How would you react if someone encouraged you to include some improvisation in your daily practice routine?
Would you react with curiosity, and perhaps be a little excited to see what this could add to your musical and technical development?
Or would you wonder about improvisation’s relevance in your daily practice, given that you don’t have unlimited time, and it’s not like you can improv your way through Schumann’s Scherzo?
Or run away, because…eek! Improv?! Where would I even start?
If I could go back in time, I’d hold younger me by the shoulders and tell that cocky little scalawag to make a concerted effort to develop some improv, composition, and transcription chops. Not just so I could do fun stuff like this or even this bit of awesomeness (btw, you can learn more about Ken and the interesting backstory of the project here), but so that I’d have a more complete understanding of what makes music work.
So to get a bit more insight on this subject, I caught up with Indiana University music ed researcher and professor Peter Miksza, whose work has come up on the blog before (re: learning faster and memorizing more effectively).
In this 30-minute chat, we’ll explore:
- why improvisation may be a more valuable part of musicians’ training than we realize
- the importance of “informal” practice in addition to deliberate practice
- how “micro-improvisation” could be used even in (or perhaps especially in) ensemble settings
- four things skilled improvisers do to get better at improvising, that all of us could incorporate into practice sessions
- and more!
Below are some improv-related apps Dr. Miksza recommended. Because, you know, apps are awesome.
Make and play over background tracks: Check it out
A research-driven website that has transcriptions for various jazz artists’ solos coordinated with youtube videos. It also features data from analyses of the improvisations: Check it out
Download performances and lessons: Check it out
Amazing Slow Downer
Set tempo of music recordings for transcribing or playing along: iOS | Android
And here are references to some of the studies that came up in our chat (in order of when they were mentioned):
Lehmann, A. C., & Ericsson, K. A. (1997). Research on expert performance and deliberate practice: Implications for the education of amateur musicians and music students. Psychomusicology: A Journal of Research in Music Cognition, 16(1-2), 40-58. DOI: 10.1037/h0094068
McPherson, G. E., Miksza, P., & Evans, P. (2018). Self-regulated music learning. In D. Schunk and J. Greene (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation of learning and performance (2nd Ed.) (p. 181-193). New York, NY: Routledge.
Watson, K. E. (2015) Relationships among selected practice behaviours and achievement in jazz improvisation. Music Education Research, 17(1), 57-70, DOI: 10.1080/14613808.2014.986080
Tarr, C. T. (2016). Practising jazz performance: An investigation into the process that underpins optimal instrumental practice in the jazz idiom. (Unpublished master’s thesis). Edith Cowan University, Australia. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1921
Miksza, P., Watson, K., & Calhoun, I. (2018). The effect of mental practice on melodic jazz improvisation achievement. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 28(1), 40–49. https://doi.org/10.1037/pmu0000206
Norgaard, M. (2011). Descriptions of improvisational thinking by artist-level jazz musicians. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59(2), 109-127. DOI: 10.1177/0022429411405669
Berliner, P. F. (1994, October 17). Thinking in Jazz : The Infinite Art of Improvisation (Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology Series) (1st ed.). University of Chicago Press.
Where to find Dr. Miksza
When not breaking out some old-school dance moves, he can be found hanging out:
@ Dr. Miksza’s Music and Mind Lab