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Free Improvisation: What It Is, and Why We Should Apply

It in Our General Music Classrooms


Niknaf, N. (2013). Free improvisation: What it is, and why we should apply it
in our general
music classrooms. National Association for Music
Education, 27 (1), 29-34.
Niknafs (2013) article focused on the concept of Free Improvisation
and how it can be integrated into General music classrooms in a tasteful way.
Free Improvisation changes the function of the sounds situated more upon
feeling, experimentation. One strong element of this style of improvisation is
how it forces the performers to listen to one another. Improvisation can be
played by anyone regardless of age and musical capability.
Derek Bailey saw diversity as the most consistent characteristic of free
improvisation. He said that free improvisation, is open to use by almost
anyone beginners, children and non-musicians (Niknafs, 2013 P. 30). The
skills used to improvise are whatever is available for that particular
performer; there is no good or bad way to improvise. Although free
improvisation is generally looked at through the eyes of performance, as
music educators, improve can be used in many ways in the classroom. For
example, teachers are constantly improvising within the curriculum to fit the
students needs or coming up with inventive ideas to assist students.
Improvisation is a great skill to use in all aspects of music making and
educating.
In the late 50s/ early 60s, there was a greater push for a less restrained
style of jazz improvisation in contrast to the more restricted styles of music.
This movement led to much needed shift in thinking for not only Jazz but
Western music as well. It led to an openness to notation, graphic scores and
improvisational performances. Some musicians who played a huge role in
improvisation were: Cornelius Cardew, Eddie Prevost, Derek Bailey, Gavin
Bryars, and Tony Oxley.
The significance in music shifted from formal aspects to thematic
qualities. Sounds gained from nature grew in importance. Along with this
shift in significance, improvisation shifted the way that the composer and
performer were looked at. Since improvisation can only happen in the
moment, the performer plays just as large of a role in the composition as the
composer. This can be looked at from two perspectives: process and product;
the composer being the process and the performer being the product.
Free Improvisation blurs the lines between the composer and the
performer, soloist and the accompanist, the performer and the audience, the
performer and the teacher and the student. Improvisation is a very leveled
playing field for all involved in the music making process which makes it a
very communal event. This is much different than a more traditional
performance where the performer plays a piece that they wrote before
performing it. Improvisation changes with each differing audience which
makes the performer connected to each one that they perform for.

Once musicians get beyond the fear of exposing themselves while


improvising, it is a great skill that promotes flexibility, confidence and
innovation. The task for music educators is to be comfortable enough to
improvise in order to create a safe environment for creativity inn the
classroom.
Personal Reflection