The Importance of Musical Improvisation

By John Hart

What is musical improvisation?

“Musical improvisation is the creative activity of immediate ("in the moment") musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians.”

Why is improvisation an important skill to learn?

Human beings are inherently creative. “The brain has been hard wired to seek creative or artistic endeavors forever.  We don’t need it to survive, you wouldn’t think, and yet the brain wants it and seeks it.” (Mind Shift; Limb)

Studies show a strong connection between artistic expression and mental health and brain growth.  “Improvised musical communication, in comparison to memorized exchange, leads to intense engagement of left hemispheric cortical areas classically associated with language, as well as their right hemispheric homologues.”  (Neural Substrates of Interactive Musical Improvisation)

In my own experience, I have found improvisation skill to be be my greatest ally when it comes to musical performance.  There have been moments when, under the pressure to perform a piece as written, I have blanked.  During these times, my brain seems to switch from the self-monitoring process, to the creative side, enabling me to fill in some music in that moment that is pleasing to the ear, but not the exact notes that were written.

For a more on this subject, read this fascinating article:  Why improvisation should be part of every young musician’s training