Saturday, July 23, 2011

Improvisation is improvisation is improvisation..

Ok, I’ll stop repeating it, but it’s true.  I've been thinking about this since I read about a recent scientific study that was attempting to quantify how being a classical musician changed the brain and it’s functioning.  This article about it gives inks to the abstract and to the summary

I was particularly excited by one phrase in the abstract, that said “these findings are interpreted in light of a Unified Theory of Performance, which posits that effectiveness in any area is influenced by one’s level of mind-brain development... with higher mind-brain development supporting greater effectiveness in any domain.”   
A little research later, I figured out that there are many wildly different competing “universal theories” of brain functioning and consciousness.  And as much as everybody loves to hear about studies that show a measurable intrinsic value to music, there doesn’t appear to be all that much to sink your teeth into here.  And besides, I tend to get a bit itchy when somebody starts talking about “higher-brain" development, particularly when they are studying classical music, or are from the Maharishi Institute (as is one of the authors of this study).

But the idea of a Unified Theory of Performance stuck with me.   It just seemed to resonate somehow, and I realized that I have always operated from a Universal Theory of Improvisation: Improvisation is improvisation is improvisation...
That’s why I get annoyed at the divisions between people who play different styles of improvised music;  at the pretension that there’s all that much difference between playing a blues, or jamming on a killer groove, or playing Stella, or playing free.  Yes, I know, the boundaries that we are improvising within are different - that’s obvious.  But the process of improvisation is the same, and the sooner we all recognize this the sooner we can start really exploring and understanding improvisation itself, apart from whatever genre of music we play.  
The Universal Theory of Improvisation says: Improvisation is improvisation is improvisation, and whatever you learn about it supports greater effectiveness in any improvisation that you undertake. 
I've always felt this is true, and my experience teaching improvisation ensembles bears it out. Students in my improv classes often say that learning to improvise music together affects not just the quality of their music making, it’s a transformative experience that enhances all the improvisations in their life.  

Let's share that experience with as many people as possible!