Viola Spolin, the creator of improvised theater games, describes a spontaneous scene as “a timeless moment when all are mutually engaged in experience. You don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s where they joy is, the everlasting spiral.”
Courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Currie
Our public school system is a product of the industrial age. The economic prosperity of the 20th century was rooted in systems, manuals, interchangeable parts, interchangeable workers, and measurable data. These values permeate music education when we train interchangeable musicians to fill slots in ensembles.
As the industrial economy crumbles around us (factories shutting down, the collapse of the music and newspaper industries, etc.), we need to expand our model of music education—especially if we seek relevance in the 21st century.
Why do so many students lack the confidence to improvise? The way we teach plays a huge role.
Courtesy of Flickr/Evonne
Bringing out-of-the-box experiences to school music programs is one of the most fulfilling parts of my career as a freelancer. The kids are fearless! Experimental play, in conjunction with traditional skills-based practice, helps empower creative and independent music makers for life.
After working with a high school concert band last month, I asked the director why improvisation is valuable for his entire program. He said, “because musical permission empowers students.” The word “permission” jumped out at me. It seemed odd because the students don’t actually need our permission to play creative music. But it started to make sense in the context of how students are asked to learn in school.
If you struggle with teaching jazz improvisation in the classroom, you are not alone. It can be an enormous challenge if you have no experience playing jazz or have trouble helping students overcome their fears.
I’d like to share approaches to improvisation that I developed through years of experimentation as a clinician for middle school, high school, and university jazz programs. This material engages newcomers and has built a foundation for nationally recognized jazz soloists.
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.