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Proposed stages of improvisational learning: influences of a formal and informal improvisational approach to teaching and learning.


According to Csikszentimahalyi (1996), the ability to improvise well is spontaneous and flowing in nature. However, Jaffurs (2006) stated that the problem lies in that many music educators need direction to teach improvisation as historically, classroom teaching principles were primarily based on learning processes of performing and were not entirely focused on improvisational processes.

Extending upon these ideas, Folkestad (2006) stated that educators need to clearly understand students' improvisational processes in order to holistically teach and facilitate students' musical skills and strategies while improvising individually and collaboratively. Augustyniak (2011) continued to state that these processes were aided by the use of technological tools while improvising both individually and as a part of a collaborative group. Equally important, stated Augustyniak (2011), teachers needed to identify the differentiation of musical improvisers who were at various developmental stages within each group in order to effectively teach and facilitate their improvisational learning.

This information in turn assisted the teacher to identify the individual's musical and improvisational needs and as a part of a collaborative group. The researcher defined this situation as a hierarchical order of context based on the ideas of Lave and Wenger (1991). Also, according to Augustyniak's (2011) study, to maximize learning opportunities, educators need to understand students' implementing the most appropriate types of technology at different stages of improvising while teachers also consider their level of musical expertise for optimal improvisational learning.

Augustyniak's (2013) results stated that integrated use of technologies at various student stages of learning should to be implemented as music tools for improvising in the classroom that is reflective of critical thinking, communication, collaboration as well as an expression of creativity.

These improvisational stages were identified from novice to musical expert improvisers in The Stages of Improvisational Learning as defined in Augustyniak's (2011) empirical study. The implementation of certain technological tools may be more effective than others at the various stages of improvisational learning.

Augustyniak's (2011, 2013) ideas, acknowledged the understanding when to apply both procedural and developmental stages of learning as reported in the interpretation of the results.

Augustyniak (2013) stated that the improvisational continuum is based on a two-fold process that is derived from and built upon a formal and informal approach of learning until the point of continuous flow is reached as a time based process. Hickey (2009) echoed similar views in regard to developing improvisation where convergent and divergent thinking leads to free improvisation. Augustyniak (2013) further stated that through inductive processes, both simultaneous formal and informal learning approaches through implementing musical skills, strategies and expertise are developed in a paralleled continuum.

While Augustyniak's ( 2011), study supported a continuum of learning that was built upon both formal and informal approaches there has been two opposing separate schools of music learning through formal practice and informal practice in regard to improvising.

As well, both formal and informal practices as separate identities had developed from different schools of research thinking. These separate developments have mimicked the growth of the individual's approach to improvising or collaborative music making that were based on either a procedural or a developmental approach to learning improvisation.

At this point in time stated Augustyniak (2013) the processes of formal learning and informal learning of improvisation are also treated as separate identities in school curriculum policies. Historically, the above situations have arisen because the focus point of learning music had been formally and traditionally geared towards the processes of performance.

However performance is only one separate modular part of the processes of improvising. These traditional teaching processes have been a part of the enculturation of becoming either or both a performing musician and educator. Informal musical practices had arisen mainly but not always from music being implicitly imparted through the transmission of peer learning such as in the genres of Jazz, Folk and Rock Music and learned for pleasure.

The following two questions are discussed in this paper;

1. What are the individual participants' stylistic and developmental learning stages in regard to improvising?

2. How have technological tools been utilized by the participants in each of these stages either individually and or collaboratively?

How will the data benefit teachers to understand how students' individual learning styles, strategies and situations as well as stages of improvising help future students develop improvisational processes, individually and collaboratively in the music classroom?

The crux of this paper supports the interpretation of the results derived from Augustyniak's (2011) empirical work where both the concurrent and sequential development of a formal and informal approach is adhered. These processes allow students to reach the point of spontaneously improvising in a logical and intelligent manner. In order of understanding the answer to these questions, insights into student learning styles, strategies, musical expertise and experiences a well as their developmental learning stages and the use of technology will be reported in the results section of this paper.


Teacher guided as well as individual approaches to improvising

Gordon (1993) stated the importance of students developing their auditory skills as a foundation to learning how to improvise. Kratus (1994) stated the value of students' internal processes to produce convergent and divergent thinking that eventuated in spontaneous improvising that lead to composition.

As well, Augustyniak's ( 2011) study concurred that not only the internal processes are necessary to help students improvise but also the combined internal and external processes of developing aural, visual and kinesthetic memory through explicit practice is necessary. Both implicit and explicit processes of musical learning are crucial to improvisation and both are needed for students to eventually improvise spontaneously.

The European methodologists such as Kodaly, Orff, and Dalcroze (as cited in Choksy, 2001), developed improvisational approaches to learning through listening, playing, moving, singing that were followed by improvising exercises. These guided approaches allowed students to utilize all of their senses to feel the music before learning how to freely improvise.

Specifically, the Kodaly approach helped students build their auditory memory through vocal exercises that in turn was drawn upon to improvise. The Orff approach allowed students to learn musical patterns to imitate, experiment that in turn, allowed the students to utilize these skills in order to improvise. The Dalcroze approach (1967) encouraged students to explore problem solving through movement to musical exercises where students would seek their own processes and solutions to improvising.

Pressing's (1987) ideas on the teacher-guided approach to improvising were also tabulated in stages. Stage one demonstrated exercises for students to embellish melodies they had learned by adding a few notes. Stage two is documented as students' learning patterns and riffs in Jazz to help develop musical memory and eventually extending and developing freedom of playing. Stage three is described as preparatory exercises for students' problem solving, such as being given a melody and the player creates the harmonic line or the opposite.

This approach is much like the improvisational ideas of Dalcroze (1967). Stage four is a "playing by ear" approach dependent on musical memory. Stage five is free improvisation where the student has free rein to improvise. There is some overlapping of ideas of Pressing (1987) with Monk's view of learning improvisation.

Monk (2012) formulated an improvisational approach based on cognitive processes such as (a) modeling of material, (b) creation of material, (c) continuation of ideas, (d) structural awareness of the performance material, (e) temporal awareness of the performance material. Monk's (2012) model suggested that improvisers cognitively shifted their processes from one to another during the course of improvising.

With the modeling of material, the improvisers instantly connected to another composer's ideas of a piece of music. In the process of creating ideas, the improviser drew from past playing material and reordered new ideas. The continuation of ideas allowed the improviser to develop motific ideas or create new ones. The structural awareness of the improvising material allowed the improviser to create a structure of all of the improvised material. The improviser then reflects upon what they have created.

Free and informal Improvisation

Schaffer (1986) as well as Paynter (1992) evoked the idea that improvisation should be self-exploratory. The exploration of sounds, structures, tone colours and other musical concepts were entirely up to the listener to discover, process, emulate and create spontaneously without a teacher guided approach.

According to Burnard and Younker's (2002), results from their study demonstrated students' musical strategies with the use of technology. They found that fluency was dependent on performance skills, musical background, learning style and personal disposition or self-regulation. Music decision-making was very much self regulated rather than age regulated. Each individual had his or her own musical blueprint influenced by internal and external driving factors.

Taking into consideration Burnard and Younker's (2002) results on the individual's contribution to improvising, Folkestad (2006) also espoused his following ideas in regard to students developing their musical skills and expertise. He believed in a free and informal collaborative approach. This approach was particularly empathetic to when students also explored musical improvisational styles and situations. Folkestad (2006) defined the following concepts for collaborative formal and informal learning:

* The situation. Where does the learning take place?

* Learning style. A description of the learning processes.

* Ownership. Who owns the activity?

* Intentionality. Is it working towards learning how to play or playing?

A major study that researched into informal learning was Green's (2008) ethnographic work. In essence, Green's (2008) ideas espoused improvisational learning through a socially constructed approach like Folkestad's (2006) ideas. She stated that students copy liked and well-known material with friends in an informal setting.

Green (2008) also stated that students musically explored regardless of their own mistakes. Eventually the premise was they would integrate the learning processes of listening, performing, improvising and composing. Based on her ethnographic work (2008) several key ideas were outlined that were procedural in approach regarding the following points:

* Informal learning begins with students choosing their music for performance as apposed to a more didactic teacher approach.

* Skills acquisition involves the copying of recordings by ear.

* Self directed learning is a constituent of the informal learning processes.

* Musical skills and knowledge are holistically assimilated in a haphazard approach.

* Informal music learning holistically involves the integration of listening, performing, improvising and composing where a formal music education tends to focus on one activity at a time in a modular approach.

Augustyniak (2011) stated that research needs to further substantiate if there is any real tangible evidence that gives the individually non trained, novice or intermediate musician credibility in implicitly as well as explicitly understanding their own musical mistakes and correcting them as identified by Green's (2008) ethnographic research.

According to Augustyniak's (2011) study, it is a formal education that elucidates students to explicitly understand formal theoretical and musicianship knowledge and builds upon expert musical skills. Informal musicians learn implicitly and do not necessarily have explicit knowledge or understand it unless they have formal training. Also, Green's (2008) work mainly outlines an informal procedural approach to improvising and does not account for informal musicians' developmental stages of learning within a collaborative group.

Without doubt, Green's (2008) work has been the benchmark for research into informal improvisation in the classroom; however, the following question must be posed in regard to individual students without musical expertise and knowledge: (a) What If non-musicians do not have the prior musical knowledge or skills to draw from; how do they understand in order to effectively correct their own musical mistakes individually or collaboratively? (b) How do they contribute, collaborate or utilise the correct skills and musical processes?

Augustyniak's (2011) research argued that already proficient and very experienced informal and mainly non-trained musicians who collaboratively improvised over a period of years, developed their musical expertise to a proficient level in the areas of Rock Music. According to Augustyniak's (2011) results, there is usually at least one musician in the group who has usually had some type of formal training even if the other informal musicians are musically experienced but not formally trained.

The inherent weakness of Green's argument lies in that transferred to a music classroom situation, if all of the improvisational groups are non-trained musicians and musical novices without developed auditory memory, who will collaboratively help the other to learn the correct musical skills? Most musical educators would agree there are diverse differences in the musical makeup of each child, situation and socio cultural contexts. Also, while there has been some investigation into the use of technology and improvisation in previous research, the argument still lies in for a far more cohesive picture in regard to how technology may be effectively utilized while students' improvise as well as compliment their learning stages to maximize learning.

While the review of literature has documented either a formal or an informal approach to improvising, this situation suggests there is a missing link in research into the holistic running of a concurrent and paralleled approach in classroom improvising developing a more systemic approach of both formal and informal procedures.

Research Method

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this empirical and qualitative study was to observe participants implementing formal and informal strategies, skills and situations while improvising and performing their own chosen popular styles of music for the research task. For the purpose of this study formal learning was defined as participants who learn from an instrumental and/or music teacher, thus directly linking to a formal musical situation. Informal learning was defined as participants who learn music from their peers, friends or family and is also directly referring to an informal musical situation.

Formal Strategies was defined as the imparting of knowledge and musical skills from a teacher to pupil in a didactic approach or from a main facilitator in a group situation or peer in a collaborative improvising group much like the following strategies; (a) teaching scale like patterns such as the Blues or Modal Scales or chords, firstly by explanation then by demonstration (b) discussion of specific chords or keys to be utilised with peers in the group or discussing and performing musical and rhythmic patterns (c) writing down musical directions as a part of the compositional processes.

Informal strategies was defined as learning musical skills and knowledge in non traditional ways or learning symbiotically such as in the following examples; (a) Visually copying finger positions from peers, family or friends, (b) Listening to a recording on the participant's iPod or listening to iTunes and then aurally copying the melody or chords on the participant's instrument or technology, (c) Aurally imitating musical information from peers while learning a performing piece in call and response although no dialogue takes place formally, and (d) Subliminal body language is used in communicating musical information.


The empirical study involved eighteen research groups, constituting of forty males and nine females. As not to involve research bias, a letter of invitation for student participation was sent to the Head of Music at each of the Independent Anglican School, Government Public and Systemic Catholic schools requesting participants to become involved in this study.

There were more males than females who chose to participate even though the researcher's aim was to distribute an even number of male and females participating in the task to avoid gender bias. This sole situation could suggest an investigation into gender choices when improvising.

For observational reasons, there was an average of four participants to each improvising group. The groups were categorized in order of participants' ages from 12-13 yrs, 13-14 yrs, 14-15yrs and 15-16 yrs of age. Some groups requested to implement other participants whom they knew, liked or had performed with but were of a different age or academic year. All subjects had various musical backgrounds and varying degrees of musical experiences and or musical expertise.


The task was an unstructured one, where participants chose the style of music they wanted to improvise. They were given a quiet music space with instruments and accessible technological tools in the form of iPods, access to Internet, Garage Band and computers. Keyboard facilities were also available for participants to experiment with. Participants were able to have three to five sessions of one hour each for the improvisational task if needed.


The data was collected from the following means: (a) a questionnaire, (b) filming for each improvisational session, (c) semi-structured interviewing of each participant and their role in the task. Each participant and improvisational session was uniquely coded through a numbering system.

Prior to the improvisational task, a questionnaire was sent to each participant to answer. Questions regarding the following were asked: preferred musical choices and listening habits were given to gain insights into their auditory learning. Also questions correlating to musical learning situations inside and outside of school were investigated. Questions involving students' musical expertise or experiences were asked of the participants. Specific investigative questions such as how, where and when students improvised and performed inside and outside of school were enquired about. How was technology utilized and interacted with in regard to the improvising and or performing?

The purpose of the questionnaire was to ascertain a basic musical profile of the students' skills, habits, strategies and situations inside and outside of school thus defining the overarching themes of formal and informal learning.

Recorded films of students improvising were taken. Each improvisational film was coded, observed and notes were made on the emerging themes. The researcher then correlated information connecting emerging ideas and themes between the films and the questionnaires to achieve more of a musical identity for each participant.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the researcher. Participants discussed their musical actions and interactions after viewing the improvisational films. The researcher tried to ascertain a clearer picture of the participants' strategies, skills, musical expertise and the use of technology. Notes from the questionnaires, films and semi-structured interviews were triangulated.


After the questionnaire was collected, coded then read, a summary of emerging ideas was written for each participant. Again, listening habits, musical experiences, expertise, learning situations inside and outside of school as well as the students' use and interaction with music technologies were the main emerging ideas or themes.

Also, the researcher collected notes from the film recording of each improvisational session as well as individual semi structured interviewing after it. The researcher cross-compared emerging ideas and themes from these two processes then triangulated the information with the pre-questionnaires.

Firstly, in order to understand the participants' portraits which contain the subsequent following information: (a) participants' learning styles, (b) employed musical strategies, (c) musical expertise and experiences inside and outside of school, Table 1 introduces various stylistic categories of improvisational learners that were thematically coded from the results of the study. This preceding section will aid the reader to understand the defining categories.

Participants' Portraits

The author has chosen to select six portraits reported in her (2011) empirical study. These selected six participants were reflective of the above stylistic categories as well as the other remaining and original forty-three participants of the forty-nine also reported in her (2011) study. Specific insights into these particular selected portraits highlight the improvisational processes of learners in order to understand the importance of the musical individual, their strategies and particular situations.

A formal musician: Hank, CHS

The participant named Hank has been coded as a formal novice musician. According to this empirical study a novice musician is defined as a musician who has been learning from 0-1 year. Hank is twelve years old and attends a systemic Catholic High School. Prior to learning the guitar, Hank has not really been interested in Music at all. He has just begun to appreciate it as he has just commenced formal guitar lessons with a private teacher in the past few weeks.

At the moment, he does not listen to music outside of school on the radio, Internet or from an iPod. Hank does not involve himself in other musical experiences outside of the classroom. In class he utilizes Sibelius the software for musical notation. When probed by the researcher why he has just begun learning the guitar, he replied that he had just begun to like Music because of his Music teacher as well as the pleasurable experience of learning guitar in class.

An informal musician: Jim, SHS

Jim is twelve years old, attends a Sports High School and has been informally learning the guitar from a friend for the past six months. He listens to music on his iPod for up to two hours a day. He is a slow learner by his own admission and does not like school. He struggles to read books properly. While learning the guitar, Jim finds it easier to copy his friend through visual and tactile means to learn the notes.

While Jim was improvising for the research task, he was a follower in the group, receiving musical information during it. His contribution was a two to three note riff that did not change pitch but rhythmically altered throughout the short improvisation. He focused learning in a visual and tactile mode of learning from his peers.

A non-instrumentally trained-musician; a formal and informal technological user: Thomas, AHS

Thomas is twelve years old and attends an Anglican High School. He has never learned an instrument formally. However, he is an active learner and user of music technology. His appreciation of Music has been fostered in the Music classroom. Thomas' use of compositional software inside and outside of the classroom has given him a tool of expression of which to compose with for fun.

He has utilized Garage Band for the last three years, primarily choosing the loop based procedures. Also, for the past six months he has acquainted himself with Cubase in the classroom, where he improvises for an hour at a keyboard inputting singular melodic notes at a time.

Thomas listens to music with purposeful intent for two and a half hours a day on his iPod focusing solely on music and not being distracted by any other task. For four and a half hours a day he listens to ambient music while completing his homework, surfing the Internet or just relaxing in the mornings and evenings.

The results indicate in this particular case that while a participant is actively engaged in listening and experimenting with technological music programs such as Garage Band and Cubase, the individual participant is capable of making musical decisions concerning simple melodic imitation or modeling musical ideas. Thomas has focused on learning in a more aural and kinaesthetic approach to learning.

This situation is demonstrated through either choosing loops in Garage Band in a logical and simple structural progression while composing or imitating and modeling musical ideas on keyboard using Cubase. This particular type of knowledge and skills have been built up through conscious (purposeful) and non-conscious listening (for leisure) in and out of the classroom as well as learning keyboard in class, kinesthetically and aurally experimenting with melodic notes.

A formal learner who now also learns informally: Laurie, SHS

Laurie is sixteen years old and had commenced private formal piano lessons three years ago since choosing elective Year Nine Music. She had learned guitar and singing for four months formally and now learns them informally for the past four months.

Laurie has developed a love of Music and always, wanted to sing. She has learned chord formations on the keyboard for the past three years while she is learning to sing and play songs with her teacher. For the past four months out of eight, she formally learned finger picking and guitar chords with a teacher. Laurie also learns vocal exercises to strengthen her voice. She has an ability to write short stories and poetry excelling in this area and is an all rounder at school

She often consciously listens to Music for three hours a day and another four and a half hours informally while completing homework, surfing the net or casually listening while completing other tasks.

The results indicated that she had firstly developed an aural and visual mode of learning through formally learning to play the piano. Laurie is beginning to utilize an integrative and holistic approach to informally singing and playing guitar. In terms of category she commenced as a formal learner and continues learning in both formal and informal modes of learning.

An informal musician, previously a formal musician: Rudy, CHS

Rudy is fourteen years old and has been informally learning the drums without a formal teacher for five and a half years. He plays by ear. He had learned piano and singing formally for three and a half years with a teacher outside of school and also plays guitar informally having learned from his father a year ago. He occasionally fills in for senior concert band at school.

Rudy uses Sibelius the notational software program and Acid Studio in Music classes for the past three years. He consciously listens to music on his iPod for over two hours a week and one hour non-consciously.

While originally trained in a Classical style of learning, he firstly engaged in visual and aural forms of learning. Rudy has transferred to learning Music informally developing a holistic and integrative approach to learning it primarily through aural and kinesthetic modes of learning.

A formal and informal musician: Leslie, SHS

Lesley is fourteen year old and has been learning the piano for seven years in a Classical tradition of learning. He comes from a very intellectual background and excels at all subjects and is also very good at sports. He has excellent auditory skills and also excels at languages.

Lesley jams with students at lunchtimes. He also learns formally with a Garage Band teacher who teaches him musical strategies based on an informal approach to learning.

These processes are to listen to a song you like, learn to pick the chords and fill in the rest of the musical information with guitar tabulations. Implicitly he needs to engage his own auditory musical information regarding speed rhythm, expressive techniques and volume.

Lesley listens to two hours of conscious listening a day through various auditory tools such as his iPod. He also listens to music non-consciously for two and a half hours a day while engaged in other activities. Leslie performs in and out of school.

Emerging themes from the results Definition of the types of improvisers and their interactive use of technology

According to the data, the 49 participants ranged in various musical expertise, and experiences as an outcome of being exposed to learning music either or both formally and informally inside and outside of the classroom. Each of the 49 participants were categorised into the below stages including the six portraits presented in this paper.

For the purpose of this study, these categories were labelled as the following; early and later stage novice learners; 0-6 months followed by 6-12 months of learning music, intermediate musicians from 1 year to 3 years of learning and improvising music and expert improvisers; 3 or more years of learning and improvising music.

A novice improviser

An early novice improviser/s (0-6 months of musical learning) such as Hank who was 12 years old at the time of the task had very little exposure to music inside or outside of the classroom. However, in terms of technology, Hank had formally commenced to utilize the notational program, Sibelius in class. Early novices such as Hank had very little auditory memory of music. This situation was measured by how little they had listened to music on a daily basis or participated in any integrative musical activity up to the point of the research task.

This observation was reflected by their oral and written answers in both the written questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. For example, Hank simply was not interested in Music as a subject until now, simply because he liked his classroom Music teacher. The emerging data also was verified and compared to the actual recording of the participants' improvising in the research task.

Novice improvisers relied heavily on their collaborative members of the group who were all of varying musical abilities or expertise. Later novices of 6 months to a year were capable of only producing short repetitive riffs of two to three notes. They found it difficult to musically respond in a spontaneous call and response in the collaborative group. However, their interaction with technology usually commenced with intently listening to iPods or audio devices to acquire modeling material for improvising as well as informally learning notes and trying new finger positions on instruments by copying their musical peers.

This situation reflected a lack of auditory memory, musical expertise or being instrumentally untrained as a formal or informal musician. Minimal musical exposure and interaction with musical activities inside or outside of school heavily influenced the final improvisations for the research task. Jim, 12 years old of SHS (Sports High School) was identified in this category.

Intermediate improvisers

According to the participants' questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and recordings of the performance research task, intermediate improvisers (defined as improvising and performing from one year to three years) had been interactively involved in musical experiences of improvising and or learning music formally and informally.

This situation was accurate of Laurie, 16 years old from a SHS who learned Classical piano form a teacher then followed through with informally learning singing and guitar from friends and family She listened to her iPod inside and outside of school but by her own admission did not like improvising and composing with technological-software as she preferred to improvise and compose at her instrument.

Thomas, 12 years old from an AHS was categorised as an early intermediate improviser even though he was a non trained instrumental player. At school, he interacted with the technological tool known as Cubase; a sequential software (under the formal facilitation of the classroom teacher). He improvised keyboard melodies then input them into Cubase. At home he informally utilised Garage Band as a loop based program for leisure.

Intermediate improvisers were also consciously (purposely) listening to iPods or audio devices for modelling material before and while improvising. They also non-consciously listened to music as background mood while completing homework or relaxing.

These improvisers were capable of producing call and response phrases that were spontaneous in nature particularly once they had a minimum of three years of musical and interactive involvement in improvising and performing. Many of these types of improvisers were practicing Rock and Jazz musicians who strongly rely on call and response in their informal learning patterns of songs or improvising new material in a collaborative context.

Advanced improvisers

Advanced improvisers were categorised as improvising and composing for over three years but closer to six or more years of accomplished improvising and composing. These improvisers were evidently much more expert than novice or intermediate improvisers because of the integrative practice of purposeful/ conscious listening, improvising and performing in various musical contexts in and out of school as well as their interactive use of technological tools also assisting the music making process in and out of the classroom. The researcher also noted that specific chronological age was not necessarily indicative of deeper auditory memory or musical expertise but rather the number of years the participant had employed integrating musical practice in either or both formal and informal situations in regard to improvisational and performing processes.

These participants were usually heavily involved in many musical situations such as choir, concert bands or Classical orchestras and or Rock bands.

These diverse performing and improvising situations gave participants a plethora of musical experiences as well as expertise that reflected through their musical improvisational collaborations. Leslie 14 years old from SHS and Rudy 14 years old from CHS were categorised as advanced improvisers.

Leslie was musically trained as a Classical and Jazz pianist and Rudy trained also as a Classical pianist. Both but learned the guitar; Rudy learned informally from peers and family and Leslie in an "informal learning style" mimicking the strategies learned in a Garage Band but from a formal Garage Band Teacher. He also practiced with a Rock Band at weekends. A part from listening to his iPod, he did not interact with technological software in or out of the classroom, at the particular time of the research task. However, he did access guitar tabulations on the Internet as a source of informal learning.

Rudy was an active user of technology such as Acid Studio, a loop based program as well as Sibelius, the notational software, both of which he formally utilised in the Music classroom under the facilitation of a teacher. Both these technologies allowed Rudy to process the use of concepts and think about musical structures. In turn, these processes aided overall improvising and composing.

At Stage Four instrumental call and responses was demonstrated by Leslie and Rudy that were effortless demonstrating a continuous musical flow of language. Also their improvising was of a greater quantity of length than intermediate improvisers whose improvisations were shorter and less complicated. These improvisers were also exposed to performing a variety of genres from Rock, Jazz as well as Classical Music for a number of years that also reflected through their improvisations.

The following improvisational stages were based on the interpretation of the previous information taken from Augustyniak's (2011) empirical study. It specifically refers to the participants' four improvisational learning stages from novice to advanced improvisers.

These stages are not necessarily definitive or restrictive per se as participants could be moving towards the latter stages of novice to intermediate or from intermediate to advanced stages depending on their musical expertise and experiences. Pressing's (1987) teacher model for improvisation is closest to the author's (2011) improvisational performing model and therefore is most frequently utilized in comparison to her own model.

Participants' use of technological tools at various stages of improvisational learning

Table 2 outlines the participants' use of different technologies at the various stages of improvisational learning. Commencing from novice learners through to advanced improvisers, the external influences of different learning situations help shape the participants' strategies and styles of improvising.

Proposed continuum of improvisational learning

Stage One: Early novice participants are identified by the lack of aural awareness of memory and instrumental expertise because of a lack of exposure to practice and musical experiences. The novice participant has very little ability to construct simple melodies and/ or arrangements unless exposed to musical experiences through listening, singing and/ or technological use of software prior to the learning of an instrument because they have commenced to develop their auditory memory.

It was concluded that novice students require much modeling of performance pieces to help them develop their auditory memory and also to prepare them how to learn to improvise more freely in small steps. This stage is in keeping with Pressing's first stage of embellishment (1987) and Monk (2012) and was demonstrated by Hank from CHS.

Later Novice Stage Two: This type of participant is identified by the developing of minimal skills in regard to aural awareness of memory (auditory memory) and instrumental expertise. This learner is in the very early stages of acquiring musical skills through either peer learning or formal lessons with a teacher. This learner has the ability to construct simple melodies and/or arrangements either through instrumental, singing and/or software options but has further developed from Stage One than the novice learner who only tries to model very simple performance pieces.

Often participants who spend hours listening to iPods and other technologies help increase their rate of implicit memorized learning, particularly as participants move from stages one to two, two to three or three to four.

Latter Stage two students tend to improvise in small musical chunks such as repetitive riff patterns or fill-ins as also described in Pressing's (1987) Stage two of improvising. Jim, 12 years of age from SHS was representative of a Stage two learner producing very simple two to three note riff patterns.

Stage Three: An Intermediate improviser is categorized at stage three. Musical participants are able to either rely on either aural/ kinaesthetic processes or visual/kinesthetic processes depending on the type of learning or improvising task. As well, participants "flow" in call and response while freely improvising from one to the other in the collaborative group as described in Csikszentmihalyi's (1996) work. Many informal musicians who "play by ear" have been improvising for many years usually fall into this stage of learning. However, Pressing's (1987) teaching model differs from the researcher's (2011) performing model in the following ways:

At this stage, Pressing's (1987) teaching model gave students exercises to imitate in order of developing their call and response phrases. It also focuses on developing harmonic lines to a given melody and visa versa.

The researcher's (2011) performer's model reported the participants' actions. However, if it were a proposed teaching model, the researcher would completely concur with Pressing's Stage Three model.

This stage and style of learning follows the flow of knowledge like humans learning to interact in a conversation with each other. Certainly by a later Stage three, the participants' improvising was more flowing. Also, students have developed their musical skills of which they draw upon their already memorized knowledge that was dependent on aural, visual and kinaesthetic processes. Many informal musicians who learn from their peers and or informally utilise technology fell into this stage.

This situation was indicative of Thomas, 14 years of age from CHS who was an early stage three improviser. Most students at stage three, improvised in phrase patterns of call and response. However, the improvising was not as complex in length or musical depth as advanced musicians who improvised and performed for the research task in various styles of music such as Rock, Jazz and Classical. Advanced improvisers reflected what they had learned in their performing styles of music from multiple interactions with concert bands, choirs and/or orchestras. Laurie, 14 years of age of SHS was representative of this stage of improvising but a much latter stage three primarily because of her formal and informal interaction in performing and composing inside and outside of school. She was moving towards being an advanced improviser.

Stage Four: Advanced improvisers are participants who enter the continuum of improvising and composing from any of the developed sensory modes of visual, kinaesthetic or aural processes as well as any of its juxtapositions depending on the point of flow or learning or of the improvising task at hand.

These participants have synthesised their aural, kinaesthetic and visual processes. They have musical experience and expertise as musicians that allows them to recall musical information at a much quicker speed, greater length and frequency than their less musically expert and experienced counterparts while improvising and composing.

Pressing's (1987) model reported this stage as Stage Five of his model. This stage also reflected the participant's ability to adapt to both formal (musical literacy practice) and informal styles of learning (oral practice) and they could also transfer from one to the other without problems. As previously mentioned, Rudy, 14 years of age from CHS as well as Leslie 14 years of age from a SHS were reflective of this stage of improvising.

Participants at this level were expert improvisers and could play and improvise any style or genre of music reflecting their performance background and what was retained in their auditory, visual and kinaesthetic memory. These completed improvisations were to the satisfaction of their creators and were defined by Austyniak's (2011) study as oral compositions.

These oral compositions were completely free flowing improvisation that had been memorised then recorded for prosperity as a final product. The final recorded product provided tangible evidence as music manuscript was for the written transmission of traditional Classical compositions.


It is evident that the most proficient and advanced improvisers performed a wide variety of genres in both formal and informal styles of playing and learning. They were dedicated music practitioners and performed in a plethora of musical situations and ensembles helping to develop auditory memory, musical expertise and skills as a time based process.

The interpretation of the results described in the author's Proposed Continuum of Improvisational Learning may allow educators to understand how they will best accommodate students in their classroom in the following two ways:

1. Teachers may facilitate a cross section of stage 1-4 learners in each improvisational group in order to help reinforce all improvisational development. This may be pursued through the positive and collaborative sharing of musical knowledge, skills and expertise from expert to novice learners who work well with each other as understood through the results of the researcher's data.

2. Teachers need to understand what technological tools are best implemented at the various stages of learning and as a part of the processes of improvising. Students will then benefit from the interaction with audio devices, loop based software, sequential and recording software at the different stages of participants' learning and their different improvisational processes leading towards developing compositions.

In comparison, Pressing's (1987) teaching model (a formal approach to learning improvising) focuses on teaching improvisational exercises which helps incrementally develop students' performance skills until free flowing improvisation is reached. The author's (2011) learning model is an informal approach to understanding improvising and performing that reflects the students' developing improvisational stages.

Both formal and informal improvisational approaches, encourages knowledgeable skills and creativity leading to spontaneous free flowing improvisation in the music classroom.


Augustyniak, S. (2014). The impact of formal and informal learning on students' improvisational processes. International Journal of Music Education, 32(2), 147-158.

Augustyniak, S. (2011). The impact of formal and informal learning on students' compositional processes. Published doctoral dissertation, University of New South Wales, UNSW Digital Publications, Sydney.

Burnard, P. & Younker, B.A. (2002). Mapping pathways, fostering creativity in composition. Music Education Research, 4(2), 246-261.

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Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Folkestad, G. (2006). Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning. British Journal of Music Education, 23(2), 133-145.

Gordon, G.E. (1993). Learning seqences in music. A contemporary music learning learning theory. Chicago: GIA Publications.

Green, L. (2008). How popular musicians learn: A way ahead for music education. England: Ashgate Publications.

Hickey, M. (2009). Can improvisation be taught? A call for free improvisation in our schools. International Journal of Music Education, 27(8), 258-274.

Jacques-Dalcroze, E. (1967). Rhythm, music and education. Harold Robinstein (Trans). New York: G. P. Putnam. (Original work published 1921).

Jaffurs, S. (2006). The impact of informal music learning practices in the classroom, or how I learned how to teach from a garage-band. International Journal of Music Education, 22, 189-200.

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Dr Sylvana Augustyniak is the NSW Music Chair for ASME, 2015. In 2013, she was awarded the Outstanding Professional Award for contribution to music from the NSW Professional Teachers Council. She has been a music educator since 1982 teaching at various institutions in both public and private school systems. For a number of years, Dr Sylvana Augustyniak has presented at professional teacher work shops as well as presented her doctoral thesis at both national and international conferences.
Table 1: Stylistic Categories of Improvisational Learners

Stylistic Categories of Improvisational Learners

The following categories give the reader insight into individual
stylistic differences in musical learning situations.

A formal learner

This participant learns Music traditionally in a formal approach to
learning. The teacher imparts the knowledge to the student.

An informal learner

This participant informally and implicitly learns music from either
and or peers, friends or family. They learn to listen to a musical
piece and copy notes by touch, as well as utilize tabulations.
Explicit formalized knowledge is not the primary focus of this
learning approach. An example of a novice informal learner is Jim

Commenced as a formal Learner and is now only practicing as an
informal learner.

This type of participant had learned in a formal didactic learning
situation to gather a basic foundation of knowledge of keys, notes,
fingering and the like but now has transferred to an informal

Commenced as an informal learner and now has transferred over to a
formal learner.

This type of learner had informally and implicitly learned from
peers, friends or family. However, their learning situation has now
changed solely to formal lessons with a teacher.

Commenced as a formal learner but also continues to learn
informally as well.

Often musical situations change for participants when they also
learn another instrument. Participants often join another musical
group. An example of this explanation is that a formal piano player
may then learn guitar informally in a Rock group situation, thus
learning two different styles and approaches to learning Music.

Commenced as an informal learner but continues to learn formally as

An explanation of this category is when a participant commences
learning an instrument informally without a traditional teacher but
decides also to learn a new instrument formally with a teacher such
as the Clarinet in preparation for Concert Band performance.

Table 2: Participants' use of technological tool at different
stages of learning.

Name and               Stage              Formal Approach

Hank; 12 yrs           Early Novice       Commenced using
CHS                    (0-6 months).      Sibelius the
                                          notational software
Commenced in a                            program in class.
formal approach to
learning the guitar.

Jim; 12 yrs SHS        Latter stage       none
An informal learner    (6 months to
of guitar.             a year).

Thomas; 12 years AHS   Early              Learning to use
                       Intermediate       Sibelius in class as
A formal and           improviser (from   notational software.
informal learner but   1-3 years of
non-instrumentally     improvising).      Cubase is also used
trained. Uses                             in class to allow
technology in non                         Thomas to
elective classes and                      sequentially enter
at home for leisure                       keyboard notes for

Laurie; 16 yrs old     Later              Has learned the
SHS                    Intermediate       piano in a Classical
                       (3 years)          fashion for 3 years.
A formal and
informal learner.

Leslie 14 yrs SHS      Advanced           None
                       Classical and
A formal and           Jazz pianist of
informal learner       7 years.

Rudy, 14 yrs, CHS      Advanced rock      Uses Sibelius in a
                       improviser.        formal situation in
Previously a formal                       class as well as
musician for 3 1/2                        Acid Studio as a
yrs now transferred                       loop based product
to an informal                            in class.
musician for 5 and a
1/2 yrs on drums and

Name and               Informal Approach

Hank; 12 yrs           None.

Commenced in a
formal approach to
learning the guitar.

Jim; 12 yrs SHS        iPod for listening to short riffs
                       or tunes for modelling on his
An informal learner    guitar.
of guitar.

Thomas; 12 years AHS   Thomas utilizes Garage Band
                       as a loop based software for
A formal and           leisure on the week-ends.
informal learner but
trained. Uses
technology in non
elective classes and
at home for leisure

Laurie; 16 yrs old     Learns guitar and singing in
SHS                    an informal style of learning.
                       Does not use technological
A formal and           software but does use
informal learner.      her iPod for listening and
                       modelling material.

Leslie 14 yrs SHS      Informally learns guitar uses
                       Guitar Pro on the internet or
A formal and           On line tutorials.
informal learner

Rudy, 14 yrs, CHS      None.

Previously a formal
musician for 3 1/2
yrs now transferred
to an informal
musician for 5 and a
1/2 yrs on drums and
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Author:Augustyniak, Sylvana
Publication:Australian Journal of Music Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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