How do you improvise in research




Improvisation as an object of research

Improvisation is booming - not just in the arts. Research and science are increasingly recognizing improvisation as a type of action of particular relevance. That was by no means always the case. Compared to the works of art of European cultural history, artistic-musical improvisation was for a long time regarded as a practice of inferior value not only because of its volatility, but also because of its supposed lack of reflection and lack of elaboration. Improvisation was a specialty especially for ethnologists and pedagogues. Against the background of a paradigm shift in the humanities and cultural studies - from work to event, from culture as text to culture as practice - as well as in the course of more recent creativity research, a more far-reaching scientific discussion of musical improvisation has started. This is proven by numerous research projects and individual studies that have emerged in recent years, for example in the fields of jazz research, popular music studies, music sociology and music psychology, and increasingly also in historical musicology.

Improvisation has long since lost the aura of the anarchic and is evident everywhere as an aesthetic model of social practice, as a paradigm of collective creativity, as a modus operandi of experimental research, and sometimes even as a model for entrepreneurial action. Obviously there is a growing social interest in improvisational competence, in improvisational knowledge as well as in its scientific and artistic research.


Musical improvisation and practice-based knowledge research

The interdisciplinary project ┬╗Improvisierendes Wissen┬ź, designed between musicology, pedagogy and sociology, explores the development of knowledge and the organization of learning by improvising musicians. At the same time, methods of practice-based, empirical research on the construction of knowledge in musical practice are to be developed. The focus is not on the individual knowledge of isolated subjects, but on the social knowledge of learning groups, i.e. the knowledge of musical communities of practice. The research interests focus on the development of aesthetic criteria and value standards in group improvisation as well as on the skills to implement these criteria in joint play.

The project explores improvising learning practices in an institutionalized context. As part of a pilot study, two successive longitudinal studies are being carried out at music education institutes at German-speaking universities for comparison purposes. The form of investigation is the qualitative experiment: In the context of improvisation workshops, student ensembles go through alternating phases of guided and independent artistic learning. The musical work process of the students is documented on video and researched using interviews. The aim of these studies, in which teachers and learners of the subjects music and music education take part, is to compare two fundamentally different forms of learning: on the one hand, externally initiated learning, i.e. learning organized by a teacher, and, on the other hand, self-initiated learning, i.e. learning organized by the learners themselves .


Improvisation as a transcultural practice?

The question of researching musical improvisation from a transcultural perspective poses a major challenge for musicology and music education that is informed in terms of cultural studies and sociology: on the one hand, there is a problem in the generalization of specific improvisation concepts, be they shaped by European or African-American understandings of art. The main obstacle is the still widespread use of supposedly generally valid categories such as spontaneity, unpredictability, eventfulness etc. on a multitude of global musical cultures and practices, the specifics of which cannot be adequately described either by these concepts or by a difference between improvisation and composition. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that musical improvisation - understood not as an art form but as a method - has developed a considerable dynamic of transcultural translation processes over the course of the 20th century. Against this background, the question of the knowledge of improvisation is connected with the concern to understand and research concepts and practices of improvisation as scenarios for negotiating and questioning cultural differences.