Expert Western Classical Music Improvisers' Strategies

15 Aug 2017

The growing interest in musical improvisation is exemplified by the body of literatures evidencing the positive impacts of improvisation learning on the musical apprentice’s aptitudes and the increasing presence of improvisation in Western classical concert halls and competitions. However, high-level Western classical music improvisers’ thinking processes are not yet thoroughly documented. As a result of this gap, our research addresses the following question: What strategies are implemented in the course of performance by Western classical music improvisers? To answer this question, semistructured interviews were conducted with five internationally recognized Western classical music expert improvisers. Each participant improvised, and immediately afterward, a retrospective verbal protocol with subjective aided recall data collection strategy was used to elicit the improvising musician’s strategies. After transcription, the interviews were coded and analyzed using NVivo 10 software, with a mixed (i.e., combining inductive and deductive coding) category approach. Our data revealed 46 improvisation strategies that were subsequently organized into five categories: preplanning, conceptual, structural, atmospheric and stylistic, and real time. Pedagogical implications arising from these findings are that (a) learners should be guided toward implementing various strategies and (b) the capacity to switch from one strategy to another according to the circumstances should be promoted. Keywords experts, musical improvisation, strategies, verbal protocol, Western classical music