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Improvisation as Pedagogy for Youth on the Margins

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, Ajay Heble, Rob Jackson, Melissa Walker, Ellen Waterman

Published: 2010-08-24

This article examines the extent to which participation in musical improvisation can bring connectivity, self-awareness, creative thinking, and group cohesion to populations in need. It discusses two case studies of improvisation workshops--one with a group of special needs children (through the KidsAbility program) and one with a group of at-risk youth from an alternative high school (through the Give Yourself Credit program)-- in order to examine the impact of improvisation-based music education on urban youth. The study focuses particularly on youth who are considered to be on the margins of the traditional education system due to a variety of physical, developmental, socio-emotional, and learning disabilities and challenges.

A significantly revised and altered version of this paper has since been published as "Say who you
are, play who you are: Improvisation, pedagogy, and youth on the margins." Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 10(1): 114–31. http://act.maydaygroup.org/php/archives_v10.php#10_1

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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)