How can improvisation help us to perform better at higher classical music levels?

A very good question here asking about the value of developing skills in improvisation in relation to higher level performance.

For many classically trained musicians improvisation can appear to be a rather unnecessary skill: Surely, the music you play is on the page? All you have to do is read the notes and other instructions. After enough practice shouldn’t you be able to play it fluently and accurately enough to enable a successful performance?

However, this is missing something really important – SPONTANEITY. Imagine how boring music would sound if it was played by robots!

It is also very limiting. Classical music doesn’t just belong in a museum – it is still with us and is still being created. Here in the 21st century music exists in so many different ways and we cannot approach our teaching and learning with blinkers on.

Back in the Baroque and Classical age improvisation was much more commonplace: A keyboard player would improvise from a figured bass, a concerto soloists would improvise a cadenza, and organists were (and still are) expected to improvise to cover the silences in a church service.

Improvisation can be a very liberating experience, building an empathy with your instrument, and a bridge between your technical skills and your creativity.

It also enables understanding of things like harmony, melody and structure in a practical way rather than just reading about it in a text book.

I am not suggesting improvisation would replace anything, but that it should be an integral aspect of learning from the very beginning if we are to produce a generation of fully formed and fully rounded musicians for the future.

Nicholas Keyworth

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