Practicing Improvisation


What is it like to improvise—a piece of music, a dance, a literary work? It seems a simple question, but an attempt to answer it by, for example, reflecting on a performance after the fact or—and this is much more difficult—observing oneself performing during the performance—reveals a fairly complex set of phenomena. While the improvised work or gesture may seem like a spontaneous upsurge unencumbered by formal constraints or conventions—this is something of a Romantic view of it, which many still hold—when we take a deeper we’re apt to find it to be the product of multiple formative factors. Once we shift our focus to these factors, the question then becomes: What underlies and affords the experience of improvisation?