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Cognitive Processes in Musical Improvisation: Some Prospects and Implications

Freya Bailes, Roger Dean

Published: 2010-09-08

In order to understand how improvisatory activities operate, and how they might be marshalled for social and political purposes, it is at the ground necessary to understand the cognitive processes that individual improvisers draw upon, and how they do so when improvising with others.
This article is an elementary introduction to some of the interesting cognitive issues in musical improvisation, to some of the few empirical studies already available, and to some of the current studies under way or to be expected. In a final section we will point briefly to the questions of how these cognitive processes can allow creative interplay its fullest range, and how this might contribute to social discourse in a broad sense.

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...partly because I know that’s the only way that we could solve a creative problem [using improvisation with children ranging in abilities] and what doesn’t work is trying to impose a template on the students who are not able to respond to that template.

– Pauline Oliveros (in working with Abilities First)