When you hear the word Improvisation, what's the first thing that comes to your mind? Jazz music? Baroque ornamentation? Cool theater exercises? Something completely different? For some, including yours truly, if someone were to say, "Improvise for us," my heart would start to palpitate, my palms would sweat, and I would think, "Is there any way out?" I know I'm not the only one to feel this way. In Western music, we have moved away from a tradition of improvisation into a world of control and order.
What exactly is Improvisation? Is it really just making things up as you go along? Sure, I guess, at the most basic interpretation of improvisation. But who wants to hear that? No, good improvisation takes a bit more training, practice, and experience.
So, here's my issue. I taught high school choir for 11 years. During most of my time as a teacher, one of the National Standards of Music from NAfME (National Association for Music Education) involved the students being able to improvise. My thought was, "I don't know how to improvise. How the heck am I going to teach them?"
I tried. And I tried. I went to workshops, I read articles, but nothing stuck. Most of the techniques I learned about focused on helping students learn how to improvise a solo. I wanted the whole choir to improvise at the same time! I wanted to have my choir make up a song on stage for all their parents to hear!
But it never happened.
I was still stuck not knowing how to teach what I wanted.
So, now I'm at the University of Washington working towards a DMA in Choral Conducting and I thought, "What a perfect opportunity to finally crack this nut!" As part of my studies, and as one of my three major topics, I am researching improvisation, hopefully with the end goal being able to answer the question, "How do I get a whole choir to successfully improvise at the same time?"
I'm only at the beginning of my research. I have loads of questions, and loads of books. I want to hear from you, though. I want to hear from those that are in the classroom that are either finding improvisational success, or, like me, are experiencing frustrations. I'd love to hear your thoughts to some of these questions:
1) What is your definition of improvisation? Do you think we should broaden the definition?
2) How would you assess an improvisation as being successful?
3) What pedagogical reasons do you see for improvisation?
4) What are your favorite tools/techniques for teaching improv?
5) Why do you think students are hesitant to approach improvisation?
6) What are some resources you think I need to look up/watch/read?
Please comment below with your own thoughts.
I hope that after a couple months of research, I'll be able to write a follow up post about my findings.
Sorry if this post seemed a little rambling...I was just making it up as I went along.