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Musical Improvisation Insights into Systems Thinking

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Sustainability is intrinsically interdisciplinary, but the implementation of nontraditional pedagogy in this area is in its infancy. I aim to show that music can be a model to demonstrate the

Sustainability is intrinsically interdisciplinary, but the implementation of nontraditional pedagogy in this area is in its infancy. I aim to show that music can be a model to demonstrate the protean systems that consistently involve each of us. The connection between systems thinking and musical improvisation is evident in musical improvisation ensembles; it is a system unto itself with individual players connected through their musical composition. Musical improvisation allows the players to learn about systems and system behaviors. Such ability to identify and understand the underlying dynamics involved in complex social-ecological systems is fundamental to taking advantage of leverage points and working towards a sustainable future. I use music and musical improvisation to demonstrate the three concept groups of the systems thinking competency: 1) Variables, structures and functions 2) Resilience, self-organization and hierarchy and 3) Scales and domains. These parts constitute complex systems and are made easier with the analogy of music that provides a more representative language for discussing them in an intuitive way. Furthermore, improvisation activities provide a method and space for these future practitioners to rehearse working with systems. From accepting the nature of systems, one is accepting of their role in the system, which enables them to make changes. Musical improvisation is a valuable method to systems thinking because it requires future practitioners to engage in mindfulness, because it demands remaining in an intuitive stance so to be able to respond (not react) thoughtfully. My thesis will explore how the practice of musical improvisation can enhance the understanding of the three systems thinking content groups and to argue that such practice is unique and necessary as it provides opportunities to rehearse being effective change agents.

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Date Created
  • 2016-12