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!
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Useful apps

Below are some improv-related apps Dr. Miksza recommended. Because, you know, apps are awesome.

iReal Pro

Make and play over background tracks.

Check it out

Jazz Tube

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

Tutti MusicPlayer

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):

Deliberate practice

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

Miksza, P., Watson, K., & Calhoun, I. (in press). The effect of mental practice on jazz improvisation achievement. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain.

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). Thinking in jazz: The infinite art of improvisation. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226044521.001.0001

Where to find Dr. Miksza

When not breaking out some old-school dance moves, he can be found hanging out:

@ Dr. Miksza’s website

@ Dr. Miksza’s Music and Mind Lab

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

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