Decisions in improvisation

Possibilities in the course of a group improvisation

If the musical course of a musical conception is not sketched out by compositional instructions or by the rules of aesthetics, the resulting open-endedness of the performance situation poses options for individual improvisational decisions by the musicians performing the composition. These options give rise to formative and creative activity: ‘instant composing’.

First fundamental decision

  • To play
  • Not to play

Second fundamental decision

  • Support what already exists
  • Introduce elements that modify what already exists

Rhythmic support for what exists:

Rhythmic support for what exists:

  • Joining in with the playing of an existing rhythmic figure, thereby strengthening the weight of this figure and enriching the tone colour
  • Adding a complementary rhythm, thereby enlarging the complexity of the rhythm already in progress

Harmonic support for what exists:

  • Broadening the harmonic situation by adding tones, sounds or movements of one’s own that fit in with the character of what already exists:
    • Joining in performance of melody lines performed by fellow musicians, in the process harmonising the original movement through selection of other tones or additional voices
    • Enriching and enlarging chords by adding tones not yet found in the sound
    • Etc.

Mental support for what exists:

  • Introducing oneself into the flow of a musical event.
    Productively and creatively taking part in the music already in progress, absent any intention to fundamentally modify what exists.

From introducing an idea to modifying what exists

Introducing a new idea:

  • To open up an additional, new level as a way of enriching the musical event
  • To offer an optional shift in the direction or character of the overall event

Magical moments

Being open for ‘magical moments’ of surprising, spur-of-the-moment collective changes of direction (swarm behaviour)

On the performance hierarchy

Decision for one’s own performance position within the musical event in progress:

  • Playing one’s part as a basis, environment or background
    • For the support of another player in a solo position
    • As part of a collective event without any solo position whatsoever
  • Assuming a solo position
    • Shaping the beginning, development and end of a soloist’s statement

Third fundamental decision

  • To continue playing as before
  • To continue playing while varying the flavour of one’s own performance
  • To stop playing. Tacet.

Theory & Practice / Decisions in Improvisation © Norbert Stein Pata Music