Most adults fear public speaking more than death, so we shouldn’t be surprised when our students are afraid to improvise in front of their peers. If you feel stuck moving past this anxiety, a simple solution can transform your program.
Why do public performances feel like life or death even though our physical safety isn’t at risk? Because the prehistoric part of our brain is programmed this way. For early humans, rejection from a social group meant the risk of starving to death or being eaten by predators. Although it’s irrational, our brains are still wired this way. If we present improvisation a community-building activity, the prehistoric brain won’t put up a fight.
When I teach workshops, I use musical games and activities to instantly connect with new groups of students. Over time, these games have developed into collaborative student compositions, independent jazz combos, and much more. Here are a few of my favorites to introduce early on:
This game adapted from John Zorn’s experimental game piece Cobra. It’s a fun way to break the ice.
This comes from Butch Morris’s system of conducted improvisations called Conduction. Learn more about leading Conduction here (page 174). It’s a brilliant way to engage concert ensembles.
First, you’ll need to explain what life was like before YouTube!
Create your own games and ask the students to invent their own. Once students buy into the process, you have made a huge step toward empowering creative and independent artists in your program. If you direct a jazz ensemble, check out “Stack Your Jazz Ensemble with Soloists.”
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