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This systematic literature review aims to identify and critically examine the prevailing general trends of music education research that addresses issues of improvisation from 1985 to 2015. The study examined the main features of studies with impact that focus on musical improvisation and have been published in peer-reviewed music education journals. Data were organised on the basis of the following: 1) General publication features; 2) Topic; 3) Methodological approach; 4) Participant features; 5) Type of improvisation; 6) Definition of improvisation; 7) Findings; 8) Suggestions for practice. The study also takes a close look at the construction of the discourses through which improvisation has been framed in the field of music education, providing insights on how such discourses create particular pedagogical visions of improvisation. To this end, we have created a map of the different visions of improvisation pedagogy that the studied works point towards. These visions have been clustered in the following five categories: (i) from rupture of certainties to creative problematisation; (ii) return to the “natural” beginning—in search of humanness; (iii) improvisation as a learning tool; (iv) conserving and enlivening traditions; (v) improvisation as an impetus for creativity. The map proposed in this study is meant as a possible representation of the general trends that underpin music education research focusing on improvisation. This map can also be seen as a “tool” through which music educators can situate their practice and reflect on their particular ways of working with improvisation, possibly envisioning alternative ways forward.
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Research Studies in Music Education
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DOI: 10.1177/1321103X19843003
Mapping visions of improvisation
pedagogy in music education
Eeva Siljamäki
Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland
Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos
University of Thessaly, Greece
This systematic literature review aims to identify and critically examine the prevailing general trends
of music education research that addresses issues of improvisation from 1985 to 2015. The study
examined the main features of studies with impact that focus on musical improvisation and have been
published in peer-reviewed music education journals. Data were organised on the basis of the following:
1) General publication features; 2) Topic; 3) Methodological approach; 4) Participant features; 5) Type of
improvisation; 6) Definition of improvisation; 7) Findings; 8) Suggestions for practice. The study also takes
a close look at the construction of the discourses through which improvisation has been framed in the
field of music education, providing insights on how such discourses create particular pedagogical visions
of improvisation. To this end, we have created a map of the different visions of improvisation pedagogy
that the studied works point towards. These visions have been clustered in the following five categories:
(i) from rupture of certainties to creative problematisation; (ii) return to the “natural” beginning—in
search of humanness; (iii) improvisation as a learning tool; (iv) conserving and enlivening traditions;
(v) improvisation as an impetus for creativity. The map proposed in this study is meant as a possible
representation of the general trends that underpin music education research focusing on improvisation.
This map can also be seen as a “tool” through which music educators can situate their practice and reflect
on their particular ways of working with improvisation, possibly envisioning alternative ways forward.
improvisation pedagogy, improvisation research, instrumental literature review, music education,
music improvisation
Corresponding author:
Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos, School of the Humanities and the Social Sciences, University of Thessaly, Argonafton &
Filleninon, str., Volos, 382 21, Greece.
843003RSM0010.1177/1321103X19843003 Research Studies in Music EducationSiljamäki and Kanellopoulos
2 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
That improvisation should be part of music education is now rather commonplace. We
frequently hear that “[i]mprovisation is an important part of the young child’s life” (Brophy,
2001, p. 36) and therefore should be part of her/his education in music because it “is an
essential feature of the art of making music” (Campbell, 2009, p. 140). At the same time,
criticisms over the ways in which improvisation can and has been incorporated into educa-
tion have sometimes led to rather aphoristic positions: “what we claim to be ‘teaching’ as
improvisation in schools is not true improvisation. True improvisation cannot be taught – it
is a disposition to be enabled and nurtured” (Hickey, 2009, p. 286). Although such con-
cerns may not be unjustified, we nevertheless believe that, as researchers, we should refrain
from normative claims that frame improvisation in any singular way. This study, therefore,
explores the ways in which music improvisation has been approached in studies published
in peer-reviewed music education research journals from 1985 to 2015. Our broader goal
is to provide a map of visions of improvisation pedagogy that emerge through these
While being aware of the contingency of our thinking, we aim to resist oversimplifica-
tions that create barriers to a critical approach of the educational relevance of improvisa-
tion. As Blum (1998) argues, improvisation has advanced through modernity as a
“marked” term, that is, as a term always defined and construed in relation to a set of rele-
vant “unmarked” terms, i.e. composition and performance. As Wegman (1996) suggests:
the concept of “the composer” emerged in direct conjunction with a perceived opposition between
“composition” and “improvisation.” It was in the decades around 1500 that new ideas began to be
articulated, not only about musical authorship and the distinct professional identity of composers, but
also about the difference between the composition as object, on the one hand, and improvisation as a
practice, on the other. (p. 477)
As a result, improvisation has often been understood as the opposite of careful performance
preparation (“on the spur of the moment”), unforeseeable, (“ex-improviso”), random (“fortu-
ita”), an act deprived of reflection, an act that ignores any notion of adherence to rules (“sine
meditatione”, “sans régle ni dessein”) (Blum, 1998). These conceptualisations, however, have
advanced side by side with a perception of improvisation as a window towards unmediated
freedom, as an act of transcending boundaries, imposed logics, and calculated modes of con-
duct (Blum, 1998; Kanellopoulos, 2013; Kramer, 2008; Landgraf, 2011; Piotrowska, 2012;
Woodring-Goertzen, 1998).
It could be argued that this ambivalent perception of improvisation is a manifestation of the
irreconcilable struggle that is the result of core modernist dualities: originality vs. stylistic
meticulousness, immediacy vs. thorough planning of large forms, breaking away from habits
and memory vs. creating perfection that endures in the form of complete musical works in
accordance with the Werktreue (Goehr, 1992) ideals. Landgraf (2011) suggests that improvisa-
tion has played a central role “in the articulation of what summarily we might want to call
‘modern subjectivity’”, serving “as a model to elicit the complex relations and interdependen-
cies between oppositional poles, such as those between freedom and constraint, between the
personal and the societal, and more generally between the particular and the general” (p. 18).
More specifically, as Kanellopoulos (2013) has argued, inherited conceptual representations of
the improvisation phenomenon within modernity have often construed it as a moment of
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 3
This largely modern sense of improvisation is built around a core antinomy: improvisation is recognized
as a process that makes inroads towards musical, personal and sociopolitical freedom, and at the same
time it is cast as a “pre-artistic”, fatally incomplete and largely marginal creative process. (p. 42)
The view of improvisation as an always-incomplete glimpse into unchartered freedom, and at
the same time as a dangerous pathway to triviality and a threat to disciplined musical conduct
might partly account for the—until recently—characteristic neglect of improvisation in musi-
cology and philosophy of music (Bertinetto, 2013) and also for the rather defensive and resist-
ant approach to improvisation that many music educators often adopt. We feel, nevertheless,
that the ways in which this general condition has influenced music education requires a
nuanced and systematic look at the ways in which music education practice and research have
approached improvisation. This research is but a small step in this direction.
Research questions
This systematic literature review aims to identify and critically examine prevailing general
trends of music education research that addresses issues of improvisation.1 As an indicator
that an article has had some impact in our field, we have used the 10-citation rule. Fur thermore,
this study takes a close look at the construction of discourses through which improvisation has
been framed in the field of music education, providing insights on how such discourses create
particular pedagogical visions of improvisation. In this sense, it comes close to Mantie’s (2013)
critical examination of discourses constructed through “popular music pedagogy” scholarly
This aim has led to the formulation of the following research questions:
(1) What are the main features of studies that address issues of musical improvisation and
have been published in peer-reviewed music education journals?
(2) What visions of improvisation pedagogy emerge through the approaches to improvisa-
tion that these studies take?
The contribution of our study to knowledge advancement may be seen as twofold. First, we aim
at identifying general features of music education studies that address issues of improvisation.
This has been the result of an extensive content analysis and the descriptive statistics it yielded.
In this sense, this study complements review studies such as those of Running (2008), Henry
(1996), Rohwer (1997), and more recently Chandler (2018), who have focused on creativity,
composition, creativity assessment, and improvisation in elementary general music respec-
tively. Secondly, and on a more interpretative level, we aim at understanding how the notion of
improvisation, its role and value for musical practice, and its educative potential have been
construed through these studies. To this end, we will propose a conceptual map that dynami-
cally represents (a) the different approaches to the notion of improvisation that these studies
adopt, and (b) the visions of improvisation pedagogy that these studies point towards.
Research design
In this study, our ambition has been to go beyond summarising research findings in the area of
improvisation pedagogy. This research can be seen as an instrumental and collective case study
(Stake, 1994b). Stake defines an instrumental case study as one where “a particular case is
examined to provide insight into an issue or refinement of theory” (Stake, 1994b, p. 237). In
4 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
collective case studies, “researchers may study a number of cases jointly in order to inquire into
the phenomenon, population or general condition” (Stake, 1994b, p. 237). In this sense, music
education studies that address issues of improvisation are our constellation of “cases”; these
are examined with the aim of shedding light on the larger issue of how music education
research constructs particular framings of (a) the notion of improvisation, and (b) improvisa-
tion pedagogy, thus offering music educators various possibilities through which they could
situate, but also shape, their teaching practice. Treating the corpus of music education studies
that focus on, or address issues of, improvisation as our case, our study might be seen as an
instrumental literature analysis” (Onwuegbuzie, Houston, Leech, & Collins, 2012, p. 5), insofar
as data are examined in order to answer a larger question, leading to the proposition of a map
that captures the prevailing visions of improvisation pedagogy that emerge through music edu-
cation peer-reviewed articles.
Our study focuses on improvisation studies published in music education scholarly journals
between 1985 and 2015. We have included studies from the mid-1980s onwards since it was
during that time that music education research began to exercise an increasing and consider-
able influence on the content and rationale of music education curricula on an international
scale. From the mid-1980s onwards, scholarly research journals began to give voice to research
developments that reflected the lessons learned from the radical initiatives that had been grow-
ing since the 1960s (Finney, 2011; Paynter & Salaman, 2008). It was during that time that
music education steadily advanced towards acknowledging the need for a sustained and critical
dialogue between (a) psychologically informed research traditions, (b) radical teaching initia-
tives stemming from the creative music in education movement, and (c) everyday multilevel
actual teaching concerns (Grashel & LeBlanc, 1998; Roulston, 2006; Swanwick 2008; Welch
etal., 2004; Yarbrough, 1984, 1996).2 These advancements gave rise to the publication of a
variety of music education research journals in the 1990s and the 2000s; moreover, numerous
music education research methods textbooks began to appear internationally, acknowledging
the need both for more diverse methodologies and for studying a greater variety of music edu-
cation practices (Colwell, 1992; Kemp, 1988, 1992; Phelps, 1980; Phillips, 2008).3
Sample selection
The sample of our study consists of papers published in leading music education journals. The
journals were drawn from the Finnish Publication Forum (JUFO).4 Eighteen music education
journals were identified by this system, out of which twelve are ranked by JUFO as level 1, five
as level 2, and one as level 3, the highest level of the ranking. Online search engines such as
Jstor, Sage, ProQuest, Cambridge, Taylor&Francis, and Informit as well as the journals’ own
web pages were used. In those cases where online access was not available, searches were per-
formed manually. When possible, multiple sources were used in order to crosscheck findings.
The headword used was improvis* in the abstract or title of the article, in order to include all
inflections of the word improvisation. In those cases where abstracts were not available (com-
mon in philosophical articles and publications prior to the 1990s), articles with improvis* on
the first page were included.5 Only peer-reviewed studies were included, excluding editorials,
forums, and book reviews. Articles that used the word improvis* in their main text but not in the
title or abstract were also excluded from the study. On the basis of these criteria, a total of 185
articles were identified.
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 5
Our decision to study works with some impact on the field of music education led us to use
the 10-citations rule, meaning that articles with less than 10 citations at the time of conduct-
ing this study (academic year 2015–2016) were excluded from our analysis. To discover the
citation count for each article, we used Google Scholar.6 Citation analysis has previously been
used in journal content analysis as a tool for identifying journal prestige in music education
research (Hamann & Lucas, 1998), and influential studies and prominent trends of music edu-
cation research (Diaz & Silveira, 2014; Rutkowski, Thompson, & Huang, 2011; C. P. Schmidt &
Zdzinski , 1993). Although not unproblematic (Bornmann & Daniel, 2008; van Raan, 2004;
Woolgar, 1991), citation count is considered to be a fairly reliable indicator of research impact
(Bornmann, Mutz, Neuhaus, & Daniel, 2008): “Citation-based bibliometric analysis provides
indicators of international impact, influence” (van Raan, 2004, p. 27).
The use of this tool allows us to create a representative picture of prevailing trends in music
education research that addresses issues of improvisation, leaning on studies that can be seen
as having a strong impact in our field. However, the use of the 10-citations rule induces a limi-
tation: as citation frequency increases gradually over time (Hancock, 2015), post-2011 papers
had less than 10 citations, and had to be excluded from our analysis. This selection process
decreased the number of studies included from 185 (published in 17 research journals) to 77
(in 11 journals). Table 17 shows the music education journals we looked at based on JUFO; it
also shows frequency and relevant frequency of (a) articles per journal published between 1985
and 2015 (articles with improvis* in the title or abstract) and (b) articles that remained after
applying the 10-citations-rule. This led to the exclusion of relevant articles published in jour-
nals that come from countries beyond the US and the UK (Australian Journal of Music Education,
Nordic Research in Music Education Yearbook, Finnish Journal of Music Education, The Changing
Face of Music and Art Education, Problems in Music Pedagogy) and from Update: Applications of
Research in Music Education, a US journal that focuses on practice-oriented research articles. All
those journals, with the exception of FJME (whose web accessibility was very limited until
recently, something that might partly explain why none of the improvisation studies published
in it have more citations), contained a relatively small numbers of relevant articles. One journal
(Musikpedagogik), with no online access or hard copies available in any of the libraries of our
universities, was excluded from the study.
Analysis procedures
The analysis began with reading each of the 77 articles a minimum of three times. Data were
organised on the basis of a rubric used to record each article. This rubric included the following:
1) General publication features, 2) Topic, 3) Methodological approach, 4) Participant features,
5) Type of improvisation, 6) Definition of improvisation, 7) Findings, 8) Suggestions for
The methodological approach used in each study (no. 3 in the list above) was further catego-
rised as follows: quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, practice-driven descriptive essays,
philosophical, or literature review. Type of improvisation (no. 5 in the list above) included
instrumental improvisation, vocal improvisation, solo improvisation formats, group improvisa-
tion, and improvisation genre. The latter was further categorised as: western art music; popu-
lar; jazz/blues; world musics; children’s songs/singing games; tonal, non-genre-specific; “free”8
music; not specified. For studies that focused on more than one genre, a mark was placed in all
relevant categories.
In studies with empirical data, participant features (no. 4 in the list above) were categorised
as follows:9 1) level of education, 2) gender, 3) ethnicity, 4) marginality,10 and 5) music
6 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
Table 1. List of music education journals (n = 18) in Finnish Publication Forum (in 2015), country and ranking in JUFO, frequency and relative
frequency of articles ascertained based on search criteria and articles included in the study.
Music education journals Country JUFO rank Articles ascertained* Articles included**
f rf f rf
Journal of Research in Music Education (JRME) USA 2 27 14.6% 22 28.6%
British Journal of Music Education (BJME) GBR 2 29 15.7% 15 19.5%
Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education (CRME) USA 2 25 13.5% 15 19.5%
Music Education Research (MER) GBR 3 20 10.8% 9 11.7%
International Journal of Music Education (IJME) GBR 2 19 10.3% 5 6.5%
Philosophy of Music Education Review (PMER) USA 1 10 5.4% 4 5.2%
Action Criticism and Theory for Music Education (ACT) USA 1 3 1.6% 2 2.6%
Research Studies in Music Education (RSME) AUS 2 8 4.3% 2 2.6%
Contributions to Music Education (CME) USA 1 4 2.2% 1 1.3%
Journal of Music Teacher Education (JMTE) USA 1 5 2.7% 1 1.3%
Visions of Research in Music Education (VRME) USA 1 7 3.8% 1 1.3%
Australian Journal of Music Education (AJME) AUS 1 2 1.1% 0 0
Problems in Music Pedagogy (PMP) LVA 1 5 2.7% 0 0
Update: Applications of Research in Music Education (UPDATE) USA 1 3 1.6% 0 0
Nordic Research in Music Education Yearbook NOR 1 3 1.6% 0 0
Finnish Journal of Music Education (FJME) FIN 1 9 4.9% 0 0
The Changing Face of Music and Art Education (CFMAE) EST 1 6 3.2% 0 0
Musikpedagogik (MP) SWE 1 X X X X
Total 185 100% 77 100%
*Frequency and relative frequency of articles published in 1985–2015 with the headword improvis in the title or abstract. **Frequency and relative frequency of articles
with = > 10 citations (Google Scholar in 2015) and included in the study sample.
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 7
involvement. In addition, we recorded the country where the data were collected. In order to
refrain from making assumptions, only specific information regarding gender, ethnicity, and
marginality was used. If no details were given, data were classified as “not specified”, aligning
with Ebie (2002). If the information aligned with more than one category, a mark was placed
in all relevant categories. Level of education was categorised in the following way: birth to kin-
dergarten (ages 0–6), primary (ages 6–12), secondary (intermediate, high school, ages 12–18),
tertiary (college/university, 18–), and professional (teachers, musicians).
Participants’ music involvement was coded as systematic (instrumental tutoring of more than
1 year, music teachers, or further education in music) or casual (general teachers, non-music
majors, no or less than 1 year of experience in lear ning a musical instrument). For studies that had
participants with a variety of music involvement and/or main instruments a mark was placed in
each relevant category. The categories used in our rubric were decided on the basis of a brief review
of content analysis studies (Ebie, 2002; Kratus, 1995; Rutkowski etal., 2011; Silveira & Diaz,
2014; Tirovolas, & Levitin, 2011; Yarbrough, 1984). The first stage of the analysis resulted in con-
densed descriptions of each of the 77 articles. To answer the first research question, descriptive
statistics were elicited on the basis of the rubric presented above.
The second stage aimed at identifying the visions of improvisation pedagogy that emerged
(research question 2). We first created a list of possible approaches to improvisation inspired by
interdisciplinary literature on improvisation (including historical and cultural musicology, eth-
nomusicology, theatre studies, literary theory, music education, and music therapy). The list
served as an abductive hypothesis, enabling the researchers to “enter the field with the deepest
and broadest theoretical base possible and develop their theoretical repertoires throughout the
research process” (Timmermans & Tavory, 2012, p. 180; Agar, 1999). Thus, our study borrows
the logic of instrumental case studies, where abductive reasoning can be employed using
already developed “instruments and preconceived coding schemes” (Stake, 1994b, p. 243) in
the process of analysis.
Supplementary visits to the original articles were made in order to crosscheck and crystallise
our interpretation of the approaches that prevailed in each study. The emerging characterisa-
tions of the approaches were compared against and parallel to each other, ensuring compre-
hensiveness and accuracy of interpretation. As Timmermans and Tavory (2012) have argued,
“abduction reflects the process of creatively inferencing and double-checking these inferences
with more data” (p. 168), with the aim of looking for plausible “new concepts” that might
meaningfully account for new data. This process of analysis (see Figure 1) led to the identifica-
tion of 11 approaches to improvisation. Exploring the pedagogical implications of these 11
approaches, and the ways in which they were related to each other in the data, in pairs or
groups, led to the proposition of five overarching themes that describe the visions of improvisa-
tion pedagogy in these studies.
Results – Research Question 1: What are the main features of
studies that address issues of musical improvisation and have
been published in peer-reviewed music education journals?
opics studied
The scope of the studies proved to be broad, employing a number of theoretical and methodologi-
cal perspectives informed by a variety of disciplines. In order to present an overall view of the stud-
ied topics, we compared and grouped all relevant information, ending up with nine headings that
include subtopics addressed (see Table 2). Each article was placed under one particular heading.
8 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
Topics related to musical development were the most frequent (31.2%), steadily attracting music
education researchers (for an overview of changes in topics studied across time see Figure 2).
Figure 1. Selection of research material and process of analysis.
Table 2. List of topics studied and subtopics addressed, frequency and relative frequency of topics
studied in the data sample (N = 77).
Topics studied Subtopics addressed f rf
Musical development Music performance skills; rhythmic and melodic
elements; influential factors; achievement; learning
strategies; creativity
24 31.2%
Teaching practice and
Teachers’ perceptions and perspectives of musical
improvisation, creativity and composition; factors
influencing ability and confidence to teach
improvisation; teaching approaches
12 15.6%
Improvisation ability Factors influencing the development and achievement
(e.g., confidence, anxiety, gender, pedagogical
material); evaluation; cognitive processes; gender
12 15.6%
Values and meanings of/in
improvisation pedagogy
Values and meanings of improvisation practice in
relation to music education, improvisation pedagogy
and society
9 11.7%
A metaphor for understanding
research practice
Research review; improvisation as a model for
qualitative research
5 6.5%
Sociality of improvisation Shared understanding; social and musical interaction;
modes of communication
4 5.2%
Meaning-making in
Musical thinking; perceptions and assigned meanings
in improvisation; personal experiences
4 5.2%
Teaching methods Practical suggestions and descriptions of how to
include improvisation in music teaching
4 5.2%
Musical responsiveness Response to musical stimuli in relation to previous
experience in music and/or improvisation
3 3.9%
Total 77 100%
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 9
More articles dealing with practical teaching methods seem to have been published at the
beginning of the period under study, while studies dealing with how teachers feel about teach-
ing have been more frequent in recent times. A focus on issues of meaning-making in improvi-
sation and musical responsiveness has also been a rather recent development. Also, four studies,
three by a prominent scholar in music education (Bresler, 2005, 2006, 2009) and one by an
important theorist of qualitative research (Stake, 1994a), draw on music improvisation as a
metaphor and model for understanding the creative fluidity that inheres in the process of car-
rying out qualitative research.
Methodological approaches
Quantitative methods had the highest representation (36.4%), followed by qualitative approaches
(24.7%) (Figure 3). Prior to the year 2000 only three studies (3.9%) employed qualitative methods.
However, after 2000 employment of qualitative methods began to rise significantly. Qualitative
research approaches include ethnography, grounded theory, action research, case study, natural-
istic inquiry, and narrative inquiry. Practice-driven descriptive essays (19.5%) reached a peak prior
to the year 2000, gradually decreasing afterwards, possibly due to the rise in qualitative studies as
well as to an increasing interest in the pursuit of philosophical approaches to improvisation
(11.7%). Studies with empirical data (n = 52, 67.5% of the studied sample) employed quantitative
(53.8%, n = 28), qualitative (36.5%, n = 19), and mixed methods (9.6%, n = 5).
Features of the empirical studies
Data generation techniques. Solo improvisation tasks were the most popular data generation
technique, measuring individual effort with or without an accompaniment. This was used in
Figure 2. Relative frequency of topics studied in the data sample (n =77, 1985–2011).
10 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
40.4% (n = 21) of the studies—only one of which was qualitative (that of Noorgaard, 2011).
Survey techniques were used in 21.2% of the studies, in the context of both mixed and quanti-
tative methods. Most of the qualitative studies employed ethnographic data collection methods,
such as various interview techniques, including stimulated recall (see Rowe, 2009; Tobias,
2014), collection of field notes, participant journals, and observation techniques. Observation
was mostly conducted in naturalistic settings. Most empirical studies of jazz improvisation
(30.8%, n = 16 of the total amount of empirical studies we looked at) employ quantitative
methods (n = 13). Interestingly, group improvisation (which was the focus of 17.3%, n = 9, of
the studies) has been studied exclusively with qualitative methods (ethnographic, grounded,
naturalistic, and narrative methods).
Participants. School students (primary and secondary) were the focus of 44.2% (n = 23) of stud-
ies, and tertiary students were the focus in 30.8% (n = 16) of the studies (Figure 4). It is notable
that in 54% of the studies, gender was not specified. Looking at those studies where participants’
gender was mentioned, we found that 54% were male and 47% female. None of the studies
focused on participants that could be identified as belonging to marginalised or at-risk youth
A total of 61.5% of the studies focused on participants with systematic music involvement
(Table 3), with a prevalence of wind instruments (31.3%). Instruments were not specified in
53.1% of studies with empirical data, particularly in studies with music teachers or tertiary
music education students. Only four studies (Burnard, 2000a, 2000b, 2002; Mang, 2005) pro-
vided a detailed description of the participants’ ethnic background. Most studies (53.8%) were
conducted in North America (Figure 5), 30.8% took place in Europe, while one study employed
Figure 3. Relative frequency of methodological approaches in the study sample (n =77, 1985–2011).
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 11
distribution of questionnaires in North and South America, as well as in Australia (that of
Madura Ward-Steinman, 2007).
Type of improvisation. Instrumental improvisation was the focus in 40.4% (n = 21) of the arti-
cles; 23.1% (n = 12) examined vocal improvisation. In many cases, improvisation activities
involved both instrumental and vocal aspects. Solo improvisation formats with or without
accompaniment were used in 55.8% (n = 29) of the studies, mostly in task-related activities.
Most studies (38.5%) focused on tonal but non-genre-specific music (Figure 6); 30.8% of the
studies focused on jazz and blues improvisation genres. This was followed by “free” music (19.2%).
An explicit focus on western art music, world musics, and popular musics was particularly rare.
Results – Research Question 2: What visions of improvisation
pedagogy emerge through the approaches to improvisation that
these studies take?
Visions of improvisation pedagogy in music education research
Our analysis yielded a set of five visions of improvisation pedagogy, which manifest themselves
through eleven ways of approaching improvisation and improvising. In this paper we argue
Figure 4. Frequency and relative frequency of participants’ level of education in empirical studies (n =52).
Table 3. Frequency* and relative frequency of level of music involvement in empirical studies (n = 52)
and main instrument of participants in empirical studies with systematic music involvement (n = 32).
Level of music
f rf Main instrument of participants with systematic
music involvement
f rf
Systematic 32 61.5%
Keyboard 4 12.5%
Wind (clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, flute,
tuba, French horn, euphonium, vibraphone)
10 31.3%
Percussion, rhythmic section, MIDI drums 2 6.3%
String (violin, cello, acoustic bass) 3 9.4%
Band 3 9.4%
Choir 2 6.3%
Voice 5 15.6%
Not specified 17 53.1%
Casual 12 23.1%
Not specified 16 30.8%
*If the information aligned with more than one category, a mark was placed in all categories.
12 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
that particular visions of improvisation pedagogy lead to concrete pedagogical actions that take
place in the pedagogical moment of improvisation. The latter is an abstraction based on van Manen
(1991), and refers to “that situation in which the pedagogue does something appropriate to
learning” (van Manen, 1991, p. 515) on the basis of immediate pedagogical decisions that are
based on perceived ideas about the educational value of improvisation. These visions are, in
turn, based on particular constellations of approaches to improvisation (Figure 7). The pro-
posed map is not, obviously, a representation of “real life”, but a conceptual lens through which
we can frame and situate particular music education creative practices on the basis of possibili-
ties opened to us through music education studies that address improvisation. Pedagogical
moments are moments of educators’ “active encounter” (van Manen, 1991,
p. 510) with the question of creating educationally valuable contributions through immediate
and appropriate modes of response. At those moments, one is concurrently—consciously or
not—being pulled towards a variety of ways of approaching improvisation and improvising.
The choices made at each pedagogical moment between different approaches to improvisation
inform one’s vision of improvisation pedagogy.
Below, we present the five visions of improvisation pedagogy and the approaches to improvi-
sation in a non-hierarchical order.
Vision I: From rupture of certainties to creative problematisation. This vision of improvisation peda-
gogy sees improvisation as a means for cultivating a more open attitude to sound through free
Figure 5. Frequency and relative frequency of country where data were collected in empirical studies (n=52).
Figure 6. Frequency and relative frequency of music genre in empirical studies (n=52).
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 13
instrumental exploration (Koutsoupidou, 2005). It encourages teaching practices that open up
“the question of what counts as musical material and the relationship between intentionality and
creation of shared conceptions of what sounds can be heard as music” (Kanellopoulos, 2007b, p.
129). Approaching improvisation as an open attitude to sound leads to improvisational practices
that are not bound by culturally and educationally framed “adult” criteria, rejecting adherence to
preconceived forms and placing less emphasis on inherited style-derived criteria (Burnard, 2002;
Kanellopoulos, 2007b; Koutsoupidou, 2005). Thus, by encouraging rupture, this vision is at the
same time emphasising the need to search for the child’s authentic “voice”, thus casting school as
“a site for cultural reconstruction as much as a site for cultural reproduction” (Kennedy, 2006, p.
The roots of this vision can be traced back to the experimental music practices of the post-
war era (Kutschke, 1999; Nyman, 1999; Reynolds, 1965). Envisioning improvisation in edu-
cation as a means of creative becoming is closely connected to approaching improvisation as an
open form, as a particular way of approaching time and musical material in improvisation, an
attitude that figures prominently in non-idiomatic, free improvisation contexts (Ford, 1995;
Hickey, 2009; Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010). It understands improvisation as a disposition
that needs to be nurtured and enabled, and therefore can be facilitated but not taught in a tra-
ditional sense (Addison, 1988; Hickey, 2009; Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010).
An emphasis on rupture entails an approach to improvisation as a mode of music making
that poses and problematises issues of how we live together, addressing issues of personal free-
dom and socio-musical inequalities: emancipation and empowerment. It becomes a pathway
towards liberating oneself and others from oppressive structures and habits, as well as over-
coming personal inhibitions (Mawer, 1999; McMillan, 1999). Improvisation thus becomes a
way of conscientisation, of recognising oppressive musical and social structures, thus casting
Figure 7. A map of prevailing visions of improvisation pedagogy as they emerge through the
approaches to improvisation that music education research studies address.
14 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
music education as a form of critical pedagogy (Abrahams, 2005; Allsup, 2003; Freire, 1965;
P. Schmidt, 2005). This vision sees improvisation as leading towards authentic learning, based
on the belief that all students “are capable of the pursuit of freedom, regardless of the forces
that oppress them” (Allsup, 1997, p. 84). The pedagogue’s task is seen as giving students per-
sonal responsibility in an atmosphere of trust, empathy, and dialogue (Burnard, 2002; Hickey,
2009). This pedagogical vision highlights the potential political significance of improvisation,
and its relevance to exploring and enacting notions of democracy (Kanellopoulos, 2007a).
Vision II: Return to the “natural” beginning—in search of humanness. This vision rests on a more
psychologically-oriented stance, paying particular attention to a student’s personality and its
moulding. It is shaped by an understanding of improvisation as a means for exploring and develop-
ing social relationships, and as a means for cultivating free self-expression that reshapes personal
identities and ways of understanding musical selves (Addison, 1988; Allsup, 1997). This
approach understands improvisation as a means for balancing the process of life (Boyce-Till-
man, 2000), actualising a kind of collectively-shaped sense of unity where individual and col-
lective freedom co-exist, resulting in a “union of minds in music” (Ford, 1995, p. 106) where
communication can override technique. This approach shares important commonalities with
literature that links improvisation with self-exploration, the exploration of one’s relationships to
others, as well as community building (Doffman, 2013; MacDonald, Hargreaves & Miell, 2002;
Magee, 2002; Pavlicevic, 1995; see also Peters, 2009). This understanding of improvisation as
a mode of elementary creativity, as a primordial creative practice, can be seen as part of a long
tradition of literature that considers improvisation as a central element of the human disposi-
tion to living and creating, as a natural springboard for individual artistic development, but also
“as a slow process through which particular musical practices are being born and crystallised”
(Kanellopoulos, 2013, p. 42).
This vision adopts a broader view of improvisation as a natural human predisposition that
can lead to immediate forms of musical communication. It encourages music teachers to
employ improvisation in their everyday work as a means of countering the feeling of alienation
that is produced in learning theory and notation. This view rests on the belief that music learn-
ing shares important similarities with language learning, where use comes first while gram-
matical explanation follows later (Harrison & Pound, 1996). Therefore, by acknowledging
improvisation as a natural ability (Addison, 1988; Burnard, 2000b), it calls for modes of teach-
ing that remain close to what is believed to be a “natural” mode of learning. The pioneering
work of Coleman (1922), Moorhead and Pond (1941), and Doig (1941) might be regarded as
precursors of this vision of improvisation pedagogy.
Vision III: Improvisation as a learning tool. This vision approaches improvisation as a means of
learning and understanding music. Campbell (2009) refers to this vision as “improvising to learn
music” (p. 120; see also Elliott, 1995; Martin, 2005; and more recently, Wall, 2018). Here,
improvisation is understood as a pathway that leads to a deeper understanding of syntactic and
expressive qualities of music, as “the meaningful manipulation of tonal and rhythm music con-
tent created in ongoing musical thought” (Azzara, 1993, p. 330). One could trace the roots of
this vision to the classic efforts of Dalcroze (1932; also Anderson, 2012) to bring to music
education that “aura” of musicality and musical sense that resides in a hands-on approach to
music. Intuitive work on the employment of musical codes is seen as leading to the situated
development of musically satisfying ways of enculturation through the gradual internalisation
of musical-cultural codes, which is itself the result of a constant interchange between memori-
sation and transformation.
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 15
Studies that adopt this vision value improvisation as a means of skill development. They stress
its usefulness as a way of developing accuracy in the instrumental performance of notated
music, enhancing parts of the brain in ways that technique-oriented learning does not. What
is more, they see improvisation as fostering the development of performance skills in ways that
result in greater learning motivation (Azzara, 1993; McPherson, 1997; McPherson, Bailey, &
Sinclair 1997; McPherson & McCormick, 1999). Furthermore, improvisation is seen as a
means of cultivating an enhanced ability to communicate feelings to the audience (Chappell,
Adherence to this vision leads to pedagogical work that uses improvisation as a means
for deepening and expanding learned skills (Addison, 1988), focusing on technical and
psychological skills that are integral to music-making (Addison, 1988; Beegle, 2010), lead-
ing to musical development (Harrison & Pound, 1996) as well as contributing to an
enhanced appreciation of music (Parisi, 2004). Furthermore, this vision has significantly
contributed to the development of a body of research that uses improvisation as a tool for
assessing aspects of musicianship, or for determining the level of musical or skill develop-
ment (e.g., Beegle, 2010; Guilbault, 2004; Paananen, 2006); this has also contributed to a
body of literature that relates to the content and the structure of aural skills curricula
(Azzara & Grunow, 2003; Spiegelberg; 2008). It must be noted, however, that concerns
have been raised as to whether music educators’ employment of improvisation as a learn-
ing strategy does justice to the complexities of improvisation practice (see, e.g., Hickey,
Vision IV: Conserving and enlivening traditions. As a result of the intersections between ethno-
musicology, jazz studies and music education (Berliner, 1994; Elliott, 1995; Nettl, 2012; Sud-
now, 1993), a growing body of music education studies seem to acknowledge the various roles
that improvisation plays in a variety of musical traditions. Thus, they approach improvisation
as a stylistically situated form of expertise, and therefore construct a vision of improvisation
pedagogy that aims at conserving particular musical traditions and the role that improvisation
plays therein. Improvisation is understood as a particular discipline with its own hierarchies
and standards of excellence, emphasising professionalism and instrumental virtuosity (Naqvi,
2012; Peters, 2009; Prouty, 2006; Racy, 2009). In order to be faithful to established improvis-
ing traditions, a player must learn to observe every minute stylistic convention while creatively
moulding it in nuanced and flexible ways. Through such a conceptual lens, the development of
the ability to observe stylistic conventions (Madura Ward, 1996; Madura Ward-Steinman,
2008) and to achieve stylistic nuance in a purposeful but effortless manner (Kratus, 1995) is
seen as a crucial task of improvisation pedagogy. This pedagogic vision rests on an approach to
improvisation as model-bound, as a mode of musical behaviour that relies on stylistically deter-
mined rules (Kratus, 1995; McPherson, 1993) and culturally framed musical structures (Kra-
tus, 1995). It therefore emphasises internalisation of style-specific building blocks and
formulaic patterns (Bent, 2002; Elliott, 1995; Nettl, 2009; Rice, 1994; Tirro, 1974). Students
learn how to be faithful to the tradition specifically through the development of a creative rela-
tionship with its rules: in the words of Early Harp virtuoso Andrew Lawrence-King, “to be faith-
ful to the spirit of the music one must be prepared to alter the written notes” (Sherman, 1997,
p. 165).
Vision V: Improvisation as an impetus for creativity. This vision values improvisation for its contri-
bution to the generation of ideas, and as a tool for eliciting novel responses. Here, adherence to
stylistic norms and instrumental virtuosity are of lesser importance. Emphasis is placed on
16 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
improvisation as a process of discovery. As such, it is thought of as sharing the same skill-set as
composing, in effect being a compositional process that occurs in “real time” (e.g., Addison,
1988; Strand, 2006). This vision emphasises the educational value of enabling students to
arrive at new—for them—ideas, freeing the mind from linear processes, thus allowing for the
unexpected to occur (see, e.g., Webster, 2012). It thus values improvisation as a source of crea-
tivity (Hargreaves, 1999), a means of invention. Approaches that rest on such views have been
central to school music projects that encourage product-oriented creative processes, paying sig-
nificant attention to hands-on composing, reserving for improvisation the role of experiment-
ing in the search for musical ideas (see, e.g., Bunting, 1987; Odena, Plummeridge, & Welch,
2005; Swanwick & Jarvis, 1990).
A call for broadening the scope of research
In this article we have explored some general features of studies with impact that address music
improvisation and were published in peer-reviewed music education journals between 1985
and 2015. Our study shows that research that addresses improvisation in secondary school and
community music contexts, as well as studies that focus on participants with varied musical
backgrounds and experiences are still far from becoming a widely acknowledged and discussed
subfield. Important inroads might also need to be paved by future studies on improvisation in
world musics (including western art music) and popular music genres, traditions where improvi-
sation has in many respects played a stronger role than is usually assumed (see Berkowitz, 2010;
Borio & Carone, 2018; Gooley, 2018; Solis & Nettl, 2009). This might lead to a greater emphasis
on connecting creative pedagogical work to the wealth of extant musical traditions. In addition,
it would also take us beyond restrictive views of improvisation in music education as leading to
“tonal, non-genre-specific”, or “classroom music” (Finney, 2011; Swanwick, 1994).
Furthermore, future research might need to pursue more closely intermedia improvisation
practices in education, as well to develop “practice as research” perspectives (Cook, 2015,
p. 12). Moreover, in the sample of studies investigated in this research, we show that although
the sociality of improvisation has been widely recognised, studies that focus on the collabora-
tive aspects of improvisation were still limited. Further, the results of this study raise the ques-
tion of unequal representation and dissemination of research carried out in different countries,
and the effects of this imbalance on music education research at large.
Our study demonstrates that the role of improvisation in inclusive practices, and its poten-
tial contribution to social cohesion through empowering students who can be described as
socially, economically, or culturally marginalised, has not achieved the prominence we feel it
deserves. To argue for more research in that direction does not of course imply that improvisa-
tion should be seen merely as a remedy to issues of community building. There is a need for
critical approaches to improvisation and its relation to notions of power, and to how improvisa-
tion creates its own (hidden or explicit) hierarchies. To that we should add the value of research-
ing improvisation as a mode of creative practice in the face of contemporary educational
contexts, which have imposed dramatic changes in the role of creativity in education (Kalin,
2018; Kanellopoulos, 2015).
Moreover, it seems to us that future music education research might need to develop stronger
links with the burgeoning field of improvisation studies, with experiments with improvisation
and radical problematisations that come from the fields of critical musicology (e.g., Stefanou,
Ragkou, Peki, Pazarloglou, & Papoutsi, 2016; Székely, 2008), historical musicology (e.g.,
Wegman, 1996), and philosophy of music (e.g., Goehr, 2016). It is noteworthy that, with one
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 17
exception (MacGlone & MacDonald, 2017), none of the important edited volumes that focus on
improvisation and were published after 2015 contain a single essay on its educative dimensions
(Born, Lewis, & Straw 2017; Caines & Heble, 2015; Lewis & Piekut, 2016a, 2016b; Siddall &
Waterman, 2016).11
A tool for further reflection
In response to our second research question, this paper has also proposed a map of different
visions of improvisation pedagogy that the investigated studies point towards. The proposed five
visions of improvisation pedagogy, with the 11 different approaches to improvisation towards
which they point, illustrate the plurality that exists in how improvisation has been understood
in the literature reviewed in this study. One important conclusion that can be drawn is that
music education studies have moved beyond the mysticism that used to surround past
approaches to improvisation, a mysticism that denied any sort of role for improvisation in the
process of education (see Watson, 2010).
Our data show a strong preference for model-bound approaches, while approaches to improv-
isation as an open form were the least common (see Figure 8). The relation between the studied
topics and the 11 approaches to improvisation shows that when the pedagogic focus is on musi-
cal development model-bound definitions seem to dominate, emphasising the need for skill devel-
opment and the development of musical understanding (Figure 9). On the basis of such
comparisons, it is possible to conclude that issues of value and meaning-making in improvisa-
tion, as well as its collaborative, social aspects, are in need of further attention by future studies.
Also, research on improvisation as an ability, as well as on teaching practice and teaching com-
petence, might need to pay more attention to free improvisation aesthetics, as well as to the
emancipatory and collaborative aspects of improvisation. It is encouraging that more recent
studies in music education are already beginning to tackle some of these issues (e.g., Hickey,
2015; Hickey, Ankney, Healy, & Gallo, 2016).
Our data confirm that, far from being a marginal and peripheral mode of musical practice in
music education, improvisation has become a way of addressing, highlighting, and cultivating
Figure 8. Frequency and relative frequency of approaches to improvisation adopted in the study sample
18 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
qualities that are of core importance to music and its role in human lives. It can therefore be
said that music education studies that address issues of musical improvisation have indeed tried
to inquire into improvisation’s links to core aspects of what it means to be musically educated,
and the sometimes irreconcilable struggle between conflicting forces that this process induces:
how to enable students to delve into extant modes of musical practice without impeding their
spontaneity; how to enable critical reasoning while fostering community building; how to
develop modes of study that are close to students’ natural learning processes while advancing
technical mastery; how to allow for innovative thinking while preserving long-cherished tradi-
tions “authentically”. Thus, music education’s apprehension of improvisation seems to have
gone beyond the freedom vs. triviality polarity mentioned at the start of this article.
The map proposed in this study is meant as a possible representation of general trends that
underpin music education research that addresses improvisation. In addition, we suggest that
this map may also function as a way of conceptualising the tensions that arise in different
music education situations where improvisation plays a part. Thus, it can be used as a frame-
work for situating our particular ways of working with improvisation in our everyday teaching
practice. In this sense, the visions of improvisation pedagogy proposed in this paper might work
as a map that assists our reflection on the pedagogical moment of improvisation (based on van
Manen, 1991). Whenever teachers and students come together to work on the basis of improv-
isation, their practice lives in the midst of tensions that arise as a result of the different
approaches to and beliefs about improvisation on which their educational work may be based.
In this sense, in her/his everyday engagement with improvisation, every music teacher “pro-
duces” a new version of the map. However, as van Manen (1991) aptly states, “[a]s I reflect peda-
gogically on my daily living with children I discover my pedagogical nature, its present limits and
possibilities” (p. 532). Thus, every version of the map may be subject to change, as one reflects
Figure 9. Frequency of approaches to improvisation in studied topics.
Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos 19
upon and experiments with different approaches to the question of what role improvisation
should play in our everyday teaching practice. Different answers to the question of the educa-
tional value of improvisation produce different visions of improvisation pedagogies, thus creat-
ing distinctive “pedagogical moments” of improvisation. Our map can be seen as a tool through
which music educators can situate their practice and reflect upon it, possibly envisioning alter-
native ways forward. As such, it is an example of how theory might inform practice.
Sincere thanks are due to the community of researchers at the Music Education doctoral seminar of the
Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki; also to Danae Stefanou, Eleftheria Tseliou, Heidi
Westerlund and Christopher TenWolde for their constructive comments at various stages of this project.
We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers of RSME for their sharp comments and critical
This research is part of the ArtsEqual project (project no. 293199) funded by the Academy of Finland’s
Strategic Research Council and its Equality in Society program.
1. In this study we take a broad view of the notion of research, as the in-depth and systematic inquiry
into questions, phenomena and issues, using a variety of approaches to knowledge building, i.e.
empirical methods of data generation and collection as well as various forms of conceptual inquiry
(philosophical in a strict sense but also practice-based reflective inquiries). As Reimer has long ago
argued: “it would seem reasonable to conceive science as an endeavor, carried out in a great variety
of ways, to achieve conceptual clarity about ourselves and our world. That allows for philosophy and
history to be part of the endeavor while also honoring the distinctions between science and those
fields clearly not science, such as art and religion” (Reimer, 1985, p. 10).
2. Keith Swanwick notes: “At the time of the launch of the BJME [British Journal of Music Education]
in 1984, music education was in a state of transition” (2008, p. 223). A year earlier the International
Journal of Music Education (IJME) launched its inaugural issue, widening the scope and role of music
education research that had been almost thoroughly dominated by experimental psychology and quan-
titative research methodologies through the long tradition of Psychology of Music (that commenced
publication in 1973) in the UK, the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education (BCRME,
launched in 1963), and the Journal of Research in Music Education (JRME, launched in 1953) in the US.
3. Phelps’ 2nd edition of his pioneering A Guide to Research in Music Education appeared in 1980. Tony
Kemp published an edited volume that acknowledged the need for more diverse methodologies in
music education research in 1992, at the same time when the first edition of the Handbook of Research
in Music Education went to print (Colwell, 1992).
4. JUFO “is a rating and classification system to support the quality assessment of research output. To
account for the different publication cultures characteristic of various disciplines, the classification
includes academic journals, book series, conferences, as well as book publishers. The three-level clas-
sification rates the major foreign and domestic publication channels of all disciplines as follows:
1 = basic level2 = leading level3 = highest level.
The evaluation is performed by 23 discipline-specific Expert Panels composed of some 200 distin-
guished Finnish or Finland-based scholars. Publication Forum operates under the auspices of the
Federation of Finnish Learned Societies (TSV)” (
forum). The decision to work with this particular ranking system rests on the institutional affiliation
of the first author of this paper.
5. Improvisation in music education has also been researched and discussed under the umbrella of
composition-based creative music-making (e.g., Hopkins, 2015; Loane, 1984; Odam, 1995; Paynter,
1992), or through reference to notions such as “generative song making” (Barrett, 2006, p. 202),
20 Research Studies in Music Education 00(0)
“spontaneous play” (Young, 2003, p. 45), invented songs (e.g., Barrett, 2006; Davies, 1986, 1992;
Ilari, 2014), spontaneous vocalisations (Countryman, Gabriel & Thompson, 2016; Dowling, 1984,
1988), or spontaneous musical behaviour (Miller, 1986). However, an examination of the various
pedagogical, aesthetic and epistemological reasons for this variety of terminologies lies beyond the
scope of this study.
6. Although Google Scholar has been criticised for not being an accurate search tool (Gray etal., 2012),
it has been seen as a more favourable tool for measuring citation counts for the more “disadvan-
taged” disciplines of the humanities and the social sciences (Harzing, 2013) than indexing tools such
as Web of Science or Scopus.
7. The overall sums in the tables and figures may not equal 100% due to rounding.
8. “Free” music, in this context, refers to a kind of improvisation that consciously posits itself beyond
the stylistic conventions of any particular musical idiom, stressing the musicians’ liberty to draw on
a wide variety of resources and techniques.
9. Our categorisation is based on Kratus (1992).
10. For more information regarding the notion and the study of marginality see Gatzweiler and
Baumüller (2014), Rimmer (2012), and Pelc (2017).
11. Having said this, it must also be mentioned that Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en
improvisation, a new improvisation studies online journal, has devoted a whole issue (Vol. 3, No. 2,
2008) to improvisation pedagogy; and one must also not neglect the two edited volumes on improvi-
sation co-authored by ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl, which do address issues of education in a most
significant manner (Nettl & Russell, 1998; Solis & Nettl, 2009).
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Author biographies
Eeva Siljamäki received her MMus in music education from the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts
Helsinki, Finland, and is currently continuing her studies there as a Doctoral Researcher. Her research
interests are in the field of improvisation, improvisation pedagogy, and the societal impact of the arts.
Siljamäki also has an established career as an improviser, vocalist (CCM), choral conductor, and peda-
gogue. Read more:
Panagiotis A. Kanellopoulos serves as an Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of
Thessaly, Greece. He has co-edited the volume Arts in Education, Education in the Arts (Nissos, 2010, in
Greek), and is currently co-editing the Routledge Handbook of Sociology of Music Education (to be published
in 2020). His work has been published in international publications (e.g., the Oxford Handbook of Music
Education and Social Justice, 2015) and scholarly journals (e.g., PMER, Education Philosophy & Theory,
BJME, ACT in Music Education). He is active as a mandolinist, performing and recording both improvised
and composed music.
... Detta innebär att lärares förhållningssätt till improvisation kan ta sig många uttryck. Tidigare forskning visar exempelvis att struktur/styrning respektive frihet är två vanligt förekommande begrepp för hur improvisation förstås i undervisning (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019;Rebne & Saetre, 2019;Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). När styrning betonas ses improvisation som ett verktyg för att utveckla musikalisk kompetens (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019) och som knutet till olika modeller (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). ...
... Tidigare forskning visar exempelvis att struktur/styrning respektive frihet är två vanligt förekommande begrepp för hur improvisation förstås i undervisning (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019;Rebne & Saetre, 2019;Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). När styrning betonas ses improvisation som ett verktyg för att utveckla musikalisk kompetens (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019) och som knutet till olika modeller (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). Med ett fokus på frihet uppfattas istället improvisation som en kommunikativ och expressiv och/eller en explorativ och reflekterande praktik (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019) och som en öppen form av improvisation (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). ...
... När styrning betonas ses improvisation som ett verktyg för att utveckla musikalisk kompetens (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019) och som knutet till olika modeller (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). Med ett fokus på frihet uppfattas istället improvisation som en kommunikativ och expressiv och/eller en explorativ och reflekterande praktik (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019) och som en öppen form av improvisation (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). Detta har i en tidigare studie (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019) visat sig leda till att improvisation i pedagogisk praktik i huvudsak implementeras som antingen ett medel till något annat, något utöver improvisationserfarenheten, eller som ett mål i sig, där den musikaliska erfarenheten har ett egenvärde (Varkøy, 2014). ...
Full-text available
This article draws on interviews with three music teachers. It is part of a larger study that explores improvisation in general music education in the Swedish school year 4. The article focuses teachers’ pedagogical approaches to improvisation and how this effect the teaching. This study reveals that music teachers incorporate improvisation in their teaching. They do, however, lack a professional language in order to reflect on content, methods, aim and purpose of improvisation in education. Through thematic analysis, we demonstrate that pedagogical points of departure and attitudes are implicitly present in the teachers’ practices and have implications for their educational orientation. Three diverse but overlapping educational orientations are discerned: a process-oriented, a subject-oriented and a Bildung-oriented. The educational orientations are reflected in these teachers’ approaches to improvisation and are related to pedagogical choices of activities, how activities are conducted and to what aim.
... 26(1) ENERO-ABRIL, 2022: 1-23 Estrategias metodológicas en los procesos creativos y colaborativos Las estrategias metodológicas aludidas anteriormente son esenciales para abordar la creatividad musical en el aula. Entre las más imaginativas e innovadoras, se encuentra la improvisación musical, pues permite al alumnado explorar, expresarse individualmente, desarrollar habilidades de pensamiento de orden superior y desarrollar una relación integral con la música (Siljamäki y Kanellopoulos, 2020). Sin embargo, la improvisación no suele ser un proceso habitual en la práctica musical escolar. ...
... Se produjo un aumento generalizado del trabajo en grupo -con las excepciones mencionadas-y una apertura hacia nuevas sonoridades. Se alude a la creatividad y a la implicación personal y motivación del alumnado a realizar algo con las demás personas (Siljamäki y Kanellopoulos, 2020). ...
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Objetivo. Analizar las estrategias y las actividades creativas que el profesorado de música realiza en sus aulas mediante un software construido por las personas investigadoras que facilita la creación sonora colaborativa en contextos docentes. Método. El trabajo se ha realizado mediante un enfoque exploratorio-descriptivo a través de una experiencia didáctica desarrollada durante 12 semanas en aula y después se encuestó a 27 docentes de educación primaria y secundaria. La encuesta recogió información sobre actividades de aula realizadas, procesos creativos llevados a cabo, estrategias docentes adoptadas, recursos de aula y uso del software en las actividades. Resultados. Los resultados muestran: 1) un estilo directivo del profesorado; 2) unas actividades creativas que estuvieron limitadas en su mayoría a sonorización de imágenes y relatos; 3) una dedicación horaria en clase media-baja; 4) percepciones positivas sobre el trabajo cooperativo y la creatividad del alumnado; 5) una valoración positiva del software 6) un gran número de problemas de comprensión del software. Conclusiones. Se sugiere la necesidad de una mayor implicación del profesorado en los procesos creativos de composición, así como una mayor y mejor formación tecnológica de este.
... Verschillende onderzoekers (Cobussen, 2017;Bishop, 2018;Kenny, 2014;Monk, 2013) stellen dat we moeten afstappen van het idee dat improvisatie enkel op een individuele en cognitieve manier kan worden aangeleerd. Het aanleren van improvisatie vereist een bepaalde pedagogische benadering die gebaseerd is op de gelijkwaardigheid tussen leraar en leerling en op een collaboratieve praktijk die interactie en muzikale verbeelding in het centrum van het onderwijsproces plaatst (Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010;Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2019). Deze gelijkwaardige houding van de leraar houdt onder meer in dat de leraar samen met de leerling improviseert en handelt als een coach. ...
... immers niet om of iets goed of fout is. Het gaat erom om samen (leraar en leerling) een muzikale dialoog op te zetten (zie onder andere Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010;Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2019). Deze manier van kijken past binnen een constructivistische visie op het muziekonderwijs waar leren het resultaat is van activiteiten van de leerlingen zelf door nieuwe informatie te verbinden aan wat ze al kennen. ...
In dit hoofdstuk willen we het punt maken dat improvisatie een essentieel element is van de muzikale praktijk en moet worden bekeken als een gesitueerde en collaboratieve praktijk (Martin, 2005; Cobussen, 2017). Een belangrijk uitgangspunt hierbij is de interactie tussen muzikanten onderling als een proces van gedeelde betekenisgeving (Monk, 2013; Elliott & Silverman, 2014; De Jaegher, 2016). We bespreken enkele hinderpalen voor improvisatie en ontwikkelen enkele gedachten over improvisatie als muzikaal gedrag. Verder stellen we dat de gestructureerde improvisatie en vrije improvisatie samen kunnen aangeboden worden in de onderwijspraktijk en dat er nood is aan een model dat een balans biedt tussen ‘vrijheid’ en ‘structuur’. (Hickey, 2009; Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019). Improvisatie als collaborative practice betekent dat vaardigheidstraining steeds gecombineerd wordt met aandacht voor samenwerking en interactie tussen muzikanten. Op die manier kunnen aspecten van gestructureerde improvisatie, waar de nadruk meer ligt op het ontwikkelen van technische competenties gecombineerd worden met elementen van vrije improvisatie waar de focus meer ligt op expressie, communicatie en het groepsproces.
... Other researchers have highlighted the importance of musical creativity practices arguing for its benefits for human development and emotional health (see for example, Hallam, 2015;Welch & Ockelford, 2015). This paper reserves for improvisation the role of experimentation in the search for musical ideas, stating their values as a source of creativity, envisioning improvisation as an impetus for creativity (Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos, 2020), thus conceiving improvisation as a process of discovery. Hargreaves (1999) argues that improvisational thinking is a central source of everyday creativity and affirms that "improvisation should be a central part of the study of musical creativity" (p. ...
... Children's creative thinking during musical improvisation is an under-researched area, despite recent reviews that illuminate the ground covered (Larsson & Georgii-Hemming, 2019;Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). In the field of music education few empirical studies have investigated the development of creative process through musical improvisation (Biasutti and Frezza, 2009;Biasutti, 2015;Koutsoupidou and Hargreaves, 2009;Kiehn, 2003;Rowe et al., 2015). ...
This article seeks to be a contribution to the defence of the development of musical creative thinking in educational settings. This research report evaluates the efficacy of a musical improvisation workshop with 8–11-year-olds (N = 17) as aiming to develop children’s creative thinking. The study was conducted with two groups of 8-9-year-olds and 10-11-year-old children over a period of three months combining collective and individual lessons. The music lessons were improvisatory activities around an upright piano as the main tool but enriched with a variety of musical instruments, objects, and proposals (musical and extra-musical assignments). Webster’s Measure of Creative Thinking in Music – MCTM II (Webster, 1987, 1994) was administered before and after the six-month teaching programmes (i.e., pre-test and post-test) to assess children’s creative thinking in terms of four musical factors: extensiveness, flexibility, originality, and syntax. The study demonstrated how creativity was significantly fostered in children through musical improvisation with a considerable increase of the four musical factors in both groups, with the main progress in musical originality (group of 8-9 year old) and musical syntax (group of 10-11 year old). The study also revealed that the difference between age- groups diminished after the intervention and the variability between the participants decreased after an improvisation workshop, especially in group 2 (10-11 years), indicating that because of the training, the initial differences tend to be minimized. However, individual differences highlighted the complexity of analysing the creativity paradigm.
... Yet, the actual practice of improvisation is still a rare occurrence in most Finnish schools (Partti, 2016). Research on improvisation in music education has been mostly focused on idiomatic, individual, and instrumental practices (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020), and has been heavily influenced by cognitive studies with quantitative methods (Biasutti, 2017). In addition, studies on collaborative free improvisation are scarce, despite its potential for posing questions on egalitarianism, social relations, and empowerment (see Hickey, 2015;Wright & Kanellopoulos, 2010). ...
... Free improvisation has been reported to provide a greater sense of freedom, with enhanced "ownership for musical tools for expression" and agency (Johansen, 2014, p. 14), as compared to vocal jazz, which requires deep immersion in a stylistic musical knowledge base (Madura Ward-Steinman, 2014). The scarcity of studies in music education on both collaborative and individual free vocal improvisation is evident (Siljamäki & Kanellopoulos, 2020). Table 1. ...
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This instrumental case study explores and theorizes on the educational potential and value of free collaborative vocal improvisation, a process that enables equal access to music regardless of musical skills. The focus of the article is on the musical activities of an adult choir in Finland that applied tenets from improvisational theatre to facilitate the social and musical processes of free improvisation. This study applies an ecological perspective to understand how improvisation can offer asylum—a physical or conceptual safe space within which an individual can flourish socially and musically—and explore how it is sought, constructed, and supported, and what opportunities it can afford to those participating in it. The analysis shows how the participants used various techniques for seeking asylum, both in and away from their shared social space, when they encountered the inherent discomforts of improvisation. Depending on the social ecology of each situation, the musicking activities provided the participants with the resources to construct both social and musical agency as well as experiences in playful collaborative musical learning and wellbeing. The present study calls for an ecological framework for music education and improvisation that supports musicking in a safe and playful learning environment with a focus on social processes, and which could be considered the starting point for music education at all ages.
... Interestingly, one example is the revitalisation of improvisational elements among some contemporary Norwegian fiddlers who oppose what they claim to be an increasingly more work-oriented musical practice. In this regard, the authors note the fundamental difference between improvisation as an implicit element of the traditional practice of playing dance tunes and the strategic staging of improvisation as an artistic concept, the latter being contingent on explicit knowledge and intentional attention towards variation/improvisation per se. 4. For a comprehensive review of current music education research that addresses issues of improvisation in formal music education, see Siljamäki and Kanellopoulos (2020). Within the genres of concern in the present study, the literature on how to teach and learn traditional techniques of improvisation is very limited. ...
This article discusses approaches to improvisation from a learning perspective, using Irish traditional fiddle music as a case study. Within this genre, concepts of improvisation are largely implicit: many skilled musicians are engaged in spontaneous variation, without particular attention given to the phenomenon and without reference to the term improvisation. This is also evident in teaching practices, as demonstrated through a case study of a fiddle workshop during the 2016 Ennis Trad Fest. In this context, improvised variations emerge as intrinsic to the practice of playing tunes rather than as a separate layer of performance action to be taught independently. In line with this premise, the analysis invokes the concept of implicit learning to explore how particular arrangements of instructional activities may support the development of improvisational skills without being explicitly engaged with improvisation. Finally, the article introduces the notion of a principal difference between a work-oriented and a technique-/formula-oriented mode of learning and performance. The latter suggests a teaching approach marked by an attention to the practical exploration of expressive affordances through sound-producing movements (techniques) and correspondingly less attention to abstract principles (such as harmonic/intervallic rules and compositional concepts).
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El objetivo de este trabajo es conocer el pensamiento de los/as intérpretes de música clásica acerca del papel que juega la improvisación musical en su formación inicial. La muestra está formada por 59 sujetos titulados superiores en interpretación de música clásica o que están en el último curso de estas enseñanzas musicales y tres especialistas en improvisación. La metodología de la investigación empleada es cuantitativa y cualitativa, y utiliza el cuestionario y la entrevista en profundidad como herramientas para la recogida de datos. Los resultados obtenidos nos han permitido precisar algunas de las aportaciones más beneficiosas de la práctica de la improvisación al desarrollo de habilidades y destrezas interpretativas y organizarlas en tres categorías: cognitivas, musicales y psicológicas. Así, por su importancia, destacamos el desarrollo de la creatividad, el aprendizaje de la armonía, la mejora de la expresividad musical, la memoria musical y la presencia escénica. La conclusión a la que se llega es que la improvisación puede resultar una práctica muy útil, que debe acompañar a los estudiantes de interpretación de música clásica durante todo su proceso formativo.
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mprovisation is increasingly valued in music educational contexts and beyond, however it has not yet gained an established position in music education research and practice. This dissertation addresses the need to recognize the wide variety of affordances that improvisation can offer music education. By utilizing a socio-ecological research framework, this dissertation aims to contribute to the theorizing of improvisation as a social practice and pedagogical approach, as well as to unwrap how improvisation can contribute to the quality of human life on multiple levels. The socio-ecological perspective allows us to explore improvisation as social action with the goal of understanding the complex and transformational processes by which learning occurs and musical agency and identity are constructed in relation to the social environment. By untangling these social aspects, as well as addressing the significance of the quality of social interaction, this work points out that there is a need to recognize the conditions that either support or hinder the social participation and diversity of learners, and furthermore their wellbeing and equality. This is an article-based dissertation with an instrumental multi-case study design, and aims to identify the plural and holistic affordances that improvisation can offer to music education. The three sub-studies provide insight into and diverse perspectives on exploring the phenomenon of improvisation: 1) a collective case study contextualizing the research literature in music education; 2) an empirical case of an arts intervention choir; and 3) an empirical case of an improvisation choir. In both adult choirs, the researcher was positioned as an insider and the quality of the social interaction and the pedagogical atmosphere were supported by applying a mindset stemming from applied improvisational theatre. Interviews, observations, and researcher diaries were analyzed as empirical material in the choir cases. The findings from the sub-studies were interpreted within a socio-ecological framework, drawing on Tia DeNora’s sociological and social psychology perspective on the interrelation of wellbeing and music, as well as anthropologist Christopher Small’s conceptualization of musicking as a social and relational process. The first sub-study explores approaches to improvisation and maps visions of improvisation pedagogy in music education scholarly research by visualizing the multitude of possible approaches and pedagogical practices associated with the practice. The study highlights the need to develop opportunities for learners to engage in a variety of approaches to improvisation, and also conceptualizes the values, tensions, and beliefs underpinning the teaching of improvisation that can induce tensions and conflicts. The second sub-study, also the first choir case, explores university students’ narrations of their experiences of an arts intervention choir project and of social anxiety in university contexts and beyond. The findings show that the experimental project combining choral singing and improvisation with health care expertise from the Finnish Students Health Services offered the participants a safe environment and social space for developing interaction skills and coping with social anxiety. The case highlights the significance of the quality of social interaction in education, and of recognizing each student as an individual with specific needs in learning. The third sub-study, and second choir case, examines the affordances of the collaborative, vocal, and bodily improvising practices of a free improvisation choir for adults with mixed skills. The improvised musicking afforded the participants resources for constructing both their social and musical agency, as well as the opportunity to explore playful collaborative musical learning and thereby their deeper wellbeing. The case thus exemplifies how, when meeting the conditions of a safe learning environment, free improvisation can enhance equal participation in music regardless of one’s prior cultivation of musical skills and knowledge – and thus, overall equity. This dissertation advocates that more emphasis could be placed on the reciprocal co-construction of musical learning environments that, firstly, support an experience of safety, participation, and exploring capabilities when encountering the inherent uncertainty of improvisation; and, secondly, that provide each learner with the opportunity and capacity to perceive their potential avenues of conduct as social, creative, and improvisational agents of their own future wellbeing and learning within their social ecology. By extending the understanding of improvisation from being regarded solely as a musical practice to being fully perceived as a social practice and pedagogical approach, we will be able to support the constructing of learning environments with more emphasis on individual and emotional development through holistic (embodied), reciprocal, playful, and free (welcoming all kinds of sounds) expression, and the acknowledgement of individual affordances of music and music making for each learner, as well as the true meaning of equity.
Defining categories of musical actions in improvisation with young children is challenging due to the spontaneous, creative and emergent nature of interactions. Following a literature review, two new constructs were proposed to circumscribe and classify different types of events in improvisation, Creative Musical Agency (CMA) and Socio-Musical Aptitude (S-MA). These were refined and tested through eight phases of mixed-methods research.Two cycles of improvisation workshops were video-recorded. Multimodal Video Analysis of musical, gaze and gestural Modes of Communication contextualized with field notes was used to refine constructs. Two raters independently observed and rated children’s improvisations as showing CMA, S-MA or neither, giving reasons for difficulty or ambiguity in using constructs in separate interviews. Raters demonstrated fair agreement for CMA (Κappa 0.21) and moderate agreement for S-MA (Kappa 0.5). Development of these constructs offers a valuable way of understanding the complexity of young children’s musical actions and mental processes in improvisation.
Improvisation is an area of interest to both music education researchers and music educators alike. The purpose of this literature review was to examine extant studies related to improvisation at the elementary level. Selected research included the nature of improvisation, the amount of instructional time and activity type used, the development of improvisation skills with age, and the effect of improvisation on other skill areas. Findings indicated that children chose their own musical and social roles when there was minimal teacher intervention. Most teachers agreed that improvisation was important, although at varying degrees and based on varying levels of experience and ability. Improvisation skills increased with age, particularly when considering rhythmic improvisation and phrase structure, and improvisation was found to increase creativity and divergent thinking while also reducing performance anxiety. Research findings are included from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Malaysia, and the United States. The review concludes with implications for practice and recommendations for further research.
This study explored how and what a group of six fifth-grade instrumental music students learned during group improvisation activities over eight sessions together with the researcher as participant observer. Students’ learning was investigated through the lenses of musical fluency and collaborative emergence. Findings related to multiple understandings of students’ musical fluency and students’ rhythmically driven displays of collaborative emergence. Implications of this study include the ideas that (a) students’ musical fluency is individual and personal in nature and improvisation gives students a space to explore these personal decisions; (b) young improvisers can be overwhelmed by free improvisation and may create boundaries to aid their playing; (c) without teacher direction, young improvisers can make pedagogical and music making decisions relevant to their interests; and (d) young improvisers can successfully create a collaborative emergent during group improvisation.
This book contemplates creativity education within the context of the neoliberal capitalist economy. In the current crisis of creativity, where we are required to be creative in an environment of entrepreneurialisation, the author analyses what creativity has become and what has been lost in various recent transitional periods. Calling for recommitment towards the politics of critical creativity for the public good, the author argues for an education that resists the ideologies of neoliberalism so that creativity may still be harnessed to rethink society. Inciting readers to conceive of alternate forms of creativity and associated education, this innovative book will appeal to educators, practitioners, creators and learners searching for inspiration beyond creative destruction. Nadine M. Kalin is Associate Professor of Art Education at the University of North Texas, USA. Her research intertwines post-political critique and contemporary art theories with philosophical and arts-based modes of inquiry in relation to education.
This ethnography documents and interprets the history of folk music, song and dance in Bulgaria over a 70-year period of dramatic change. From 1920 to 1989, Bulgaria changed from a nearly medieval village society to a Stalinist-planned industrial economy to a mix of capitalist and socialist markets and cultures. In the context of this history, Rice brings Bulgarian folk music to life by focusing on the biography of the Varimezov family, including the musician Kostadin and his wife Todora, a singer. Combining interviews with his own experiences of learning how to play, sing and dance Bulgarian folk music, Rice presents a detailed account of traditional, aural learning processes in the ethnomusicological literature. Using a combination of traditionally dichotomous musicological and ethnographic approaches, Rice tells the story of how individual musicians learned their tradition, how they lived it during the pre-Communist era of family farming, how the tradition changed with industrialization brought under Communism, and finally, how it flourished and evolved in the recent, unstable political climate. This work - complete with a compact disc and musical examples - contributes not only to ethnomusicological theory and method, but also to our understanding of Slavic folklore, Eastern European anthropology and cultural processes in Socialist states.