of improvisers to play the same improvised solo the same way twice. If they could then they would no longer be improvising nor would the musical event or experience be of the same type since freely improvising is a different process than that of copying a previous musical passage.
“It will be helpful to begin by briefly characterizing some of the central improvisational practices in jazz. Many jazz compositions are written with underlying recurrent harmonic structures (often referred to as “changes”) on which the performance is constructed, and they are also usually composed with a melodic line that is played at the beginning and the close of the piece. Although these musical building materials are written down, they are almost never played as written. First, the harmonic structures will be voiced by chordal instruments (e.g., piano, guitar, vibraphone) differently as each interpretation of the piece develops; it is extremely unlikely that these structures will be realized exactly the same way in any two performances (and if they were this would be cause for aesthetic suspicion, not congratulation). Second, the melody (often referred to as the “head” of the piece) will rarely, if ever, be played the same way on any two occasions; the melody as written is itself perennially open to interpretation, and the interpretive license implicitly granted within this musical culture covers a very broad range of possibilities. Thus, successful innovative and creative performances depart substantially from the musical information given in the score in ways idiosyncratic to the individual performer or in ways stylistically demanded by the genre of the piece, so the improvisational aspect of a jazz performance extends into the written as well as the unwritten sections of the piece. The field-wide expectation is that every element of the piece that can be variously expressively interpreted will be; to play just the notes as written would, in a sense, be speaking the wrong language (that is, conforming to conventions external to, and thus inappropriate for, the idiom) within an ensemble.” (bold not in original)
Alperson's overall point here is that jazz musicians are expected never to play a song exactly as written. Part of the power and freedom of jazz is that not only are the improvisations not been previously determined, but even the main melody of a song comes within the purview of the performing musicians such that they do not need to play the melody the same way as written. This is in contrast to classical musicians, or virtually every other kind of musical genre where musicians are expected by their audiences to play the same song the same way every time, excepting those known as improvisational ones, such as Indian ragas, or rock and roll jam bands, like the Grateful Dead, or Phish. These are reasons why theorists consider jazz to be a performer's medium and not a composer's one, such as is classical music.
“R. G. Collingwood, although he does not use the term improvisation explicitly, captures the sense of its importance for artistic activity when he opposes the essentially expressive activity he calls “art proper” to “craft,” an activity in which a preconceived result is produced by means of consciously controlled and directed action. Suppose a sculptor were simply playing about with clay, Collingwood asks, and found the clay under his fingers turning into a little dancing man. Would this not be not a work of art because it was done without being planned in advance? To the contrary, Collingwood argues: a planned work may indeed be a work of art, but artistic expression is necessarily an exploratory activity whose end cannot be foreseen and preconceived.” (bold not in original)
“Of course, the extent to which improvisation may involve consciously controlled and directed action or distinctions between means and ends and planning and execution is a complex issue. The originative claim about the role of improvisatory activity with respect to artistic creation thus finds itself taking up issues, not only in philosophical anthropology, but also in psychology, action theory, and the philosophy of mind, not to mention the actual conventions and histories of individual artistic genres and practices.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
“In any case, it is certainly safe to say that improvisation in the arts has seemed to many to feature certain qualities on which the arts have traditionally placed a high premium: invention, transformation, expressive freedom, spontaneity, and creativity. And it is not surprising that improvisational activity has been explicitly highlighted in a wide array of artistic practices, ranging from ancient poetic recitation, medieval minstrelsy, musical performance in the Baroque era, to modern jazz and blues, Beat poetry, rap music, folk music, drama, dance, and stand-up comedy.” (bold not in original)
“Artistic improvisation brings something into being, but what that something is and how we are to understand its mode of becoming are questions of great theoretical interest. Artistic styles and artworks in a variety of arts can be said to be “improvisatory” insofar as certain artistic features (bold brush strokes, frequency of embellishment and repetition, freely varying metrical schemes) might bring this or that aspect of improvised actions to mind. But the most difficult ontological questions are raised by those artistic practices that explicitly feature improvisational activity. In this connection, improvisation can be profitably understood in relation to prevailing views about artistic production, performance, and presentation. In the case of much Western classical music practice of the past two hundred years or so, for example, it is not implausible to distinguish more or less clearly between the stages of composition and performance: one commonly thinks of the composer's activity as concerned with creating at least the defining outlines of the musical work of art and capturing those outlines in the notated score, and one thinks of the performer as presenting and interpreting that work for an audience. In such a framework, much hangs on the notion of a “work,” a reasonably well articulated, enduring thing that, in the minds of many, figures as the main focus of the composer's activity, the performer's interpretive efforts, and the audience's proper object of attention.” (bold not in original)
“Some theorists understand the activity of improvisation, on the other hand, as a spontaneous activity in which the improviser simultaneously practices the interdependent functions of composition and performance, a position that itself raises many interesting questions. It is a point of contention, for example, whether all improvisations bring works into existence. Clearly, some improvisations are more in the spirit of embellishments and can legitimately be seen as interpretations of preexisting works whose themes and patterns provide the organizing structure around which improvisatory activity is focused. In such cases, one can reasonably appreciate improvisations as if they were primarily performances of a work to which the twin values of fidelity and creativity would appropriately apply.” (bold not in original)
Alperson's point here is that one can improvise by interpreting and embellishing a previously written musical score without producing a new composition. The performer is improvising because the embellishments, a slur or glissando here or a growl there, were not notated in the originally composed piece of music. Yet because the performer was remaining true to the original composition without appreciably altering its basic musical structures found in the piece as originally composed, one should not think of any interpretive improvisation as having produced a new composition.
“But there is no a priori principle governing either what aspects of a work might or might not be improvised on or how radical improvisations might be within a given domain. Consider the range of improvisational practice in modern jazz, often thought to be the paradigmatic case of improvisatory art. One might have thought that one indispensable feature of jazz has been improvisation around more or less fixed harmonic patterns or structures. It is certainly true that many jazz performances do involve a clear statement of a melodic theme in the context of an explicit or implied harmonic structure followed by improvised choruses on “the changes,” that is, the harmonic structure of the piece. Additionally, some harmonic patterns (those in George Gershwin's “I've Got Rhythm,” for example) have become canonical to the point of being regarded virtually as works themselves. But it must also be remembered that jazz musicians have improvised on works precisely by reharmonizing them, often in ways that depart radically from the original. Indeed, the degree of departure from works can become so high that some jazz improvisations “of” previous works cannot be readily identified as such, even by those thoroughly immersed in the tradition. There is also, of course, the existence of “free jazz” in which not only does harmonic patterning cease to be a central structuring principle but so, too, does the normative ideal of obedience to a preexisting work. To further complicate the ontological issue, one might even go so far as to claim that neither improvisations nor performances qualify as works, just insofar as they are activities, events, or processes, whereas artworks, presumably, are enduring, repeatable things.” (bold not in original)
There are at least three things wrong with this last statement: (1) artworks can be non-enduring, (2) artworks can be non-repeatable, and (3) improvisations can be repeatable (see PoJ.fm's Ontimpr9. How two substantial jazz improvisations could be identical), and don't tell art students that art must be enduring and repeatable because if you do they will produce non-repeatable and non-enduring instant art works at the drop of a hat 🎩, or even a ball cap 🧢. For example, were someone to make an art piece out of multicolored flash paper, then when ignited flares for a few seconds and can never be repeated again in precisely that color explosion pattern.
“This last position, however, rests on a notion of a work that seems both conceptually contestable and unduly narrow in the face of artistic practice. A more reasonable position would be that, certainly in the context of artistic improvisation, the notion of a “work” is transformed from something conceived of primarily as a product, as something made, to something more along the lines of a process, of an experience, or of something in the making.” (bold not in original)
“Improvisations themselves can be considered as aesthetic objects in their own right, as objects suitable for aesthetic contemplation, whether the improvisations are live or recorded and whether or not improvisations are presented or understood as deriving from preexisting works. Experienced audiences can and do attend to the formal, expressive, and mimetic features of the sounding structures of musical improvisations, for example, just as they can in the case of performances of previously composed works. Those familiar with the musical culture and traditions in which improvisations are produced know that extraordinarily high levels of complex, subtle, and expressive achievement are possible, a fact to which the improvisations of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, for example, readily attest.” (bold not in original)
“But one must not lose sight of the fact that improvisations also feature productive activity as such. One great attraction of improvised performances is precisely the opportunity to witness, as it were, the shaping activity of the improviser who creates an artistic utterance unmediated by another human being. It is as though we are able to gain access to the artist's mind at the moment of artistic creation. This sense is heightened by the risk and excitement inherent and often evident in spontaneous creative acts and by the innovation, inventiveness, technical agility, and imagination that such activity demands. Improviser and audience share in a sense of immediacy. In improvisation, the rough draft is also necessarily the final product. One has only one go at it, without having the luxury of rewriting, erasing, replaying, and so on. One feels that one's abilities are far more exposed and obvious to the experienced audience than is the case for nonimprovisatory arts. One might well say, then, that in improvisation, as perhaps in no other form of art, are the experience of the artist and that of the audience so thoroughly intermingled. The evaluation of improvisations must be made within this context and it might not be going too far to suggest that, insofar as improvisation in art broadens the notion of the “work,” so does it deepen our understanding of art in general.” (bold not in original)
Technique & Improvisation
➢ When learning how to produce an effective jazz improvisation what does a musician need to know to produce effective and pleasing improvisations?
When learning how to construct a good melodic jazz improvisation ideally one should already have good technical skills with one's musical instrument. Furthermore, one needs to have memorized various musical patterns and have a solid grasp as to which notes work well in particular contexts and which to generally speaking avoid. Effective improvisations need to be about more than merely about technique, memorization of musical patterns, and playing the right notes.
➢ What else is relevant for producing good improvisations?
Effective improvisations have musicians developing and building:
- a musical style
- phrasing control
- intending production of creative designs
- using standard and advanced jazz harmonies to play the language of jazz
- their own library of licks so that one develops a personal language for improvisation
- their perception of intervals and rhythms and interpretative skill
- sequences and variations each time one plays a chromatic progression
Thelonious Monk, even though he had sheet music for all of his tunes, wanted his musicians to learn a new song by listening to it and not just reading it from a chart. We can make this point with the phrase: "Read with your ears."
Ron Gorow on Technique & Improvisation
In his book, Hearing and Writing Music: Professional Training for Today's Musician, author Ron Gorow covers some of the key features required of effective musicians and improvisers as summarized in the next two paragraphs below.
- Of course, effective improvisations require musicians to depend upon their ability to hear music, to remember what has been heard, and then to communicate musically to performers and audience through a performance. The best improvisers reach a level of musical perception where they immediately recognize (and often if musically trained could notate) the sounds they are hearing.
- Good improvisers are already good musicians. Good musicians know the fundamentals of music by knowing how to put notes on a staff, can play in any key, and have a good ear. They know what they are hearing and how to notate it. They have a basic knowledge of orchestration, as well as common instruments and their ranges and transpositions.
Dave Morris on The Way of Improvisation
Improviser and storyteller Dave Morris teaches seven steps to improvising and how they apply to life in his TeDX talk in 2011, "The Way of Improvisation." His principles or guidelines apply to jazz improvisation as well.
Morris defines improvisation as the "act or art of improvising, including being spontaneous and making stuff up." He adds that it is not "even a thing" because it is a process—"a way to make something."
In his talk, Morris presents seven skills that are used in the way of improvising.
Here are his skill sets listed below for successful solo or group improvisatory interactions:
- 🔶 The first skill is (1) play--"engaging in something just because you like to do it and it is fun to do it." Play is engaging in something for the joy of it and being present in the moment.
- 🔶 Guideline number (2) is let yourself fail, which does not mean just fail. Rather it is to accept and be OK with failing should it happen. It is the fear of failure that prevents one from being in the moment. Failing does not make you a failure. If failure occurs, then just start again.
- 🔶 Rule (4) Say "Yes"
- 🔶 Rule (5) Say "Yes And"
- 🔶 Rule (5) Say "Yes And"
- 🔶 Rule (6) Play the Game
- 🔶 Rule (6) Play the Game
- 🔶 Rule (7) Relax and Enjoy it
- 🔶 Rule (7) Relax and Enjoy it
Of course, there can be counter-examples to any one of the principles because they are only guidelines in the first place.
Suppose Fred and Djharma are good at improvisation and know all of the rules and have produced effective improvisational stage productions with each other many, many times. One of the rules though is to always say "Yes." It is the opposite of a rule that would recommend repeatedly saying "No." So one day Fred, being bored, decides he's not going to follow the "say Yes rule" instead he's just going to follow the "say No rule" that's not really a rule so anytime you want to you can still say Yes.
Their scene starts off with Fred saying No's to everything. First, and then after the other guy Dhjarma gets flummoxed. Next, he starts to figure out maybe I still have something to work with here. So he starts asking questions like "Oh, I understand now" you have said No, many many times now correct?
Djharma being clever and able to improvise tries this series of questions and answers. "So, have you recently several times answered my questions by saying No? Fred's response: No.
D: Did you just now say No? F: No.
D: Can you hear what I am saying? F: No.
D: Geez, I'm getting stumped here.
D: OK, just a couple more questions, then I can give up. F: No.
D: But that wasn't a question. F: Yes.
D: Is it that you have been taken over by a negative talking alien? F: No.
D: In this alien culture No means Yes and Yes means No? F: Yes, that is what I have been saying all along.
D: OK, so now I am finally starting to understand it? You have been taken over by an alien creature who controls your responses, but they are negatively inclined and so they say "No a lot"? F: No.
F: What just a minute I feel like I'm coming out of some kind of trance or something. Did you notice anything funny about me? D: (While staring off into space as if now in a trance) No.
End scene. Djharma has now just been taken over by the negative aliens.
One of the actors did not follow the Yes rule. They still could successfully improvise. The rules are only guidelines for possible and greater probability of success.
Zach Beattie Guidelines for "The Art of Improvisation"
At his TEDxCoMo talk, "The Art of Improvisation," held April 6, 2013 at the historic Missouri Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, Zach Beattie provides several guideline rules for producing effective collaborative improvisations.
Here are his guidelines:
- 🔷 Rule (1) Everybody you are improvising with is a genius. Treat your partners ideas as if they were brilliant and amazing and make each person look like a genius. Equivalent in some regards to the "Say "Yes"" rule. This means there are no stupid ideas and whatever anyone says is true and you need to accept what they are saying completely and go with the flow of the ideas. Don't challenge the idea. "Treat your partners such that everything they say or do is amazing and they are a genius." You should not say "No" to someone and deny their ideas. Make all participants comfortable and confident that their ideas will get supported during this improvisational process. Treat each person's ideas as well as your own as important. Validate your collaborator's ideas and put everyone into an open receptive space.
- 🔷 Rule (2) "Yes, and . . . ." In addition to accepting anyone's ideas one contributes something positive in return, so this rule says to add more things to what has gone before and continue to build something. It allows conversation to flow and ideas to move forward.
- 🔷 Rule (3) "Play." Equivalent to the rule to be in the moment. Opening yourself up to be vulnerable and do not be so judgmental, but enjoy the activity for its own sake and be creative in the moment. Also, go and have fun with it, whatever it is. Do not be inhibited or concerned about what others will think about these activities. Be present and listen to your partners. "The excitement lies in the uncertainty of what comes next."
- 🔷 Rule (4) "Let yourself fail." Do not take the attitude that you are not creative or that you cannot do this improvising stuff. Have creative confidence because you are willing to let yourself fail. Try to catch yourself when you are filtering and stifling your own ideas and let yourself try out those ideas.
- 🔷 Rule (5) "Consider ideas that are unconventional." Humans are comfortable with established conventions and planned processes. They are uncomfortable with unconventional actions. Do not filter out ideas merely because they are non-standard or unconventional.
Eric Dolphy on improvisation
In an interview with Leonard Feather (1914–1994), multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy (1928–1964) explains that when he improvises he is playing with intention and meaning and plays what he can hear before he plays it.
“In the case of myself, I had to find something what to do. Not to say in the sense of finding something to do just to exhibit my technique, but to find something to do to enhance some kind of musical, make some kind of musical sense, and I found that within my playing that I could play notes, not at first, because at first I couldn't hear these notes, so I wouldn't play them. But as I play more and more I hear more notes to play against the more common chord progressions. And a lot of people say they're wrong. Well, I can't say they're right, and I can't say they're wrong. To my hearing, they're exactly correct. For my hearing I'm right, and . . . [nothing further was said].” (bold not in original)
Musical Improvisation Processes
Author, Sidharth Subramanian, on Jan 21, 2013 at Quora.com answered the question "As a musician, what does it feel like to improvise?" and this was his (edited by PoJ.fm) response to what procedures/processes one might use as to how to musically improvise:
“There are many approaches to improvisation and . . . I tend to involve the following when improvising.
(1) [First, one might] hear it in your mind as or just before you play it. This is a trait I've found in many great improvisers where a lot of them can sing the notes as they play them, as in a scat solo. This requires that you have built up your technical skills to the point where you can respond to your thoughts and play what you are hearing in your mind.
(2) Many improvisers are very theoretical in their approach, learning what are possible scale/chord/arpeggio combinations. I personally have found that this approach has merits, but its not for everyone. A basic level of theory is definitely required (triads, major scale, intervals), once you have this down, you can experiment with various sounds and modifications to these rules and many times, you come to the same point. At the end of the day, its the sound that you have to control. Your method is your own choice.
(3) With reference to point 2, I have found that with the 'play with your ear' approach, its clearly not all encompassing and you tend to miss a lot of possible sound combinations. My answer to this is to record your improvisations then transcribe them. When you hear moments that you like, figure out what combination and sequence of sounds caused this moment. Once you figure them out, make them your own. You could copy them verbatim or you could use it as a building block to build your own. The important thing is to associate with the sound and build up your sonic vocabulary.
(4) Mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing—of course this is highly context dependent. There is bad playing and then there is restrained experimentation. A mistake can be turned into a sonic gesture; a simple way that I use sometimes is to repeat and embellish a mistake, using the mistake as tension/buildup to the resolution.
(5) Many tend to focus on the melodic/harmonic aspects of improvisation and tend to forget aspects like rhythm, phrasing etc. These are equally important in improvisation—a whole minute of 16th notes tends to get boring, no matter what the melodic/harmonic context.
(6) Do not be afraid to cross the line and walk the edges of your safe zone—it can be thrilling! While you use the rules of music as your basics, breaking the rules is probably the most fun part of improvisation. Outside notes, rubato playing, or even silence are all improvisational devices.
Internet Resources on the Theory of Improvisation
- Vijay Iyer, "Exploding the Narrative in Jazz Improvisation" Iyer asks how an improvised solo can convey meaning or “tell a story.” He develops a theory of jazz improvisation around his idea of hearing the body. To Iyer, the effectiveness of improvisation, particularly its rhythmic aspect, depends on an awareness by producers and listeners of the physical actions involved and their situation within a shared social environment, which creates a cascade of meaningful events in an “exploded” (i.e., not conventionally linear) narrative.
- Philip Alperson, "On Musical Improvisation" The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Autumn, 1984), 17–29. Published by Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Society for Aesthetics.
- William Day, "The Ends of Improvisation," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 68, No. 3 (SUMMER 2010), 291–296. Published by Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40793271.
- Johannes Völz (Freie Universität Berlin), "Improvisation, Correlation, and Vibration: An Interview with Steve Coleman, CSI: Critical Studies in Improvisation, Vol. 2, No. 1 (December 2006). (http://www.criticalimprov.com). Accessed January 22, 2022.
- See the numerous excellent philosophy papers on improvisation in English or Italian by Alessandro Bertinetto of the University of Turin. Bertinetto has edited twelve journals, written or edited twenty-three books, one-hundred-fifty-two papers, and participated in nine workshops or conferences.
Internet Resources on Techniques of Improvisation
- A Jazz Improvisation Primer (1992-2000) by Marc Sabatella.
- Frank Tirro, "Constructive Elements in Jazz Improvisation," Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer, 1974), pp. 285-305, published by the University of California Press on behalf of the American Musicological Society Stable.
- "An Approach to Improvising Over Chord Changes"
- "The Case for Improvisational Melodic Structures: Creating Within Context" by Brian J. Kane at JazzPath.com.
- World of Jazz Improvisation. Articles in a syllabus for the series of Jazz Improvisation courses MUS 331, MUS 332 and MUS 530 at the University of Wisconsin Madison with Professor Joan Wildman.
- JazzAdvice.com shows 24 improvisation techniques for creating melodic lines at fast tempos taken directly from the solos of the music’s greatest jazz improvisers on Ray Noble's tune "Cherokee."
- "How to Improvise Jazz Melodies," Bob Keller, Harvey Mudd College, January 2007, Revised 4 September 2012.
- "Music Improvisation using Creativity + Music Theory: The Art & Science of Making Your Own Music!" Dr. Craig Rusbult explains useful principles for musical improvisation, for improving creativity, using music theory and the nature and use of chord progressions.
- "Ten Steps to Improvise Jazz," by Oliver Prehn.
The Science of Improvisation
- "From 'Projective Apprehension' to 'Proprio-Sentience': Embodied AND Distributed Cognition During Jazz Improvisation" by Dr. Martin E. Rosenberg
- Workshop: Neuroscience Research on Top-Down and Bottom-up Styles of Cognition During Jazz Improvisation in Light of Recent Theoretical Research on "Cognitive Capitalism" by Dr. Martin E. Rosenberg
- The University of Texas at Austin Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music Center for Music Learning "Cognition in Jazz Improvisation" website
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Alperson, Philip. “On Musical Improvisation”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43, no. 1 (1984): 17–29. DOI:10.2307/430189
__________ (ed.). What is Music? An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music. New York: Haven, 1987.
__________. “Improvisation: An Overview”. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (Volume 1). Michael Kelly (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press (1998): 478–79.
__________. “Facing the Music: Voices from the Margins”. Topoi 28, no. 2 (2009): 91–96. DOI:10.1007/s11245-009-9052-9.
Bresnahan, Aili. “Improvisation in the Arts”. Philosophy Compass 10, no. 9 (2015): 573–82. DOI:10.1111/phc3.12251.
Brown, Lee B.. “Musical Works, Improvisation, and the Principle of Continuity”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 54, no. 4 (2006): 353–69. DOI:10.2307/431917.
__________. “‘Feeling My Way’: Jazz Improvisation and its Vicissitudes—A Plea for Imperfection”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 58, no. 2 (2000): 113–23. DOI:10.2307/432090.
__________. “Do Higher-Order Music Ontologies Rest on a Mistake?”. British Journal of Aesthetics 51, no. 2 (2001): 169–84. DOI:10.1093/aesthj/ayr002.
__________. “Further Doubts about Higher-Order Ontology: Reply to Andrew Kania”. British Journal of Aesthetics 52, no. 1 (2012): 103–06. DOI:10.1093/aesthj/ayr045.
Gould, Carol & Kenneth Keaton. “The Essential Role of Improvisation in Musical Performance”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58, no. 2 (2000): 143–48. DOI:10.2307/432093.
Hagberg, Garry L. “Improvisation: Jazz Improvisation”. Encyclopedia of Aesthetics Volume 1. Michael Kelly (ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, (1998): 479–82.
__________. “On Representing Jazz: An Art Form in Need of Understanding”. Philosophy and Literature 26, no. 1 (2002): 188–98. DOI:10.1353/phl.2002.0013.
__________. “Jazz Improvisation and Ethical Interaction: A Sketch of the Connections”. Art and Ethical Criticism. Garry L. Hagberg (ed.). (2008): 259–85.
Love, Stefan Caris. “The Jazz Solo as Virtuous Act”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74, no. 1 (2016): 61–74.
Magnus, P. D.. “Kind of Borrowed, Kind of Blue”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 74, no. 2 (2016): 179–85.
Prevost, Edwin / Eddie_Prévost. No Sound is Innocent: AMM and the Practice of Self-invention, Meta-musical Narratives, Essays. Copula Press, 1995.
__________. Minute Particulars: Meanings in Music-making in the Wake of Hierarchical Realignments and Other Essays. Copula Press, 2002.
__________. The First Concert: An Adaptive Appraisal of a Meta Music. Copula, Inc. , 2012.
Sterritt, David. “Revision, Prevision, and the Aura of Improvisatory Art”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58, no. 2 (2000): 163–72. DOI:10.2307/432095.
Valone, James J. “Musical Improvisation as Interpretive Activity.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 44, no. 2 (1985): 193–94. DOI:10.2307/430522.
Young, James O. & Carl Matheson. “The Metaphysics of Jazz”. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58, no. 2 (2000): 125–34. DOI:10.2307/432091.
“This has been a useful reminder that not all music is the performance of pre-composed works (Wolterstorff 1987, pp. 115–29). However, it must be noted that improvisation can occur within the context of such a work, as in the performance of an improvised cadenza in a classical concerto. Some have argued that there is not as significant a distinction between improvisation and composition as is usually thought (Alperson 1984). Others have argued that all performance requires improvisation (Gould & Keaton 2000). Yet others restrict the possibility of improvisation to certain kinds of musical properties, such as “structural” rather than “expressive” ones (Young & Matheson 2000). However, the arguments are not compelling. Usually they turn on equivocal use of terms such as “composition” and “performance,” or beg the question by defining improvisation in terms of deviation from a score or variation of a limited set of “expressive” properties.” (bold not in original)
Derek Bailey, Improvisation.
Trevor Barre, Beyond Jazz and Convergences, Divergences, and Affinities'.
David Borgo, Sync or Swarm.
John Corbett, A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation.
Philip Freeman , New York is Now!.
Joe Morris, Perpetual Frontier: The Properties of Free Music.
Dana Reason, The Myth of Absence.
David Toop, Into the Maelstrom.
Ellen Waterman and Gillian Siddall, Negotiated Moments.
Ben Watson, Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation.
Davey Williams, Solo Gig.
Jack Wright, The Free Musics, Spring Garden Music Editions, 2017. ISBN: 1537777246, 316 pages.
- InspiringQuotes.com, or BrainyQuotes.com, or PictureQuotes.com, or QuoteHD.com.
- Kurt Johann Ellenberger, "Part I: Materials," in Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Assayer Publishing, 2005), 41.
- Wikipedia: Musical improvisation.
- This is a quotation from Gorow, p. 212, quoted in Wikipedia: Musical improvisation.
- Cambridge Dictionary definition of "spontaneous."
- Cambridge Dictionary definition of "spontaneous."
- Collins Dictionary definition of "spontaneous."
- This is a quotation from the Free Dictionary on "Improvisation."
- Quoted at Wikipedia on musical improvisation.
- Alessandro Bertinetto, "Chapter One: The Birth of Art from the Spirit of Improvisation," in his Aesthetics of Improvisation, translated from Italian by Robert T. Valgenti (Paderborn, Germany 🇩🇪: Brill Fink, September 7, 2022).
- "Improvisation" by Philip Alperson, at Oxford Art Online, first paragraph.
- "Improvisation" by Philip Alperson, at Oxford Art Online, second and third paragraphs.
- King Palmer, The Piano (London: NTC Publishing Group, 1975) and again by McGraw-Hill Publishing, 109.
- Mark C. Gridley, Robert Markham, and Robert Hoff, "Three Approaches to Defining Jazz," in The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 73, No. 4, 1989, 519.
- See Philip Alperson, "On Musical Improvisation," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 43, no. 1, Fall/Autumn 1984, 19. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/430189.
- Aili Bresnahan, "Improvisation In The Arts," in Philosophy Compass, 10 (9), 574.
- Paul F. Berliner, Thinking in Jazz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 101.
- "Music Improvisation using Creativity + Music Theory: The Art & Science of Making Your Own Music!"
- Dictionary.com definition of extemporaneous.
- James O. Young and Carl Matheson, "The Metaphysics of Jazz," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 58:2, (Spring 2000), 127.
- R. K. Sawyer, "Improvisation," in Encyclopedia of Creativity, 2nd ed., 2011, 647–652.
- David J. Elliott, "Improvisation and Jazz: Implications for International Practice," International Journal of Music Education, Vol. OS-26, 1, first published November 1, 1995, 3–4.
- Thomas Owens, Charlie Parker: Techniques of Improvisation, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) dissertation, Volume 1, 1974.
- Andrew Kania, "Philosophy of Music," in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, (Fall 2017 Edition).
- Carol S. Gould and Kenneth Keaton, "The Essential Role of Improvisation in Musical Performance," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 58, No. 2, Improvisation in the Arts (Spring, 2000), 143. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/432093.
- Wikipedia: Nuclear transmutation states under the subheadings of "History > Modern Physics" that lead transmutation into gold is an easier task than the reverse: “It transpired that, under true nuclear transmutation, it is far easier to turn gold into lead than the reverse reaction, which was the one the alchemists had ardently pursued. Nuclear experiments have successfully transmuted lead into gold, but the expense far exceeds any gain. It would be easier to convert lead into gold via neutron capture and beta decay by leaving lead in a nuclear reactor for a long period of time.”
- Thoughtco's "How to Turn Lead Into Gold: Is Alchemy Real?"on turning lead into gold.
- Curt Anderson and Martin Morzycki, "Degrees As Kinds," November 8, 2013, 2.
- Curt Anderson and Martin Morzycki, "Degrees As Kinds," November 8, 2013, 40.
- Philip Alperson, "On Musical Improvisation," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43, 1984, 17–29 and "Improvisation: An Overview," in Michael Kelly (ed.), Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, Vol. 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 478–79.
- Eric F. Clarke, "Improvisation, Cognition and Education," in Companion To Contemporary Musical Thought, edited by John Paynter, Tim Howell, Richard Orion, and Peter Seymour (London and New York: Routledge Press, 1992), Vol. 2, 787.
- "Dialogue on Improvisation, Composition, and Performance: On Singularity, Complexity, and Context," Letters from Marcel Cobussen and Rogério Costa, quotation written by Marcel Cobussen on January 12, 2015 at 02:32 pm, p. 154.
- Routledge publications, third paragraph, last sentence.
- James O. Young and Carl Matheson, "The Metaphysics of Jazz," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 58, No. 2, Improvisation in the Arts (Spring, 2000), 127.
- Howard S. Becker, "The Etiquette of Improvisation," Mind, Culture, and Activity, 7:3, 171-176. DOI: 10.1207/S15327884MCA0703_03.
- Debra Cash, "Response to Becker's "The Etiquette of Improvisation," Mind, Culture, and Activity, Volume 7, 2000, 177–179.
- Debra Cash, “Response to Becker's "The Etiquette of Improvisation," Mind, Culture, and Activity, Volume 7, 2000, 177–179. http://doi.org/10.1207/515327884MCA0703_04 .
- Steven Strunk, "Melodic Structure in Bill Evans’s 1959 “Autumn Leaves”" Journal of Jazz Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, 2016, 68.
- Martin Norgaard, "Descriptions of Improvisational Thinking by Developing Jazz Improvisers," International Journal of Music Education, 2016, 1–13. DOI: 10.1177/0255761416659512.
- Philip Alperson, "Improvisation," in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 2nd ed., edited by Michael Kelly (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Print ISBN-13: 9780199747108. Published online: 2014 Current Online Version: 2014 eISBN: 9780199747115.
- Leonard Feather, Eric Dolphy interview, at WoodyShaw.com, 1960s, posted October 7, 2016.
- Andrew Kania,"Philosophy of Music," in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Fall 2017 Edition.