Improvisation, music and learning: an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis


Improvisation, music and learning: an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis
This thesis explores the creative process of improvisation in music with a specific emphasis on investigating its potential for learning. The widespread practice of improvisation in music is relatively absent from education and there is an urgent need to more fully understand improvisation’s processes.
A broad body of knowledge of improvisation in music has developed within the international community of musicians whose practice is centred on improvisation and an understanding of this knowledge could become highly relevant for a variety of educational contexts. Ten highly experienced, world leading improvisers from Europe and North America took part in semi-structured interviews and were asked the over-arching question: What is the place of improvisation in your practice? Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was the chosen method for the enquiry.
Chapter 1 describes the background for the research into the potential of improvisation. It explains the development of thinking leading to the research project in the context of reflexivity and reflective practice. Chapter 2 describes the terms of reference and background to developments in improvisation and free improvisation in music in the Europe and North America. In Chapter 3 the practice of improvisation is discussed in relation to kinds of knowledge, creativity and
pedagogy, and includes reference to pertinent literature. In Chapter 4 the qualitative research approach of Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is described together with its particular theoretical features. The improvisational practices of the participants’ lifeworld are explored by means of a hermeneutic approach within the eidetic process.
Research findings are presented in Chapters 5,6,7,8 and 9 through analysis and interpretations of the super-ordinate themes of free improvisation. The first half of each of these chapters develops the hermeneutic idiographic and interpretation of the analysis. The second half of each chapter further contextualises the themes through discussion that includes reference to, and discussion of literature from different disciplines. In Chapter 5, ‘Describing the free improvisation phenomenon,’ the socio-musical context of improvisation is explored, and the way this relates to inclusive education is discussed. The practice of improvisation as composition and the improviser as composer are also discussed. Free improvisation was found to form connections to the theme of environment in a number of ways and the agency of free improvisation is explored in relation to the concept of being-in-the-world. Free improvisation’s relationship with language and specifically metaphor is also explored. In Chapter 6, ‘Free improvisation and learning,’ formal and non-formal learning, and academic practices are discussed. The special significance of ‘live’ performance for learning is described. Participation in free improvisation is interpreted as providing an opportunity for autonomous creative expression, within a democratised educational setting. The role of the teacher in improvisation is
explored and free improvisation is seen to form clear connections to understandings of knowledge and theories of teaching and learning. In Chapter 7, ‘Process,’ the process of improvisation is identified as contributing towards self-determination. Willingness to risk and trust are seen as enabling of the process of free improvisation. The improvisation process is described as interdisciplinary and, moreover, as a human capability. Processes found in nature and in improvisation are also compared and discussed. Chapter 8, ‘Body,’ explores embodied knowledge in free improvisation. The phenomenological precept: ‘to return to the thing itself,’ for improvisation, leads to the body as the site of free improvisation. Listening was seen as reflecting the central importance of the body for understanding improvisation. Awareness of the importance of physicality in performance is described and kinaesthetic learning in improvisation and learning by doing are explored. The unmediated form of imaginative free improvisation, creating music at the point of performance, through the body, is interpreted as an intervolving with the world. Inter-subjectivity and inter-corporeality are discussed as ways of describing the importance of group activity and ‘flesh’ in improvisation contexts. In Chapter 9, ‘Strategies,’ autodidactism is seen as an important feature in the development of free improvisation, and inter-related with group practice. The ability to develop skills for working collaboratively with others is highlighted. Interpretations of technique are discussed in the context of developing the creative practice of free improvisation. Music training and improvisation practice for the developing musician is also discussed and experiences of formal and informal
education in music are interpreted in relation to developing free improvisation in which assessment is interpreted as playing a valuable role.
Chapter 10, Conclusions, provides a detailed summary of the findings and describes how the phenomenon of free improvisation takes place through the ‘unity’ of the super-ordinate and sub-themes, ‘Difference’ is also considered a significant aspect of improvisation’s particular agency in relationship to changing social contexts through its flexibility and adaptability. While the continued process of interpretive analysis has involved a separation of concepts in identifying themes, leading to a dividing within the phenomenon of free improvisation, the super-ordinate themes are also understood as simultaneous, working together: in the embodied act of free improvisation strategies, the process, and learning become realised. The creation of music without pre-determined structure exists in the act of doing, and in no other way. The co-presence of the super-ordinate themes is interpreted as centrally important to understanding creative improvisation in music: in the act of free improvisation these themes co-exist. The correlation between the overarching, super-ordinate themes becomes important for educational contexts as the act of free improvisation is understood as a process of learning. Chapter 11 then evaluates the research project and recommendations are made.
Key words: Free improvisation, learning, body, process, strategies, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, unity, difference.
Ph.D. Dissertation
Glasgow Caledonian University