Improvisation in Music Education

“Improvisation is a polysemous term whose meaning differs depending on the context in which it is used. As a synonym of invention, it is considered a “myth” in music education, because it emphasizes what we consider a paradigm: the ability to create or to re-elaborate ideas in “real-time” and starting from minimal resources. To get to this point, it is important to think about “breaking” those schemes on which our musical system is constructed. And this is not easy; rather, it is without doubt a big challenge but a motivation as well. Probably it would be important to leave the way clear to INTUITION, which is the essential and natural mechanism for letting act freely – with no “prejudices” – our mental abilities. But, if we think we do not have these innate abilities, we must try to develop it or, better said, to normalize it. But how? In one way, loosing the fear of “making mistakes” (welcome errors!), enjoying every moment of the experience.” (Vallejo, 2010, p.32)

Last night, I began my Orff Workshops in Garnethill project. These creative music making workshops are for adults  who work with music in educational, therapeutic and community contexts, or, have an interest in this work. I have been thinking for some time about how to facilitate a Community of Practice, a space for people to connect together through music, dance and speech, to share thoughts and experiences. It was a really interesting experience to have the opportunity to share musical activities and ideas. Together, we explored several ideas working with movement, speech, body percussion, rhythm, tuned instruments (Orff Ensemble instruments, xylophones, metallophones & glockenspiels), untuned instruments (hand held percussion), ostinato, melody, accompaniment, call and response, improvisation and song. This morning, I am thinking about improvisation and its relationship with musical play and musical structure. I am also thinking about creativity, interpretation and perception. I realise that when facilitating workshops, I am working very much in the moment trying to connect with my intuition in order to shape the direction of activities. I am always thinking about the people I am working with and how to best support the group. It is perhaps all a question of balance, mindfulness and acceptance that feelings of uncertainty can sometimes be part of nature when working creatively and openly. I often feel uncertain when I am wondering if an activity needs more time. Should I observe the activity takes its own course or should I introduce a new idea? Also, with regards to the balance between improvisation and structure in musical play, I wonder if I am I moving too quickly or too slowly towards structuring ideas. Of course, this is also a matter of interpretation and perception grounded in previous experience. What one person may interpret as a structured musical form another person may interpret as less so as they perceive the activity in a different way.

What I have discovered is that when preparing my work, I need to, quite literally, play around with all of my musical ideas, resources and instruments. A few people have said to me recently that they felt that my work was well prepared with one person saying that they felt that I really knew my material. I think that I am connecting with my material through musical play and through approaching the same material in different ways with different groups of people. As my journey as a facilitator grows, I wonder what I will discover. I know that I want my practice to be grounded in creating a safe, relaxed, respectful and kind space for everyone. I want to continue to develop my capacity to be mindful and open, aware to group dynamics as they weave along. Last night, it was interesting to hear someone comment on how good the music was sounding when everyone was playing together with the Orff Ensemble instruments. I am thinking about the accessibility of playing together. After exploring the rhythms of our piece through movement, speech and body percussion, it was a natural progression to transfer this onto the instruments. This, I believe is one of the essences of the Orff Schulwerk approach.

Vallejo, P. (2010) Same but Different. In B. Haselbach (Ed.) Orff Schulwerk Informationen No. 83 Summer, Improvisation, (pp. 29-33). Salzburg: Orff Schulwerk Forum


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