Improvisation, or extemporization, has always played an important role in all
genres of music across the globe. In Western art music alone, improvisation has been used in many settings throughout history, such as composition, public extemporization, and ornamenting existing notated music. Why is it then, that improvisation is not an important part in the education of the Western Art Music tradition?
Introducing improvisation to music education develops a more well-rounded musical ability, a firmer understanding of musical concepts, and a clearer insight to the composition of music. To examine this issue, I discuss a number of scientific explorations into the use of improvisation. First, new technology in the study of the brain gives insight into how the brain functions during improvisation. Adding to this evidence, I contextualize the use of improvisation into four scientifically developed educational scenarios based on how humans most effectively learn information and skills. To conclude, the discussion then shifts to simple exercises designed to assist musicians and teachers of any skill level in utilizing improvisation in practicing, lessons, and performance.
To prevent students of music from reaffirming a continuously narrowing viewpoint of music’s creation, cultural implications, and performance, educational systems should make an effort to teach more than just the preparation of increasingly complex scores. Improvisation is not only a solid foundation for understanding the roots of western music’s own musical traditions, but also a gateway to understanding the musical traditions of the world.